Police have not yet identified the white man police killed, but an eyewitness said he may have been in a mental health crisis: the exact type of situation where Portland police have been shown a tendency toward deadly overreaction.
PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Police shot and killed a man Friday morning, and a protest planned to honor the death of another man gunned down by officers shifted to confront cops at the crime scene.
Police said they responded to a call around 9:30 Friday morning that said a white man was “pointing a gun” near Lents Park in southeast Portland.
“At some point during this interaction, both less lethal and lethal force were deployed by officers,” Portland Police Acting Chief Chris Davis said Friday. “Officers provided emergency medical attention at the scene, but the gentleman was pronounced dead.”
An eyewitness had a different account.
Juan Chavez was working at the time of the shooting, pumping gas at the Arco across the street from the park. Chavez said he saw the man police shot standing in the intersection, shirtless, before police arrived. Chavez thought he recognized the man as one who was living in a tent near the park.
“I think he is not OK in the head or he uses drugs,” Chavez said.
Chavez said he didn’t see a gun. And when police arrvied, Chavez said he didn’t hear any warnings before police fired two shots and the man went down.
“It’s sad,” Chavez said. “They should have warned him at least.”
Police have not yet identified the man their officer killed, and it’s unclear if he was in the throes of a mental health crisis.
But Portland police are currently out of compliance with a federal consent decree over violent policing in similar incidents. The city agreed in 2014 to adopt a slew of changes to its policing practices to settle a 2012 report by the Justice Department finding Portland police engage in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force against people with mental health disabilities or who police think might have them.
In January 2020, the city was well on its way to dissolving its obligations to the feds: for the first time, the Justice Department found Portland police in “substantial compliance” with reforms mandated by the settlement. All it had to do was maintain that status for one year.
Then police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, and video of the brutal last minutes of his life sparked over five months of nightly protests. On some nights, thousands marched in Portland streets. Riot cops often responded with violence, deploying pepper spray, rubber bullets and deafening flash bangs and racking up over 6,000 use-of-force incidents. Police used so much tear gas last summer that protesters reported changes to their menstrual cycles and the city launched an investigation into pollution in the Willamette River from chemical munitions.
The Department of Justice issued a report in February finding the city is no longer in compliance with four key sections of the settlement agreement — use of force, training, accountability and community engagement.
Speaking at the scene of the shooting on Friday, where the dead man’s body still lay covered by a white sheet, Acting Chief Davis said that the killing was under investigation, but blamed protesters who had quickly arrived at the park for making that process more difficult.
“These efforts are being hampered by a fairly aggressive crowd,” Davis said.
Around 150 people had gathered at the park, confronting police with chants, drums, and a sea of raised middle fingers. Some had already planned to attend a protest Friday: for another man gunned down by police.
Police killed 27-year-old Patrick Kimmons in 2018, shooting him 12 times after they said he ran at police with a gun in his hand. A Multnomah County grand jury cleared Sgt. Garry Britt and Officer Jeffery Livingston, finding the shooting was “lawful act of self-defense.”
A protest organized to honor Kimmons was planned for Friday. But then protesters learned they had a new death to mark.
Kimmons’ mother, Letha Winston, addressed a line of police securing the scene of Friday’s shooting.
“My question to officers in the park today is: are you okay with this? Because you shouldn’t be. I know some of the officers on the force here feel some kind of way. How could you not? About a mentally ill person being shot down.”