Moose fires policeman for extreme use of force

From The Oregonian, October 9, 1993 – not available elsewhere online

Portland Police Chief Charles Moose fired Officer Douglas Erickson on Friday for excessive use of force after the policeman fired 22 shots at a man who ran from a Tri-Met bus in July.

The dismissal of the North Precinct policeman is the first time the bureau has fired an officer, or for that matter disciplined one in any way, for his role in a police shooting.

Mayor Vera Katz, who also is police commissioner, said that she has reviewed the shooting and agrees with Moose. Both declined to comment further.

Erickson was fired effective 5 p.m. Friday for his role in the July 19 shooting of Gerald F. Gratton Jr., who was hit in the arms by the gunfire.

Gratton and his brother had been drinking and got on the No. 4 Fessenden bus in North Portland. Police boarded the bus at the request of the driver. Gratton, who had a gun tucked in his waistband, ran out the back of the bus, Erickson followed and fired a total of 22 shots until Gratton fell.

Widespread community concern over the number of shots fired by police when they draw and shoot their guns.

The concern was particularly heightened after the bureau’s 1988 decision to let police use high-capacity semiautomatic pistols such as the 9mm Glock, which holds three times as many cartridges as the old six-shot revolvers.

Erickson, however, was fired not for the number of times he shot at Gratton, but for the fact that he shot at all at the 27-year-old North Portland man.

Chief Moose said in his termination letter to Erickson that the officer was unable to give a satisfactory explanation for why he opened fire in the first place or why he continued firing as Gratton ran away.

Moose found that Erickson violated the bureau’s general orders, which say police can use deadly force only when they believe their life or the lives of others are being threatened.

Police also can shoot in limited cases to stop certain kinds of fleeing felons. Officers are trained to shoot until there’s no longer a threat.

A grand jury in July reviewed the shooting, as is routine, and determined that Erickson hadn’t violated the letter of the law in shooting Gratton.

The grand jury, however, did take the extraordinary measure of asking District Attorney Michael Schrunk to write Moose.

“The grand jurors were concerned about the number of shots fired, the reckless manner in which they were fired and the officer’s inability to justify or explain why he fired when he did,” Schrunk’s letter said.

At the time of the shooting, Erickson said, he shot at Gratton because he thought Gratton might take a hostage, even though Gratton was running toward an unoccupied schoolyard in the middle of the night.

Police originally said that Erickson shot at Gratton 23 times, but a subsequent investigation showed that his gun was fired 22 times instead.

Gratton said late Friday that he wasn’t surprised Erickson was fired and that he considered himself “the luckiest man on Earth to survive all those bullets.”

Gratton said he’d gone through two surgeries already and needed to schedule a third. He refused to say why he had a gun on the bus or why he ran when police tried to frisk him.

But he said he ran away from Erickson the night he was shot because he wanted to survive.

“I knew I was being shot at and that this officer was out of control,” he said from his St. Johns home. “I just hoped I could get through this. He (Erickson) didn’t say anything at all. The only thing I heard was gunfire.”

Erickson has prior excessive force complaints. On March 4, 1992, Erickson broke a man’s nose and cheekbone after kicking him twice in the face during an arrest. The man, Charles VanMeter, 28, of 13331 S.E. Bush St., filed a complaint with the bureau saying he was the victim of excessive force.

Moose was Erickson’s precinct commander at the time, and after an internal investigation he found Erickson had used excessive force. But then Police Chief Tom Potter overturned Moose’s decision and exonerated Erickson on July 5, 1992.

Erickson also was the subject of a complaint in June after he used his nightstick to break out the car window of a man who tried to drive around traffic leaving Portland International Raceway during the Portland 200 Indy car race.

The man claimed his car was overheating and refused Erickson’s order to pull off to the side of the road. Erickson tried to arrest the man after breaking the window and sprayed the man’s eyes with pepper mace when he resisted.

In the Gratton shooting, Erickson’s partner Officer David Thoman also opened fire on Gratton.

Thoman shot four times after seeing that his partner was shooting at a fleeing suspect, but then stopped when he determined that Gratton posed no threat, [Derrick] Foxworth said at the time of the shooting. The grand jury that investigated the case determined that he “acted responsibly and professionally.”

Bureau policy requires that the Internal Investigations Division investigate police shootings and report to the officer’s precinct commander.

The precinct commander — Capt. Al Orr in Erickson’s case — made his recommendation to a review committee made up of deputy chiefs in the bureau. Together, they sent a recommendation for dismissal to Moose, who then met with Erickson to give him the chance to argue for his job.

Erickson began working for the Portland Police Bureau in September 1984, according to records at the Board on Public Safety Standards and Training in Salem. Before that, he was a deputy in the Douglas County Sheriff’s office from Sept. 12, 1983, to May 29, 1984, according to sheriff’s records in Roseburg.

At North Precinct, some officers expressed concern over Erickson’s firing; others tersely rebuffed interview requests.

A policeman who asked to remain anonymous said that officers in the precinct knew for weeks that some kind of disciplinary action would be taken against Erickson. He said a petition, signed by many officers, was circulated among the ranks asking that any action against Erickson stop short of termination.

“There’s plenty of room for mistakes to happen on the job,” the officer said. “You hope that when you shoot that you don’t do it out of malice or gross negligence, and that if you felt it was justified you will be backed up.”

The officer said he was a personal friend of Erickson.

The Police Bureau seldom fires officers, and when it does it’s usually for something done while off-duty. It is rare that the bureau has found a need to dismiss someone for the way in which duties were performed.

Not counting Erickson, six of the bureau’s 900 sworn personnel have been fired or forced to resign in the past 10 years. All but two of them returned to jobs in the bureau.

Only former Police Chief Penny Harrington and a detective convicted of assaulting an ex-girlfriend were not reinstated by the appeals process.

Detective David Yamasaki was fired on Aug. 20, 1992, after other police found his name in the records of a massage parlor suspected of being involved in prostitution. He has returned to duty as a detective after an arbitration hearing.

Roger Morse, president of the Portland Police Association, said the union had no comment on Erickson’s dismissal. Morse said that as a general rule, the appeal of discharge can take, “months and months” before it is settled.