On the day the police commissioner and chief were subpoenaed to court to address what Officer Dane Reister’s attorney called the bureau’s “gross negligence” in the handling of beanbag shotguns and ammunition, police supervisors alerted officers Tuesday of a new safeguard the bureau adopted.
Effective immediately, officers who are certified to carry the beanbag shotguns must now check out the firearm from their precinct’s armory at the start of their shifts. They must only load the beanbag shotguns with bureau-issued, less-lethal ammunition that will now be stored in a carrier attached to the side or stock of the orange-painted, 12-gauge shotguns.
READ – What happened to William Monroe.
The guns must be loaded in the police vehicle from this supply only. Officers certified to carry the beanbag shotgun are still required to visually and physically inspect each round as they load them, but are now “encouraged to have another bureau member view and confirm this.” Only supervisors will carry loose, replacement beanbag ammunition.
The new executive order comes nearly four months after Reister mistakenly loaded lethal rounds into a beanbag shotgun, and seriously wounded a man in Southwest Portland on June 30. The new directive also was announced as the bureau faced mounting criticism for not having taken immediate steps to prevent a similar mishap.
Acting Police Chief Larry O’Dea, who was also subpoenaed for Tuesday’s hearing, signed the order. It was sent by e-mail to bureau members at 4:14 p.m. on Monday, and announced at roll calls Tuesday morning.
Chief Mike Reese, who last month wrote a guest column in The Oregonian that he didn’t want to rush through any policy changes, is out of town at an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago.
“It’s important to us to make changes we need to make,” said Lt. Robert King, bureau spokesman. “It’s not tied to any legal process.”
According to O’Dea, a bureau less-lethal committee last week recommended the change, and he signed the executive order Monday. He said the bureau was not ready to give up use of either the less-lethal shotgun or lethal shotgun. “To date, we have not found a system that offers us the reliability, ease of use, and effectiveness that the current system offers,” O’Dea wrote in an e-mail to officers. “The less lethal program has had a 15-year long record of being safe and effective and is an important tool in safely resolving dangerous incidents.”
Reister’s lawyer, Janet Hoffman, who has argued in court motions that the bureau’s “gross negligence” contributed to Reister’s error on June 30, questioned why it took this long for the bureau to make a change.
“It’s appropriate that they’re making these changes, and it’s unfortunate as it pertains to my client’s situation that these minimal standards have taken so long to go in effect,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman had subpoenaed the mayor, the chief, assistant chiefs, Central Precinct’s commander and armory supervisor, the training captain and lead trainer to a court hearing Tuesday morning.
She urged the presiding judge to allow a sitting grand jury to consider whether the bureau’s “failure to put in place adequate safeguards” for its less-lethal ammunition affected Reister’s actions on the day he shot William Kyle Monroe in Southwest Portland June 30.
In particular, she wanted to question bureau supervisors as to why Portland police adopted the same weapon platform, a 12-gauge shotgun, that can carry both lethal and less-lethal rounds, and why no safety provisions were in place to avoid the mistake Reister made.
Presiding Judge Jean Kerr Maurer, though, quashed the subpoenas and prevented Hoffman from presenting any evidence as to whether or not “gross negligence” by the bureau contributed to Reister’s accidental shooting. Maurer said the court has a role to play in interpreting legal questions, “but to expand the court’s role into pre-screening of evidence is, in my view, inappropriate.”
“It’s invading the province of the grand jury,” Maurer ruled.
Maurer left open the possibility that she could further weigh in on any questions about evidence or instructions that the grand jury reviewing Reister’s shooting may have.
Firearms expert Ronald Scott, who spent more than 25 years as a Massachusetts state trooper and ran the agency’s ballistics sections investigating police shootings, called the bureau’s new order a “preemptive strike” as it faced the possibility of a hearing that would have shined light on its lack of safeguards since it adopted a less-lethal beanbag shotgun that utilizes the same 12-gauge shotgun platform that fires lethal rounds.
Scott called the bureau’s new restrictions a first step.
“To cover their backside, they’re saying we’re going to take away from the officer, any choice that he may have,” Scott said. “This is a policy that should have been in place a long time ago.”
Portland police have stressed that Reister’s mistake was the first since the bureau adopted the beanbag shotgun in 1997.
Portland’s new procedure is similar to that of Los Angeles Police, which checks out less-lethal shotguns to officers, with the less-lethal rounds preloaded onto a sleeve of prominently marked green less-lethal shotguns. The Oregonian reported last month that other law enforcement agencies have adopted more stringent policies. Many don’t carry the same weapon for lethal and less-lethal rounds. Others require officers to carry one or the other, not both.