Judge allows Portland Officer Dane Reister’s prior firearms mistake to be heard at trial

From the Oregonian, July 3, 2012

A Multnomah County judge ruled Tuesday that prosecutors can admit Officer Dane Reister‘s prior 2006 firearms mistake as evidence in his pending trial stemming from his June 30, 2011 shooting of William Monroe in Southwest Portland.

But Judge Jean Kerr Maurer dismissed a negligent wounding charge that the district attorney’s office had filed against Reister.

Multnomah County Judge Jean Kerr Maurer

Multnomah County Judge Jean Kerr Maurer

Both prosecutors and Reister’s lawyer said they’d appeal parts of the ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which could push a trial back for some time.

Maurer found that Oregon’s negligent wounding statute is not geared for police.

“This legislature could not have intended this statute to apply to police officers in the line of duty,” the judge ruled. “It is clear to me it would involve persons who would employ firearms and bows and arrows with negligence in hunting activities.”

Maurer issued her ruling after hearing testimony from both sides offered during two days of hearings in May and July.

Reister, 40, has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault and fourth-degree assault in the June 30, 2011 shooting. Reister seriously injured William Monroe, then 20, in Southwest Portland when he fired a less-lethal beanbag shotgun that he had mistakenly loaded with lethal rounds at him.

Five years earlier, Reister mistakenly struck a fellow officer posing as a protester with a smoke round fired from a 37mm TL-1 launcher during a crowd-control training drill at Camp Rilea along the Oregon coast.

Reister pulled the trigger of the launcher to simulate a so-called skip round that’s supposed to bounce off the ground, but it was loaded with a projectile that struck Officer Zach Kenney in the leg, causing a minor bruise.

His lawyer, Janet Hoffman, argued in court that the two mistakes aren’t similar, and to allow Reister’s mistake at Camp Rilea to go before a jury in his pending trial would be prejudicial.

She said Reister forgot there was a projectile in his launcher during the 2006 training drill and the mistake partly resulted from inadequate bureau safety protocol for the training scenario. That’s different, she said, from the 2011 incident in which Reister misloaded his beanbag shotgun.

“There is no relevancy between what happened at Camp Rilea to what happened to Monroe,” Hoffman argued.

Prosecutors countered there was a clear connection. Chief deputy district attorney Norm Frink argued that in both instances, Reister didn’t know the status of his weapon and what it was loaded with when he pulled the trigger.

Frink asked Portland police Officer Paul Meyer, the bureau’s lead special weapons instructor who had been called by Reister’s lawyer to testify: “Is it a fundamental principle within the Portland Police Bureau that it’s a personal responsibility for an individual officer to be aware of the status of his weapon’s system at all times?”

“Yes,” Meyer said.

Frink continued, asking Meyer if an officer who had been disciplined for a prior firearms mistake should be on a heightened state of awareness when loading his weapons.

“Personally, I can say that I would,” Meyer said.

The judge agreed with prosecutors.

“The facts of this case and of Camp Rilea are substantially similar,” Maurer said.

Maurer added that the Camp Rilea mistake would not be “inflammatory” evidence, and it’s “probative value” outweighed any possible prejudice.

She ruled that Reister’s mistake in training in 2006 and subsequent letter of reprimand “are relevant to establish his awareness of the risks involved in incorrectly loading weapons.”