It’s been 17 years since a Portland police officer fired a single shot at Kendra James, killing the young woman as she tried to drive away during a traffic stop.
The broad outlines of that encounter are by now well-known: James, who grew up in North Portland, was Black and unarmed. The officer had reached deep into the car to get James out, a decision that the chief at the time criticized.
James put the car in gear. It started to move. Officer Scott McCollister said he lost his footing and feared he would be dragged down the street. He drew his 9mm pistol. The bullet pierced the woman’s left hip and lodged under her right breast.
The shooting galvanized Black leaders and spurred a movement focused on wholesale police reform that remains just as urgent today as Black Lives Matter activists — propelled by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — seek a fundamental rethinking of policing.
Kendra James, pictured, was shot and killed by a Portland police officer in 2003 during a traffic stop. She was unarmed. James’ death marked a pivotal moment in the local movement to reform policing in the city. Oregonian file photo
“Everything blew,” said the Rev. LeRoy Haynes, chairman of a group now known as the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, founded in response to the James killing. The group has gone on to become a leading voice in the effort to transform policing police culture and policy in Portland.
“There was great outrage from the Black community, not only the Black community,” he said. “People came to the march that we organized from all sections of the city.”
Under the backdrop of current demands for far-reaching change, The Oregonian/OregonLive analyzed fatal shootings by Portland police since James died in 2003.
In the intervening years, police have shot and killed 39 more people.
They were suicidal or in the throes of an emotional crisis. Some people, like James, were trying to flee police. In other cases, officers were responding to calls about break-ins, robberies or assaults. Most of those killed had guns or knives. A handful had replica pistols.
Those fatally shot were disproportionately Black.
At least half of the cases involved people with mental illness.
None of the more than five dozen officers who pulled a trigger in the shootings were ultimately disciplined or indicted by a grand jury, despite attempts to fire or suspend some of them.
Those stubborn and troubling patterns are now spurring the thousands of people who have taken to the streets in Portland in the last two months, saying the names of Black Oregonians killed by police and decrying a criminal justice system that too often harms people of color.
Protesters gathered in downtown Portland the night of June 18, 2020, to rally against police brutality. The group marched to the nearby Apple Store, where plywood boards installed after windows were broken on May 29th have become a canvas for murals honoring people killed by police. Dave Killen / Staff
“You can add all the training and this, that and the other,” said Donna Hayes, whose teenage grandson, Quanice Hayes, was killed by a Portland police officer three years ago. Changing policies and training, she said, doesn’t fix the “warrior” culture in policing.
“They do what they are supposed to do,” she said. “This is the way they were created.”
The city has paid out a total of more than $2.2 million to the families of four people fatally shot by Portland police officers since James’ death in 2003, according to Portland Copwatch, a grassroots police watchdog organization.
“All of this clearly shows there’s no accountability when a police officer kills a community member,” said Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime police reform advocate who became the first Black woman elected to the Portland City Council in 2018. “I think we could all agree that what we’ve been doing is not working.”
BLACK PEOPLE KILLED AT GREATER RATE
Twenty-eight percent of those who died at the hands of police were Black, though African Americans make up about 6% of Portland’s population.
Eleven Black people died in the 40 shootings reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Twenty-seven shooting victims, or 68%, were white and two were Latino.
A study by two researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that Portland ranks 208th out of nearly 400 American metro areas in police killings for all races and ethnicities between 2013 and 2017. The researchers looked at Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties, as well as Skamania and Clark counties in Washington.
The region ranked 56th in the rate of Latinos killed by police and 122nd in the killings of Black people. Portland’s ranking in the study is affected by the inclusion of a half-dozen counties with very small percentages of Black people.
Nationally, Black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans, according to The Washington Post, which has tracked fatal shootings by on-duty police officers since 2015. Black people account for less than 13% of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans, the news organization found.
“It isn’t any different here in Portland,” said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
Despite efforts to train police and improve policing, she said, the outcome for “the most vulnerable segments of our communities, primarily Black people and people in mental crisis” remains the same.
The death of Kendra James represented a watershed moment in the Police Bureau’s long and strained relationship with the city’s Black community.
When the 21-year-old woman was shot, police removed her from the car, handcuffed her and left her on the ground unattended. She died from her injuries.
It would be another four days before investigators interviewed the officer. He received a 5½-month suspension, later reversed by a state arbitrator.
A grand jury found the shooting was justified. Later, a federal jury reached the same conclusion and rejected the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the James family.
In the aftermath of James’ death, a coalition of community groups and Black leaders pressed Portland police to adopt two dozen reforms addressing what they identified as gaps in police culture, hiring, training, independent oversight, racial profiling and the grand jury process for police shootings.
“There’s no accountability when a police officer kills a community member,” said Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime police reform advocate who became the first Black woman elected to the Portland City Council in 2018. “I think we could all agree that what we’ve been doing is not working.” Beth Nakamura / Staff
Progress meeting those calls has been mixed, said Dan Handelman, a longtime police accountability advocate in Portland.
Those pushing for change, for instance, want Oregon’s deadly force statute to include objective standards that define what constitutes a threat to public safety instead of relying on the “reasonable” judgment of the officer at the scene.
That demand — and others including requiring city leaders to ask the FBI to investigate controversial police shootings for possible civil rights violations — hasn’t been met, said Handelman, a founding member of Portland Copwatch. Oregon lawmakers this week revised the deadly force law but the amendments fell short of the standards sought by activists.
Yet other policy changes, including bias training for officers, have been adopted but haven’t made a meaningful difference, Handelman said.
“We are still seeing the traffic stop data and the shooting data that reflects over-policing of the Black community,” he said.
Donna Hayes said she often thinks of the fear her 17-year-old grandson must have felt when confronted by police in February 2017.
Quanice Hayes, known to his family as Moose, was a suspect in an armed robbery and attempted carjacking earlier that day. Police were told Hayes had held up a man in a car and that the man had described his assailant as having a tan pistol.
Police discovered Hayes in an alcove in front of a Northeast Portland home and ordered him to keep his hands up but crawl toward officers on the driveway and then lie down with his hands to his side, according to grand jury testimony.
Donna Hayes prepares for a nightly caravan protest from a parking lot at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus. Hayes tilted her cap to show the button that bears the name and image of her grandson, Quanice Hayes. Known as to his family as Moose, Hayes was killed by a Portland police officer three years ago. He was 17. Beth Nakamura/Staff
Police said Hayes appeared to reach toward his waistband. An officer fired, killing him. Police said they found a black and tan replica gun in a flower bed about 2 feet from Hayes’ body.
Three months before he was killed, police had warned Hayes, then found with a fake gun, that it could get him killed.
Hayes’ grandmother doesn’t buy the police account of what happened. The family has sued the city.
“He was a kid but he wasn’t a stupid kid to pull a play gun out of his waistband to be shot,” she said. “All I can think of was how scared my grandson was.”
She said the teen had been taught by family always to keep his hands where police could see them.
“They will see you as Black,” she said she told her grandson. “Show your hands.”
HALF WERE EXPERIENCING CRISIS
The analysis found that at least 20, or 50%, of those killed by Portland police had a mental illness or were experiencing a mental health crisis.
Some suffered from a diagnosed condition or appeared suicidal. Others displayed emotional distress or erratic behavior leading up to their fatal encounter.
Michael Gennaco, a national authority on policing who has studied Portland police practices for more than a decade, said police departments around the country have their own patterns and trends that emerge around their officers’ use of force.
Take Southern California, he said. There, he said, police shootings tend to be associated with criminal activity — such as a suspect firing on police from a moving car — or violent crime.
“That doesn’t seem to be as prevalent in Portland. It seems to be more mental health or (people) under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” he said.
Gennaco has seen signs of improvement in Portland police over the past decade, he said.
“I see encounters where things are slowed down. I see encounters where there is more deliberation, thoughtfulness and planning with regard to addressing the situation,” he said.
“But even when you do some of that it doesn’t mean you will get a result where deadly force is not used,” said Gennaco of OIR Group based in California.
His organization’s most recent report on police shootings in Portland highlighted a problem with what he called the “action reaction principle” in which officers are trained that someone can pull out a weapon before officers can get to their own guns.
“While that may be consistent with physics,” he said, “we are worried about the implication. That doesn’t mean you should be shooting someone before you see a gun. In our view, it means you need to get back, you need to seek cover, you need to be safe.”
One of the city’s highest profile police shootings unfolded a decade ago and involved a report of a suicidal and armed man named Aaron Campbell who was distraught about the death of his younger brother earlier that day. In this family photo, Campbell is shown visiting his brother, Timothy Douglass, then 23, in the hospital. Oregonian file photo
One of the city’s highest profile police shootings unfolded a decade ago and involved a report of a suicidal and armed man who was distraught about the death of his younger brother earlier that day.
When Aaron Campbell, a Black man, emerged from a Northeast Portland apartment complex, an officer thought Campbell was reaching for a gun. The officer, Ronald Frashour, fired and killed Campbell. Campbell was 25.
Campbell was unarmed; a gun was found later in his girlfriend’s apartment. Campbell’s girlfriend told the primary officer at the scene that Campbell’s state of mind had improved since the previous night, according to Portland police reports. The information didn’t reach fellow officers, the reports say.
Investigative records laid bare the disconnect between one officer who was talking to Campbell by text and phone and five officers standing ready in the parking lot with a high-powered rifle, beanbag shotgun and dog. Those officers had no idea of the progress that their colleague had made communicating with Campbell.
Officers would later say they were surprised when they saw Campbell emerge — walking backward with his hands behind his head — from the apartment.
The grand jury issued a blistering rebuke of the Portland Police Bureau for its mishandling of the scene and said the agency should be held accountable for Campbell’s death. The jurors said Campbell died as the result of “flawed police policies, incomplete or inappropriate training, incomplete communication.”
The city settled with Campbell’s family for $1.2 million – the second-largest payout associated with a deadly police shooting death in Portland.
The city has spent millions to settle claims involving people who died in police custody or were shot by police.
It paid $1.6 million to the family of James Chasse, a white 42-year-old who suffered from schizophrenia and died in 2006 from blunt force trauma to the chest after officers chased him and knocked him to the ground in the Pearl District.
The city paid $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit filed by William Kyle Monroe, a white man who was permanently disabled in 2011 after an officer fired lethal rounds from a beanbag shotgun. The settlement remains the largest payout to date. A grand jury also indicted the officer for assault.
Rick Henriksen described his son Koben, pictured here, as “very sick.” He said his son had been living on the street and off his medication in the weeks leading up to his death at the hands of Portland police. Oregonian file photo
As recently as last year, people with mental illness continued to be overrepresented in fatal police encounters in Portland. Of the five fatal police shootings in 2019, three involved people in the midst of a mental health crisis:
— Andre Gladen, a 36-year-old legally blind man with schizophrenia who had used methamphetamine before bursting into a stranger’s home.
— Koben S. Henriksen, a 51-year-old man whose father described his son’s illness as somewhere between extreme bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and who witnesses say was walking in traffic with knives.
— Lane Christopher Martin, a 31-year-old man who threatened a security guard with a knife and hatchet and swung a hatchet as he walked down a busy city thoroughfare. Martin’s family said he experienced a psychotic break when confronted by police.
Gladen was Black; Henriksen and Martin were white.
Portland police officers, including the one who fatally shot Henriksen, had previously encountered Henriksen and in that case took him for mental health treatment, Henriksen’s father said.
Rick Henriksen described his son as “very sick” and said he had been living on the street and off his medication in the weeks leading up to his death.
One of the officers in that earlier contact “basically talked with my son and talked him down to the point where he sat down and started crying,” the father said.
“Obviously,” he said, “the shooter didn’t learn much as a result of how you handle or should handle the mentally ill.”
MAJORITY OF PEOPLE KILLED WERE ARMED
The news organization’s analysis found that 32, or 80%, of the people killed by police were armed with weapons such as guns, knives and in one case a crowbar. Four of the guns were replicas.
Seven people were unarmed. Three were Black, including James. Four were white.
In one instance, police killed a man who emerged from his ex-girlfriend’s apartment holding what the officer thought was a rifle; it turned out to be an umbrella wrapped in a towel.
Those inside the duplex included his ex-girlfriend’s three children who later revealed to police that the man, Ronald Richard Riebling Jr., 40, had ordered them to tell officers he was armed. No guns were found on the man or in the complex.
Many of the police shootings involved people who were hurting others or threatening to harm them when police arrived.
Police said David Wayne Downs, 38, was threatening a woman with a knife and holding her hostage in the stairwell of a Pearl District building when officers encountered him last year.
Portland police fatally shot Jeb Colin Brock, 42, in April 2019. Brock had stabbed multiple people inside a home and was holding a woman at knifepoint when officers confronted him. Oregonian file photo
Jeb Brock, 42, was holding a woman at knifepoint in a room with a baby when police fired on him last year. He had stabbed three other residents in the home before officers arrived, according to police, witnesses and grand jury transcripts.
Kelly Swoboda, 49, was wanted in the kidnapping of a 23-year-old woman from her job at a tanning salon near Oak Grove. He was killed in a 2014 shootout with an officer who was called to the area to investigate a report of a suspicious van near the Hillsboro Library. He was shot three times and died. Swoboda fired at the officer, injuring his hand.
The case was one of three since James’ death in 2003 when Portland officers were shot by suspects who died in the confrontations. Ten years ago, Keaton Otis, 25, shot Officer Christopher Burley in the groin. In 2004, William T. Grigsby, 24, fired on Officer Richard Steinbronn and Officer Christopher Gjovik — injuring both.
OFFICERS FACED NO DISCIPLINE OR IT WAS OVERTURNED
A total of 65 police officers fired their guns in these shootings, according to the newsroom’s analysis.
Three were disciplined, but those actions were later overturned in arbitration with the police union.
McCollister, who shot Kendra James, ultimately received back pay for his 5 ½ month suspension. The 2006 arbitration decision also ordered the city to expunge the suspension from McCollister’s record.
Frashour was fired by then-Chief Mike Reese after he killed Aaron Campbell. But an arbitrator in 2012 found there was “an objectively reasonable basis” for Frashour to believe that Campbell posed an immediate risk of serious injury or death to others. The arbitrator ordered the city to reinstate him with lost wages.
Reese also suspended two sergeants and an officer who fired the beanbags for two weeks without pay for their role in the Campbell shooting. An arbitrator upheld those disciplinary actions.
Lt. Jeffrey Kaer was fired by then-Mayor Tom Potter in 2006 after he shot and killed Dennis Lamar Young, an unarmed white man who was inside a car outside of Kaer’s sister’s home. A 2008 ruling found Potter didn’t have just cause to fire the commanding officer.
Records show McCollister and Frashour still work as officers with the Portland Police Bureau. Kaer retired in 2016.
A Portland officer hasn’t been indicted for killing someone in 51 years, since an on-duty officer fatally shot his girlfriend’s husband in 1969. The officer, Steven Sims, was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.
In 2011, a Multnomah County grand jury indicted Portland officer Dane Reister on assault charges after he mistakenly fired lethal rounds from a beanbag shotgun and critically wounded William Kyle Monroe in Southwest Portland. Reese, then the police chief, fired the officer in 2013. Reister later died by suicide.
According to the newsroom’s analysis, seven of the 65 officers have fatally shot two people during their careers with the Portland Police Bureau.
Oregon state Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Northeast Portland, has spent nearly a decade proposing changes to state law that would shift the job of investigating and prosecuting officer-involved shootings from district attorneys to an independent agency such as the Oregon attorney general. Beth Nakamura / Staff
One of them, Terry Kruger, is now the police chief of West Linn. Another, Nathan Voeller, who was involved in fatal shootings in 2006 and 2013, currently serves as a lieutenant in Portland, records show. His promotions to sergeant and lieutenant came in 2012 and 2018, respectively.
“There is just a sense that a cop can kill somebody and never face responsibility for it,” said state Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Northeast Portland, a Black lawmaker who has long pushed for statewide police reform and accountability measures. “It’s a get-out-of-jail card for anything that was done.”
All told, 20 of the 65 officers who used deadly force in the shootings eventually earned promotions. Fifty-six of them currently work as police officers in Portland or other law enforcement agencies in the metro area, state certification records show.
The Oregonian/OregonLive provided Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell with the findings of its analysis and sought comment. In a written statement, Lovell said each shooting involving officers undergoes an extensive internal and external review.
“Even though these incidents are rare, they have lasting effects on families, the community and the bureau,” he wrote. “We have to learn from such impactful incidents.”
In the past decade, Lovell said the Police Bureau has carried out “major reforms” in areas dealing with mental health, use of force, training, policy, accountability and community engagement.
The bureau, he wrote, is committed to building “community trust through open dialogue and by doing the work required to provide its officers the best training possible so that they can effectively serve the community.”
Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, the police union that represents about 950 rank-and-file officers, sergeants, detectives and forensic criminalists, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
The Police Bureau and the city remain under a 2014 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice after a federal investigation found police used excessive force against people with mental illness and fired multiple cycles of Taser gun shocks unnecessarily.
The agreement led police to improve crisis intervention and de-escalation training, do a better job of tracking when and how police use force and improve their tracking of complaints against officers.
After 2019 became one of the deadliest years of police shootings in the last decade, no one has died in a confrontation with Portland police in more than eight months.
Still, a growing number of activists, lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates believe the oversight and rules for reviewing fatal shootings by officers are complicated and unfair.
Haynes, of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, said the process “has been unfair to the citizens of Portland, the mentally ill and Black people. It’s a process that Black folks have no trust in. They know the answer before the grand jury ever issues a statement. In fact the system has broken down.”
Frederick has spent nearly a decade proposing changes to state law that would shift the job of investigating and prosecuting officer-involved shootings from district attorneys to an independent agency such as the Oregon attorney general.
The proposals are now gaining traction in Salem and are part of the focus of a newly formed Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform.
“We need the community to believe there’s a credible investigation following a use of force incident,” he said. “The promise by law enforcement after these incidents has always been ‘We’ll police ourselves.’ It’s never happened.”
Meanwhile, Hardesty is leading a push to revamp Portland’s police oversight system, which residents will vote on this fall.
The new oversight board would investigate complaints against police employees, deaths of people in police custody, uses of deadly force and officer-caused injuries, as well as cases of alleged discrimination and constitutional rights violations.
Board members would be allowed to subpoena documents, access police records and require witnesses, including police, to give statements. They also would be allowed to impose discipline, up to firing a police employee.
“We now have a chance to fundamentally change our city’s police oversight system,” Hardesty said. “It’s long overdue.”
The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein and David Cansler contributed to this report.
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