Police shooting victim, Jack Dale Collins, asked for mental health help

(Photo: Flickr.com/Thomas Hawk)

Just 11 days before he was killed by a Portland police officer, Jack Dale Collins, 58, walked into a police station and asked for mental health care, according to a police report.

Police say the shooting was justified, but many Portlanders are questioning Officer Jason Walters’ decision to use deadly force, and hundreds of self-proclaimed “anarchists” have taken to the streets to protest the shooting.

The March 11 police report describes Collins walking into Central Precinct and confessing to a 42-year-old sex crime, which the officer did not believe had actually occurred. The officer wrote that Collins had difficulty with the conversation, and “acted as if he didn’t understand several of the questions.” Collins then asked for mental health assistance, and was referred to Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare.

Less than two weeks later, on March 22, police received a 911 call about a man harassing and threatening people at Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park. When Officer Walters arrived, he saw Collins coming out of the bathroom, covered in blood from self-inflicted wounds, and holding a knife.

According to police, Collins walked toward the officer, ignoring three commands to drop the knife. Walters shot Collins four times, killing him. The entire interaction took less than three minutes.

Medical examiner Karen Gunson said that Collins had cut himself across the neck several times and may have been trying to kill himself. Toxicology tests are pending, but Gunson found no signs of intoxication.

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer defended Walters’ actions. “Portland police officers are confronted every day with life and death decisions. I am thankful that Officer Walters was able to protect the public in a place that is loved,” she said in a press conference.

Referral to Cascadia

When Collins reached out for help on March 11, was police response appropriate? Could police have averted this tragedy? Christopher J. O’Conner, a Portland attorney and board member of the Mental Health Association of Portland, expressed concerns and offered suggestions.

“[Collins] was obviously in some sort of mental health crisis, and the city either missed the signs or failed to provide adequate services to address Mr. Collins needs before the crisis escalated,” said O’Connor.

“A person will get almost zero services from the city of Portland when in the midst of a mental health crisis. The police are often the first called by citizens, or in this case contacted by a person seeking help. Unfortunately, the city has no services to directly offer to the citizen in crisis.

“In this situation, the officer simply referred him to a non-profit agency that Mr. Collins may or may not have been able to access. Depending on the time of day, Mr. Collins’ ability to access transportation, or the level of mental distress, ‘go to Cascadia’ may have been the same thing as saying, ‘Get out of my office and maybe someone else will help you.'”  Read more