Portland Police: One Shooting in Four Months
Hurts Appliance, Not Suspect
Officer opts out of shooting; Lawsuit filed in Gwerder case;
Legislature considers Grand Jury bill

Since late December, there has only been one incident of Portland Police using a firearm against a civilian--and in that case, they hit an appliance, but not the suspect. In another incident, an officer opted not to shoot back at an armed man who fired at police, eventually arresting the man without major violence. Meanwhile, several lawsuits have been filed regarding police shootings, and, as usual, police elsewhere in Oregon have used deadly force.

The sole Portland shooting incident involved Officer Philip Harper (#18995), who fired two times into an apartment near N Montana and Skidmore after Dupree Carter, 23, allegedly pointed a gun at him and Sgt. George Davis (#18957). According to the Oregonian's December 28 on-line article, "the bullets struck an apartment wall and a dishwasher." (Not since a reserve officer hit a closet with a stray bullet in 2005 [PPR #35] has such violence against property stood out in our minds.) Carter had allegedly pointed a gun at a woman and two teenage girls sometime after midnight when they were dropping one young woman off at the apartment complex. Carter was arrested and charged with menacing.

In another incident on March 12, Nicholas Onuskanich, 24, bolted from the back seat of a car pulled over by officers near SE Holgate and 39th and fired shots at them. Officer Robert Wullbrandt (#42649) opted not to shoot back because the incident happened in a crowded area. As Oregonian columnist Steve Duin put it, "With bullets flying past his ear, Wullbrandt calmly reasoned that commuters, shoppers and joggers in the area would be better off if he didn't empty his magazine" (March 20). Onuskanich was later taken into custody when Greg Geist, a civilian, followed him and reported his location to the police. Although the police usually warn citizens against taking such action, particularly with armed suspects, Geist was awarded a Heroism Medal within days of the incident. Duin concludes "I salute Wullbrandt, for understanding he was in a neighborhood, not on a battlefield. Some cops understand the citizens of Oregon want the police... to accept a little more risk if that's what it takes to save a few lives."

On March 7, the family of Raymond Gwerder, shot in the back by police sniper Leo Besner in 2005 (PPR #37), filed a lawsuit claiming that "Besner's conduct was wanton, reckless, and in disregard of Gwerder's... constitutional rights" (Portland Mercury, March 15). The suit, filed by Tom Steenson, who is also the attorney for James Chasse, Jr's family (see Chasse article), also calls attention to many of Besner's past escapades including roughing up 15-year old Maria-Janeth Rodriguez-Sanchez at a Tri-Met stop, ending in a $140,000 settlement (PPR #36).

In related news, the bill requiring the release of transcripts of grand jury testimony in officer involved shootings and deaths cases, SB 111, received vigorous opposition from many District Attorneys and the Portland Police Association in Salem. Their arguments that the release of the information would have "chilling effects" and be used for retaliation, or to get officers fired or indicted (Oregonian, February 16) are irrelevant since the bill has enough loopholes to drive a truck through if officers don't want their testimony released. Somewhat surprisingly, Multnomah County DA Mike Schrunk, who has never indicted an officer for on-duty use of force, supported the bill, which was co-authored by Sen. Avel Gordly and Attorney General Hardy Myers (see PPR #35 for background).

Around Oregon:

--In early March, the family of Lukus Glenn, the teenager shot in the back by Tigard Police and Washington County Sheriff's Deputies (PPR #40), filed a tort claim showing their intent to sue. Lawyer Larry Peterson pointed to the fact that there was no time gap between the bean-bag rounds fired at Glenn and the live rounds as evidence the police did not use all alternative means before killing Glenn (Oregonian, March 9). In early April, an internal investigation cleared the officers of any policy violations.

--On March 10, Salem Police Officers Rogers Smith and Jared Noack shot and wounded Rockne Nickell, 59, who was allegedly threatening a neighbor with a knife and was holding a gun when police confronted him (KATU-TV, March 10 and Oregonian, March 11).

--On February 20, Jacksonville Police Sgt. Dan Moore returned fire when suspect Anthony Fogelman, 36, shot at him during a traffic stop. Neither man was injured (Salem News.com, February 21).

--On January 1, Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Mitcham shot and wounded 14-year- old Brandon Scruggs, who was allegedly pointing a high-powered rifle after being pulled over for speeding and having no tail lights (Oregonian, January 3 and February 13).

National news:

--In a rare instance of officers being charged with criminal activity, three of the five officers who shot and killed Sean Bell, 23, in a hail of 50 bullets on the night before his wedding day in New York were indicted by a Grand Jury in March (Associated Press, March 16).

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