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Keaton Otis

Keaton Otis

The proposed settlement between the City of Portland and the US Department of Justice following a DOJ investigation into excessive use of force by Portland police is now likely to be endorsed by the Oregon District Court in mid-April.

Judge Michael Simon on March 24, 2014, told the interested parties — including the Portland Police Association and friend of the court the Albina Ministerial Alliance — he was minded to endorse the settlement, but with one caveat. The judge wants to keep the matter in his courtroom for possibly up to five years, with annual reports on moves towards compliance by the city and police with the settlement.

The parties have two, possibly, three weeks to respond.

The DOJ had found reasonable cause to believe that the Portland Police Bureau has an unconstitutional “pattern or practice” of using excessive force against persons with actual or perceived mental illness. Based on that finding, the United States sued the City of Portland.

The City of Portland reached a proposed Settlement Agreement with the US to remedy the problems identified in the US’s investigation. The proposed Settlement Agreement was also reviewed and deemed “fair and reasonable” by the Portland Police Association and The Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform.

However, at two days of Fairness Hearings before the judge in mid-February it was clear not all the community was so happy with the proposed settlement.

In particular there was anger that the settlement only focuses on police interactions — repeatedly not good — with citizens suffering from mental illness. And even then, substantial organizations with an interest in mental health issues in Portland were also not supporting the settlement.

The DOJ investigation and the proposed settlement ignores the history of Portland police interactions with the city’s black population.

In particular, the parameters and time-frame of the DOJ investigation seemed to have been carefully written to avoid any investigation of the police killing of 25-year-old African-American Keaton Otis on 12 May 2010.

At the height of the rush hour, yards from the city’s main Grand Ave, Keaton Otis was killed in a seven-second barrage of 32 shots by officers of the city’s Hotspot Enforcement Action Team within minutes of being pulled over on the pretext of failing to signal a lane change.

Prior to the tragedy, Keaton Otis stands in back, flanked by his mother and stepfather (holding the family dog, Hanna).

Prior to the tragedy, Keaton Otis stands in back, flanked by his mother and stepfather (holding the family dog, Hanna).

Twenty-three of the shots hit Keaton Otis. Nine missed. One was found, still warm, in a Radioshack more than a block away.

He was tazed three times. Witnesses say he was repeatedly hit through the  car’s window. The autopsy showed injuries consistent with wrist locks. The tendons in his left arm had been sliced with a knife.

Eight bullets were recovered from his body.

“He kind of looks like he could be a gangster,” the officers later claimed, “he’s got his hood up over his head,” and he had “some scruffy, scruffy facial hair.”

No contraband was found in his Toyota Corolla, which belonged to his mother. There was no alcohol or drugs in his body. He had no criminal record.

The public lynching was recorded on the iPhone of a witness. No attempt was made to stop traffic or pedestrians before the shooting, with witnesses watching in horror.

An hour after the shooting a gun — stolen four years previously but never reported — was found sitting on the driver’s seat. Police claimed Keaton Otis had shot an officer.

No cartridges from the gun were found at the scene, one was found two days later in the police car pound. No evidence — no finger or palm prints, blood, gunshot residues — has ever been presented linking Keaton Otis to the gun.

Did Keaton Otis have a gun? The evidence says no.

Officers who took control of the shooting scene had met with the HEAT officers in a local coffee bar before the shooting. They numbered some of the most notorious of Portland’s officers, including one who had months before been in court for bean-bagging a 12-year-old girl at point-blank range after hitting her in the face with the heel of his hand.

The officers say they first saw Keaton Otis driving by the coffee bar as they were leaving.

Keaton's father, Fred Bryant, at a vigil for his son in April, 2011.

Keaton’s father, Fred Bryant, at a vigil for his son in April, 2011.

At the Grand Jury key witnesses were not called, the video was shown edited by the police and the woman who shot it asked to leave, one witness who claimed Otis had shouted “they’re gonna kill me” was discredited while the police were given free reign… in one case spending five pages of lurid testimony to describe the look in Keaton Otis’s eyes.

The seven officers immediately involved were protected from immediate questioning following the shooting by Portland’s notorious 48-hour rule.

The shooting occurred on the same day Portland’s mayor had sacked the city’s chief of police, who had taken direct control of the HEAT officers just a month before. The officers admitted they had spent most of the day together discussing the sacking of their chief.

The Portland Police Review Board concluded the application of deadly force was “within policy”. Today, all the officers remain part of the same team, or Portland’s Gang Enforcement Team, working almost exclusively in the boundaries of the traditional black area of the city.

At the Fairness Hearings Judge Simon was presented with extensive documentation detailing the many anomalies and inconsistencies in the police investigation and the Grand Jury.

The judge was asked to refer the police killing of Keaton Otis back to the DOJ and FBI for an independent and transparent investigation. He has yet to respond to that call.

Links:

Justice for Keaton Otis

A detailed review of the police killing of Keaton Otis, including links to publicly available documents, police/witness statements, Grand Jury transcript, detective reports, video, police audio, etc.

Details of the Fairness Hearings at the Oregon District Court.

Transcript of the Fairness Hearings