Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded a 14-month investigation of Portland, Oregon’s police department with a 42-page report and press conference. The investigation began after officers fatally shot 25-year-old Aaron Campbell, who was allegedly suicidal over his younger brother’s death.
“[W]e have concluded that, while most uses of force were lawful, there is reasonable cause to believe that PPB is engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force against people with mental illness, or those perceived to have mental illness,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez.
Next Monday marks six years since the death of 42-year-old schizophrenic James Chasse, who died in police custody. Officers chased Chasse, tackled him, and he died of 26 rib fractures and a punctured lung as they drove him to the hospital when the jail refused to book him, according to another local news station. In 2007, those officers and a sheriff's deputy were cleared of wrongdoing, but the city settled a civil rights lawsuit for $1.6 million in 2010.
In 2001, police officers shot 29-year-old Jose Mejia Poot at a psychiatric hospital. He was taken there after he boarded a bus “20 cents shy of bus fare,” according to an essay published in The Mercury, suffered an epileptic seizure, and was beaten by police when they removed him from the bus. Two days later, he left his room and threatened staff and police – first with a pencil, and then with a rod from the door of his room. That’s when they shot him. BHC-Pacific Gateway Hospital and Providence Health System settled his widow’s negligence lawsuit for $710,000 and $40,000, respectively. Those officers were later awarded with a “police medal,” according to The People’s Police Report.
The Department of Justice’s report “singled out stun gun use, saying officers frequently discharged them without justification or used them too many times on a given suspect,” reported local newspaper writer Steven DuBois.
Mayor Sam Adams said the police bureau has already made changes, citing the police and public safety training facility that city council approved in March.
“We need to react to people in mental health crisis with empathy and compassion,” said Police Chief Mike Reese. “We can’t treat them the same way we treat a bank robber.”
The Department of Justice’s report stated that Oregon “has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the United States, and many people in that population have serious mental illness.”