There is a long and sordid history with the Portland Police and Tasers, which MHAP has been documenting for years. Finally, a Federal Grand Jury agrees there is a problem. As always, follow the Links below to the appropriate sections of this posting:
Portland Mercury: Police Brutality Victim Wins Trial
Portland Mercury: Juicing the Debate: Another Report Demands Cops Tighten up Taser Policy
Some Background Information:
Office of the City Auditor, Portland Oregon: POLICE TASER USE: Incidents generally resolved, but some practices and policies could be improved – Nov. 2010
Mental Health Association of Portland: Our previous coverage of Taser events
A federal jury today ruled unanimously that a Portland police officer used excessive force when he fired a Taser five times into the back of a man he suspected of spray-painting graffiti on a commercial building.
The jury deliberated about three hours and ruled that Portland Police Officer Benjamin J. Davidson violated Daniel J. Halsted’s constitutional rights, and awarded him $125,000 in punitive damages, $75,000 in non-economic damages and $6,372.70 for medical costs.
Halsted, a 36-year-old Portland resident with no criminal record, called the June 17, 2008, encounter at Northeast Wasco Street and 26th Avenue “the most traumatic experience” in his life.
His attorney Joseph Grube argued that Davidson failed to identify himself as an officer on a dark street at 1 a.m., wrongly assumed his client was involved in the vandalism and used force disproportional to the alleged crime of “petty vandalism.”
Once Tased, Halsted said he fell, had his face pushed into the ground and suffered facial fractures and abrasions to his head and hands. Police cited him for resisting arrest and criminal mischief, but prosecutors didn’t file charges.
“He’s not allowed to needlessly attack someone without probable cause,” Grube said. “A police officer should not assume someone is guilty before they use force.”
Deputy City Attorney James Rice countered that Davidson, who joined the bureau in 2003, acted as any reasonable officer would, trying to stop a man who was seen running blocks from the suspected vandalism and Tasing him when he continued to run. He argued that there was no mistaking Davidson as an officer since he was in uniform and got out of a marked police car.
“This is a police officer doing his job, under difficult circumstances in the dark, with the tools given him,” Rice said.”The level of force was brought on by Mr. Halsted when he started to run and fought with police officers.”
The officer’s and Halsted’s accounts differed.
Halsted testified that he was walking home after a night out bowling with friends and a stop for dinner and drinks at the Rose and Thistle pub. After he bid goodbye to his friends – a couple who lived on Northeast 24th Avenue – Halsted said he continued to walk home, now alone. As he turned onto Northeast Wasco Street, Halsted said he noticed a flashlight shining on him and heard a man behind him yell “Get him!”
He said he looked back, saw a dark figure and began to run east on Wasco because he was frightened. He heard “Tase him,” and then felt a shock to his back and fell. While yelling out for citizens and neighbors to call police, he was Tased four more times before other officers helped Davidson get Halsted into custody in a maximum hobble restraint. He was then taken to a local hospital.
“It’s the most traumatic experience I’ve had,” Halsted testified. “It’s changed my view of the police. It’s extremely non-sensical. I can’t believe it happened. It’s disgusting.” Halsted, then technical director at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre, is now the theatre’s head film programmer.
Davidson testified he was responding to a report that four men were seen on the roof of a building at 2506 N.E. Multnomah St., tagging it with spray paint. Dispatch alerted Davidson that a suspect was seen heading east on Wasco. When Davidson approached Northeast 26th Avenue and Wasco, he said he looked west and saw three men running toward him on Wasco. Davidson said he got out of his patrol car and shined his flashlight on the men, yelling “Police, stop!” He said two of the three men ran in between houses while the third, Halsted, darted onto the south sidewalk of Wasco Street, heading toward Davidson and skirted past him. When he refused to stop, Davidson said he fired his Taser.
Rice tried to discredit Halsted, asking him about his collection of Kung Fu movies, and suggested during his closing argument that Halsted kept resisting because he was likely intoxicated. Halsted’s attorney countered that there was no evidence of Halsted’s intoxication, and asked Halsted if he’d ever been trained in martial arts, to which the answer was no.
“It’s scary because it wasn’t just the incident but their report of what happened, which didn’t align with the facts,” Halsted said after the verdict. “I was just a guy walking home. It could’ve been anybody.”
The suit follows a city audit that recommended police restrict the number of Taser cycles officers use. Currently, Portland police are authorized to use a Taser when a person engages in, or displays the intent to engage in physical resistance or aggressive physical resistance.
The city has reviewed the policy, which is more permissive than model police guidelines, for at least two years, but no changes have been made. Officers though, have been trained on recent developments in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case law, which says Taser probe use should be considered an intermediate use of force when there’s an immediate threat, said Dave Woboril, a deputy city attorney.
A police brutality case, first reported by the Mercury in 2008, has finally come to a close.
A federal jury yesterday ruled unanimously that Portland Police Officer Benjamin Davidson used excessive force when he Tasered Dan J. Halsted after suspecting that he’d tagged a nearby commercial building. The 2008 incident left Halsted — who was innocently walking home from a bar — seriously cut up and traumatized from Davidson’s attack. However, Halsted waited until 2010 to file suit against the city and the officers at the scene.
Halsted, the man behind Hollywood Theater’s Grindhouse Film Festival, was ultimately awarded a grand total of $206,372.70 for his cumulative damages. But it wasn’t easy. The Oregonian reports that the trial sparked heated debate between Halsted’s attorney, Joseph Grube, and Deputy City Attorney James Rice, followed by a three-hour-long deliberation by the jury.
The gem of the trial?
“Rice tried to discredit Halsted, asking him about his collection of Kung Fu movies, and suggested during his closing argument that Halsted kept resisting because he was likely intoxicated. Halsted’s attorney countered that there was no evidence of Halsted’s intoxication, and asked Halsted if he’d ever been trained in martial arts, to which the answer was no.”
All in all, the long-winded case left Halsted satisfied (his Facebook status update today? “Dan Halsted:1 Portland Police: 0”), but with lingering (and understandable) police animosity.
“It’s scary because it wasn’t just the incident but their report of what happened, which didn’t align with the facts,” Halsted said after the verdict, according to the O. “I was just a guy walking home. It could’ve been anybody.”
The Chorus of police accountability advocates and other officials calling on the Portland Police Bureau to overhaul its policies for less-lethal weapons — including Tasers, beanbag shotguns, and pepper spray — is poised to grow even louder.
The Mercury has obtained a draft report written by a panel of the city’s Citizen Review Committee (CRC) that urges a dramatic tightening in the standard Portland cops are supposed to adhere to when deciding to zap or pepper spray someone.
Under current Portland policy, officers can shock or spray someone who merely shows the “intent” to resist. But the report says cops should use their weapons only when someone is “actively” resisting — a suggestion that echoes a city audit [“Shocking Questions,” News, Nov 25, 2010] and reflects the current will of the federal court that governs Portland.
The thinking is that Tasers and pepper spray are so painful that they ought to be used only when someone is actually posing a direct threat to a cop or someone else — not just if someone refuses to listen to an officer.
“That’s the operating [legal] standard, and I think they need to go by that,” says one of the report’s authors, Michael Bigham, a former Port of Portland cop.
In other findings, the report also wants the bureau to resume tracking every time its officers come close enough to zapping someone that the Taser’s laser pointer is activated. It also suggests capping the number of times a person can be shocked — a painful experience, at 50,000 volts — at three.
“Just pulling on that trigger” — and activating the laser pointer — “gets compliance,” says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. “How often is that effective?”
A report by the Community and Police Relations Committee, a branch of the city’s Human Rights Commission whose members include police officers, also recommended, in a report issued last July, tracking so-called “laser dots.”
But while the bureau should be familiar with the recommendations, there’s a catch: The CRC’s report is a long way from becoming final — and some recommendations may change. The police bureau also isn’t compelled to accept them.
The latest draft is sitting on the desk of Mary-Beth Baptista, director of the city’s Independent Police Review (IPR) Division, awaiting her comments. The police bureau also will review the report and make suggestions. From there, Bigham says, the report’s authors will consider those remarks before sending a version to the full, nine-member CRC for a vote. That’s when officials had been expecting the contents of the report to be made public.
The process will pose an interesting test for the CRC, which handles appeals of police misconduct cases but also is tasked with helping the police bureau and Portland City Council fine-tune policies and procedures. Because of rule changes last year, this is the first CRC policy report that will go forward without the explicit approval of the IPR office.
“Once we get that input back from the IPR and the bureau, we’ll sit back down and talk about them and see whether we would change any recommendations,” Bigham says. “Or, if not, we’ll see if we need more evidence to bolster them. I would lean more toward that.”
Because the report has not yet been presented to the full CRC, Baptista wouldn’t comment on its contents. She also was concerned the Mercury had an early copy, even though the report’s authors met publicly for several months and circulated drafts.
Baptista did say the process wouldn’t unfold any differently under the new rules for CRC reports, arguing she’d never before exercised her right to censor a policy report.
“I prefer they make their recommendations directly to the bureau or city council,” she says. “That way there’s some kind of distance and independence.”
The police bureau also declined to comment — but if past reports are a prologue, it isn’t likely to sign off on the recommendations as written. The bureau resisted the city auditor’s call to tighten its Taser policy and is hoping the legal landscape on Taser use changes in its favor.
Bigham says he expects some pushback on another recommendation in the report: a reaction to a shooting last summer when Officer Dane Reister seriously injured a man in a mental health crisis by mistakenly loading a less-lethal gun with live rounds.
Police since changed how they handle ammunition for the guns, adding safeguards and checks. But the report says police officials should consider either getting rid of live shotgun rounds altogether or buying less-lethal guns that are incapable of firing live rounds.
“Our concern was that it wasn’t enough. It still could happen,” Bigham says. “That’s not to say they’ll be receptive to that, but I think it’s important.”