Officers Explain Why They Shot Man

Not Available Elsewhere Online – July 22, 1993 | The Oregonian

A Portland police officer told investigators that he shot at a fleeing man Monday night because the man was armed with a gun and might have taken a hostage if he had escaped.

The man, who was hit in the back and the elbow, did not fire his .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun, and police investigators do not believe he pulled it out of his waistband, said Sgt. Derrick Foxworth, spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau.

The man, Gerald Frank Gratton Jr., 27, of 8802 N. Hartman St., was in fair condition Wednesday night in a Portland hospital. He was under police guard.

The shooting followed a complaint by a Tri-Met driver about two men drinking on a bus and threatening her. When police tried to take Gratton off the bus, he broke free and was shot as he ran away.

Police investigators talked Wednesday with the two Portland police officers who fired a total of 27 times at Gratton on North Lombard Street near Interstate Avenue. Officer Douglas Erickson, 33, fired 23 times, reloading his 9mm Glock after emptying the weapon once. Officer David Thoman, 38, fired his Glock four times.

Investigators do not yet know which officer’s shots hit Gratton.

Foxworth said members of the Police Bureau have expressed concern about the number of shots that were fired. He said investigators would scrutinize the shooting closely.

“We ask ourselves the same questions that everyone else does,” Foxworth said.

The officers involved gave investigators the following story:

They boarded the No. 4 bus at the request of the driver, Marcia Owens, who complained that Gratton and his brother, Devon Simms, 24, of the same address, were drinking beer.

The officers frisked Simms and handcuffed him, and Thoman took him off the bus. By then, Officer Cheryl Swenson had arrived and boarded the bus.

Swenson and Erickson told Gratton to raise his hands. When he did, Swenson saw a gun in his waistband and yelled that he was armed.

Gratton pushed Swenson and Erickson away and ran out the back door of the bus. Erickson followed. Gratton ran behind the bus and across Lombard. Erickson pulled out his Glock, stopped behind the bus and fired 13 times at Gratton.

Thoman, who had been watching Simms by a patrol car parked in front of the bus, heard the shots and ran to the rear of the bus. He fired four times at Gratton. Thoman then ran back to Simms, who had run in front of the bus into the middle of Lombard.

Erickson ran after Gratton. About this time, the gun fell out of Gratton’s waistband. Erickson told investigators he never saw the gun fall out and emptied his own pistol, believing Gratton was still armed.

Erickson reloaded. Gratton turned and faced Erickson, who fired four more shots. Gratton then fell to the ground.

Erickson said he fired because he believed Gratton might commandeer a car or go to a nearby 7-Eleven store and take a hostage.

When officers fire their weapons, they must consider where the bullets will lodge. In this case, Gratton was running in front of an open field. Foxworth said he did not know whether the investigators had specifically asked Erickson and Thoman whether they had considered the ramifications of firing at someone with an open field as a backdrop.

The Multnomah County district attorney’s office is investigating whether the police were justified in using deadly force.

As is routine, the Police Bureau also is investigating.

According to police rules, deadly force is allowed under the following circumstances: “1) An officer may use deadly force to protect himself or others from what he reasonably believes to be an immediate threat of death or critical bodily harm. 2) An officer may use deadly force to effect the capture or prevent the escape of a suspect where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”