Portland Police Officer Dane Reister, fired last month for mistakenly loading lethal buckshot into a beanbag shotgun and critically wounding a man two years ago, was never certified to carry the gun — one of a handful of officers who carried beanbag guns on patrol for years without formal training.
The Police Bureau’s internal review found that Reister had never received the required two-day training for the 12-gauge beanbag shotgun. He and others believed they had gotten the certification after attending a less-lethal weapons training in 2002 for members of the Rapid Response Team, a specialized crowd-control unit. But the session didn’t include hands-on training for the beanbag shotgun, investigators learned.
Only after Reister had misused the beanbag shotgun and fired four lethal rounds from it, permanently wounding 20-year-old William Kyle Monroe in June 2011, did investigators discover that he and at least four other officers never should have been carrying the less-lethal shotguns at all, according to internal police documents released Thursday at the order of the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office. The order followed public records requests by The Oregonian and the Portland Mercury.
Reister told detectives that he had been carrying the beanbag shotgun on patrol for nine years, fired it 12 to 15 times on the street and qualified at the shooting range with it 18 times between 2002 and January 2011. No Portland police firearms instructor or training supervisor apparently ever checked when he went to qualify whether he was supposed to be carrying that firearm, the records show.
In fact, based on the Police Bureau’s presumption that Reister had been certified to use the beanbag shotgun, he was allowed to serve as a grenadier – a chemical munitions specialist on the crowd control team. During training with that unit in 2006, Reister fired a loaded 37 mm riot-suppression launcher and struck an officer posing as a protester with a smoke projectile. Reister had forgotten he had loaded a live smoke round in the chamber and was disciplined with a reprimand letter.
Portland Police Chief Mike Reese cited the earlier error in the Oct. 2 letter he wrote to Reister firing him for shooting Monroe.
“You are being terminated from employment because, for the second time, you injured another person by discharging a weapon with rounds in it that were not supposed to be in the weapon,” Reese wrote.
The chief acknowledged that the bureau continues to look for ways to improve, but said Reister needed to take responsibility for his actions. “You are ultimately responsible for ensuring that you have loaded the correct ammunition in the weapons you use,” he wrote.
Reese also concluded that Monroe didn’t pose an immediate threat when shot.
On June 30, 2011, Reister responded to a call of a man with a knife harassing children at Lair Park. He found Monroe along Southwest Naito Parkway. When Monroe ignored Reister’s commands to sit on the ground and instead ran off, Reister chased after him and fired the shotgun at him. His shots fractured Monroe’s pelvis and punctured his bladder, abdomen and colon. The fourth shot, fired from less than 15 feet away, left a softball-sized hole in his left leg and severed his sciatic nerve. Monroe, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, narrowly escaped bleeding to death, his lawyer has said.
The city of Portland this spring agreed to pay a record $2.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Monroe. Reister, 42, who joined the Police Bureau in 1996, has pleaded not guilty to third- and fourth-degree assault charges, becoming the first Portland officer ever to face a criminal indictment for force used on duty. The Portland Police Association has filed a grievance to challenge Reister’s firing.
READ — PPA Grievance for Dane Reister (PDF, 648KB)
“The fact that he didn’t even know he had the proper training, as well as other officers, is a serious concern,” said Reister’s lawyer, Janet Hoffman, on Thursday.
A review of the shooting by the bureau’s Training Division also revealed missing training records and lesson plans from the crowd control team despite a policy that calls on all units to provide the material to the division for review and approval.
“If this policy is not enforced Bureau wide, this will continue to plague the Bureau as we move forward with trying to decipher which officers received exactly what training and what was taught at the training,” Training Lts. Mike Krantz and Derek Rodrigues wrote.
Reister should have noticed right away that he had fired lethal rounds at Monroe, the lieutenants said. There’s a “substantial difference” in the sound made and in the physical recoil felt by a shooter firing double 00 buckshot versus beanbag rounds, they wrote.
After the shooting, Reister told investigators that he could not remember visually inspecting the rounds he had loaded into the shotgun.
He said he usually kept the yellow beanbag rounds in a clear evidence bag or jail property bag in the top right quadrant of his duty bag, while the red lethal rounds were in the manufacturer’s boxes in the bottom of his duty bag. He said he used his binoculars as a divider.
Yet Reister remembered touching the rounds when loading the shotgun that day. “I remember feeling ’em in my hand, the tactile, I remember that,” he said. “What I don’t get is how my … my eyes may have seen it, but my mind didn’t tell me that it was the wrong color.”
Reister told investigators that he did not recall feeling the gun’s recoil and said the shotgun sound was “very faint.”
Four months after the shooting, as Reister’s lawyer argued in court that her client’s mistake was partly due to the Police Bureau’s negligent policies, the police chief issued a new policy. It required that beanbag ammunition be stored only in a carrier attached to the side or stock of the orange-painted, 12-gauge beanbag shotguns.
The Training Division has identified the officers who attended the same 2002 Rapid Response Team training as Reister had — and notified them that if they had not completed a less-lethal certification course, they were not certified to carry the beanbag shotgun. Under bureau policy, officers could only qualify at a firing range on a certain weapon if their name was on a list of certified operators for the weapon. Yet the bureau’s Training Division did not regularly supply an official list of certified operators for range qualifications, the police internal inquiry found.
Reister said he fired at Monroe because he did not want him running into a neighborhood and possibly hurting someone. After the shooting, Reister and other officers who approached were shocked by the amount of blood pouring from Monroe. At first, Reister said he thought his beanbag rounds had “over penetrated” Monroe.
But he walked down the grassy hill and told investigators later: “I believe I was standing, and I see a spent 12 gauge lethal round. And my heart sinks. And it makes sense. And my feelings of uh, of uh, relief that it was over, that it had, that we had safely uh, uh stopped this guy before harming somebody went from relief to, oh my god, what just happened? A horrible mistake has been made.”
Cop in Ammo Mixup Was Fired Over Past Record of Accidents; Documents Reveal Lapses in Training Records
Officer Dane Reister, fired last month for mistakenly shooting a [man diagnosed with bipolar disorder] with live shotgun rounds, had a history of slip-ups and accidents involving police property, according to a copy of his termination letter obtained by the Mercury—including a 2006 incident in which he’d injured a fellow cop with a smoke grenade he’d forgotten to unload.
Beyond that glaring mistake, Reister was counseled for failing to keep adequate control of police property and for getting into an accident he could have prevented. He also was suspended early in his career for misuse of overtime.
That record factored heavily in the decision to fire Reister, who, in 19 years as a cop, had served as a crisis intervention officer and a training instructor for young cops. Chief Mike Reese was scathingly blunt in explaining his thinking in the six-page termination letter he’d given to Reister on October 2. While Reese acknowledged that some changes could be made in bureau procedure on handling ammunition (and, indeed, have been made), the fault was all Reister’s.
But Reese also made clear the horror of what happened to the man Reister shot in the summer of 2011, William Kyle Monroe, who survived but with permanent injuries, was equally important.
There is not an excuse sufficient enough to relieve you of responsibility for not knowing what rounds you loaded in a weapon before firing it, particularly when that weapon is fired at another person with serious—and potentially deadly—consequences.
Reese’s letter also confirmed he wasn’t going out of his way to punish Reister. He said the city’s Police Review Board, a panel made up of civilians, the city’s Independent Police Review Director, and several officers—unanimously agreed that Reister deserved to be fired.
The bureau initially declined to release the termination letter when asked by the Mercury and the Oregonian. The papers appealed to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, which referred the matter to its counterparts in Clackamas County in part because criminal charges against Reister, for negligent wounding, are still pending. The criminal case holdup involves, in part, the 2006 incident Reese cited in his letter.
The Clackamas County DA’s Office ruled last week that the police bureau had to turn over the letter. It also ruled favorably on three other document requests made, in this case, solely by the Mercury: the bureau’s training review of the shooting, the commander’s findings memo, and the internal investigation of the case.
The city had tried to argue that releasing the documents would embarrass Reister, who was just a low-level cop and not a commanding officer. It also argued that enough about the shooting had already been made public. The Clackamas County DA’s office agreed with us, especially given the criminal case, that more information about the case—including a look at the bureau’s response—was clearly in the public’s interest.
Update 2:48 PM: So here’s a quick recap of what’s in those other documents. Reister worked an overtime shift in Old Town the night before, until 4 am, where he carried for reasons he wasn’t clear about, a loaded lethal shotgun—a departure from his usual choice of an AR-15 rifle. He doesn’t remember how he loaded lethal rounds into his less-lethal shotgun the next day. He also said he didn’t realize, despite briefly pausing between trigger pulls, he was firing lethal rounds—which kick and sound differently than beanbag rounds.
This is relevant, because the bureau’s investigation also found Reister was never actually certified to carry a less-lethal shotgun. He missed the two-day course for certified carriers and attended, instead, a class generally on less-lethal weapons as part of his training in 2002 before joining the bureau’s riot squad. Reister was among a handful of cops who fell into that loophole, thinking that class certified them. It did not. And it wasn’t clear beanbag guns were ever demonstrated in the class.
Lesson plans are missing—which the bureau’s training division has identified as a broader problem among the police bureau’s various specialty units. In essence, the training division currently can’t vouch that officers’ training records are as they seem.
The decision to use force, however, was blessed by bureau commanders. Central Precinct Commander Bob Day and witness cops all said this was a textbook case of when a beanbag gun should be used. Provided the right bullets had been loaded inside.
“My mind is just sp- sp- spinning and I walk down the hill to where I believe I was standing and I see a spent 12 gage lethal round. And my heart sinks. And it makes sense. And my feelings of uh, of uh, relief that it was over, that it had, that we had safely uh, uh, stopped this guy before harming somebody went from relief to, oh my god, what just happened? A horrible mistake has been made. And uh – I see that round and it happens to be that a sergeant is standing right there, Sergeant Marty Schell. And I look at the sergeant and I say immediately, I said Sergeant, I fired lethal rounds. That’s a lethal round, I fired lethal rounds. I wanted him to know right away so that he knew what the deal, what was going on so he -I wanted that guy to get medical help.”
Day looked into the confusion over Reister’s certification and said the allegation that he violated bureau policy on less-lethal munitions was unproven. He counted the ammunition mistake as a matter of basic competency and said that allegation was sustained. Reese agreed with the first, but not the second. When the bureau announced Reister’s dismissal last month, both directives—on competency and less-lethal procedures—were mentioned.