By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, April 30, 2013
The city of Portland will pay $2.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed after Police Officer Dane Reister wounded William Kyle Monroe in 2011 when he mistakenly fired lethal rounds at him from a beanbag shotgun.
The proposed settlement was reached after city attorneys and Monroe’s lawyer met Monday in a mediation session with U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken.
It must still go before the City Council for approval. If accepted, it would mark the city’s largest individual settlement in its history.
“Honestly, I think in the grand scheme of things, it’s not an unfair settlement,” Thane Tienson, Monroe’s lawyer, said Tuesday.
Tienson said the money will help pay for Monroe’s ongoing medical costs and lost wages.
Reister’s gunshots fractured Monroe’s pelvis and punctured his bladder, abdomen and colon. The fourth shot, fired from less than 15 feet away, left a “softball-size hole in his left leg” and severed the sciatic nerve, according to Monroe’s suit.
Monroe, who was 20 at the time and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is permanently disabled and narrowly escaped bleeding to death only because OHSU Hospital was near the shooting scene, his lawyer said.
The day after the shooting, then-Mayor Sam Adams called the shooting “a tragic mistake.”
Mayor Charlie Hales said Tuesday he was aware that a proposed settlement had been reached.
Chief Mike Reese released a statement: “The Police Bureau continues to hope for Mr. Monroe’s full recovery and the Bureau recognizes that this incident has been extremely difficult for everyone involved.”
Though Tienson said he believed a higher settlement could be justified given Monroe’s permanently disabling injuries, he added, “There’s value in settling a case early on. Mr. Monroe wanted to put this case behind him and get on with his life, and that’s a decision I respect.”
Tienson said he also hopes the large settlement spurs substantial change within the Police Bureau — “not only in training, but in the way the Police Bureau responds to claims of people who are in emotional crisis. The record speaks for itself.
“We’d like to think another multimillion-dollar settlement involving claims of excessive force by Portland police against someone who has a mental illness will provide further pressure on the city” to get reforms underway stemming from a recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Portland police, he said.
The investigation found that Portland police engage in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness.
Monroe’s federal lawsuit accused Reister, Police Chief Mike Reese and the city of violating Monroe’s civil rights through false arrest, assault and negligence.
The suit alleged that the police chief could have prevented such a mistake by prohibiting officers from mixing lethal ammunition with less-lethal munitions in their duty bags, as Reister did. Further, the suit contended that the bureau had failed to adequately discipline officers who are “pre-disposed” to using excessive force.
“Defendant Reister’s conduct was so extreme that it goes beyond all possible bounds of decency, and it constituted conduct that a reasonable person would regard as intolerable in a civilized community,” Tienson wrote in the suit.
According to the suit, Monroe, who lives with his father in Hillsboro, had intended to drive to Bremerton, Wash., to visit his mother the day before the shooting, but became disoriented and was suffering from a paranoid mania.
He ended up in Lair Hill Park the next morning, where children from a day camp were playing. Monroe pulled discarded flowers out of a park garbage bin and tossed them near the children. Camp supervisors told Monroe to leave the park. Police received two 9-1-1 calls from camp officials. The camp director said in the second call that Monroe may have a pocket knife up his sleeve.
Reister responded to the call. He spotted Monroe on Southwest Naito Parkway, commanded him to stop and get down on his knees with his hands behind his head. Reister asked Monroe if he had any weapons, and Monroe emptied his pockets, discarding his miniature Swiss army knife, the suit says. Monroe put his hands behind his head, but asked why he should get on his knees. Reister grabbed his beanbag shotgun from his car, and two more officers arrived.
Monroe assured police he hadn’t done anything wrong as he backed away and then began running and yelled for help. Without warning, the suit says, Reister fired five times, emptying his clip. The fifth round jammed because of Reister’s “excessively rapid firing,” the suit says.
Four months after the shooting, the police chief issued a new policy, requiring that beanbag ammunition be stored only in a carrier attached to the side or stock of the orange-painted, 12-gauge beanbag shotguns.
Five years earlier, the suit noted, Reister mistakenly fired a loaded riot-suppression launcher during training, injuring an officer posing as a protester with a smoke round.
The suit had called for Reister to lose his job. That’s not part of the proposed settlement, Tienson said.
“That’s a decision the city has yet to decide,” he said. “I think my client would like to see that happen.”
Nearly two years after the shooting, Reister has faced no discipline and remains on paid administrative leave.
He also faces pending criminal charges. Reister has pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with third- and fourth-degree assault. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office added a negligent wounding charge.
The indictment marked the first time in the county’s history that a grand jury brought criminal charges against a Portland officer for force used on duty.
Judge Aiken has brokered other large settlements between plaintiffs and the city of Portland.
She helped broker a $1.2 million settlement in February 2012 between the city and the family of Aaron Campbell, an unarmed African American man shot in the back in 2010 during a police standoff. She also helped in the mediation that led to the $1.6 million settlement between the city and family of James P. Chasse Jr. in May 2010, the largest settlement then in the city’s history.