Hospital shooting raises questions

From the Portland Tribune, April 6, 2001

Family’s attorney will conduct an inquiry into death of mental patient

An attorney for the family of 29-year-old Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot, who was fatally shot by a Portland police officer at a psychiatric hospital last weekend, will continue her own inquiry into circumstances that led to Mejia’s death last Sunday.

“The family has a number of important questions in terms of practices and policies,” said Linda Friedman Ramirez, a Portland attorney. She said at a press conference Thursday that she will speak with the district attorney’s office and consult police experts about the shooting. “We need more information. We certainly have things that are a reason to be concerned about.”

Consul General of Mexico Alma Soria Ayuso said she has asked Chief Mark Kroeker to keep the consul informed of the results of the Portland Police Bureau’s investigation into the incident as soon as it is available.

Carlos Mejia, the victim’s brother, said through a translator that he is saddened “particularly because of the manner we were informed this occurred.” Ramirez said the family was not informed of the Sunday evening death until Monday, through the Mexican Consulate. “We want to know the truth of how it is that all this took place,” he said.

The victim’s father, Pedros Mejia, did not comment, but held his head in his hands and wiped tears from his eyes.

Mejia, a native of Mexico’s Yucatan state who lived in Northeast Portland, died from gunshots to the head and chest last Sunday evening at BHC-Pacific Gateway Hospital in Sellwood. The series of incidents that led to the shooting began Friday morning when officers were called for assistance on a Tri-Met bus Mejia had boarded. He was then arrested for harassment and resisting arrest.

Mejia was eventually taken to Pacific Gateway Hospital, the state’s only private psychiatric ward. On Sunday evening, staff called police twice to help control and secure Mejia, who was reportedly threatening others.

During the second call, officers found Mejia outside a locked room they had initially placed him in. They used pepper spray and beanbag rounds to try and secure him again, but with little effect. One officer then fired the two fatal shots, police said. The three officers, placed on administrative leave, are not members of the bureau’s Crisis Intervention Team –  a unit of about 65 patrol officers who receive training every six months to deal with people who display signs of mental health problems. Hospital officials have yet to comment on the case.

Questions persist

Ramirez said the Mejia family “has been devastated of the unnecessary death.” Among the questions she raised:

  • Why were police called by a Tri-Met driver over a difference in fare?
  • How was Mejia treated by the officer who boarded the bus? Was the use of pepper spray and cuff restraints at the feet necessary?
  • Was Mejia injured in his contact with the police?
  • Was an interpreter contacted anytime in the chain of events?
  • Why hadn’t the Mexican Consulate been contacted?
  • What efforts were made to contact Mejia’s family after his arrest and once he was taken to the hospital?