PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Nearly two years after losing his father to a police shooting in a city park, a Portland man filed suit against the city and the officer involved Tuesday, claiming the officer ignored signs that his father displayed signs of mental illness and did not pose any threat.
The shooting occurred on April 16, 2021, when Robert Delgado, 46, was experiencing mental health issues and living in a tent in a small public park in southeast Portland.
On the day of the incident, witnesses observed Delgado pointing a BB gun with an orange tip at a fence line of an empty baseball stadium at the park. At 9:30 am, one witness called the non-emergency line to report Delgado, stating that he had not been pointing the gun at anyone but instead had been “wielding it at the fence, and, you know, he think he’s some kind of cowboy, gun play or James Bond.”
The same information was relayed to Portland Police Officers Zachary DeLong and Samantha Wuthrich, who were sent to the park.
When the officers arrived, Delgado was shirtless, alone and not holding a BB gun. Officer DeLong grabbed his AR-15 and confronted Delgado from a distance, causing Delgado to pace and wave his arms around. Officers took cover behind a tree 90 feet away, pointing their guns at Delgado.
According to the complaint filed by Skyler Delgado, Robert Delgado’s son, Delgado briefly followed orders to put his hands up. The commands given by Officer DeLong, including, “If you reach for a gun, I’m going to fucking shoot you," seem to indicate that he did not believe Delgado was holding a BB gun when approached.
Delgado continued pacing, however, and began throwing his belongings around and in the direction of officers, yelling at them to get away and to shoot him.
After Delgado and DeLong yelled at each other for 30 seconds, Delgado reached down in his tent for something, and DeLong shot him with his rifle. Officer Wuthrich followed up with a shot from her less lethal 40 mm launcher.
According to the complaint, officers waited seven minutes to provide Delgado with medical assistance, who died in the grass from DeLong’s single shot. Afterward, “police feasted on pizza nearby in plain view of the public,” the complaint claims.
The city has since promoted DeLong to the role of a detective.
Skyler Delgado claims in his complaint that Portland has demonstrated a pattern and practice of failing to train its officers to follow police directives and to avoid excessive force when detaining people undergoing health crises, particularly those experiencing houselessness.
The accusation falls in line with the findings of a 2012 investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which was prompted by a “high number of officer-involved shootings that involved people with mental illness,” according to the complaint. The Department of Justice has since entered a settlement agreement with the city requiring improvements in the use of force, training and oversight.
However, Delgado’s son claims in the lawsuit that no officer under the city’s authority has been disciplined or fired for shooting or killing someone undergoing a mental health crisis.
“Defendant DeLong’s actions speak to a long history in the city of Portland of police officers ignoring their training, ignoring their directives and facing no consequences. Or, as in defendant DeLong’s case, receiving a promotion after fatally shooting a person in crisis,” the complaint states.
In September 2021, a grand jury decided against indicting DeLong for Delgado’s death and declined to discipline the other officers involved, stating the acts involved were “not criminal under Oregon law.” The case was presented by two Multnomah County Deputy District Attorneys and two Assistance Attorneys General appointed by the Department of Justice at the request of District Attorney Mike Schmidt.
Juan Chavez, director of the Civil Rights Project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center, represents Skyler Delgado and the estate of Robert Delgado. He said DeLong had undergone additional training as a member of the Portland Police Bureau’s Enhances Crises Intervention Team.
“ECIT officers were supposed to be trained and vetted to respond to and deescalate situations involving people in mental health crisis,” Chavez said. “Instead, DeLong went straight for his rifle, shouted obscenities and threats to kill Mr. Delgado, and shot and killed him from a great distance.”
Representatives for the city declined to comment citing pending litigation.
Skyler Delgado is asking the court to award damages for the loss of his father in an amount to be determined at trial.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.