Portland’s City Council on Wednesday approved a $2.3 million settlement to resolve a federal lawsuit filed by William Kyle Monroe, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder and permanently disabled after Police Officer Dane Reister fired lethal rounds at him from his beanbag shotgun two years ago.
The amount marks the city’s largest individual settlement in its history.
It was reached after negotiations between city attorneys and Monroe’s lawyers in two mediation sessions with U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken.
The City Council voted 4-0 to approve the significant payout. Mayor Charlie Hales was at an unrelated news conference and not present for the vote.
The cost to the city will be $965,000 and the remaining $1,335,000 will be covered by the city’s excess insurance carrier.
“I think it’s a reasonable resolution of the case. We made a mistake,” Jim Rice, a deputy city attorney, told the council. “Of course we want to learn from our mistakes. We were lucky it didn’t turn out worse than it was.”
Monroe’s lawyer Thane Tienson told The Oregonian that the money will help pay for Monroe’s ongoing medical costs and lost wages stemming from the June 30, 2011, shooting.
“I think it was the right thing to do,” Tienson said Wednesday afternoon. “If anything, the amount is a little conservative, but nonetheless fair.”
Monroe, who was 20 at the time, narrowly escaped bleeding to death only because OHSU Hospital was near the shooting scene, his lawyer said.
Reister’s gunshots fractured Monroe’s pelvis and punctured his bladder, abdomen and colon. The fourth shot, fired from less than 15 feet away, left a “softball-size hole in his left leg” and severed the sciatic nerve, according to Monroe’s suit.
Tienson said the situation should have been handled without force.
The day after the shooting, then-Mayor Sam Adams called it “a tragic mistake.”
Within weeks of the shooting, Rice said he, along with Assistant Chief Eric Hendricks and the Police Bureau’s then-director of services Mike Kuykendall approached Monroe’s lawyers.
Rice said he knew Monroe’s lawyers and suggested that they need not file a lawsuit. Rice said he told Monroe’s lawyers that the city was prepared to mediate the case to a financial resolution, considering the city accepted fault. Rice said he also offered to exchange any police reports and documents with Monroe’s lawyers.
The lawsuit ended up being filed earlier this year, and a settlement was reached last month.
Monroe’s federal lawsuit accused Reister, the police chief and the city of violating Monroe’s civil rights through false arrest, assault and negligence. The suit alleged that the police chief could have prevented such a mistake by prohibiting officers from mixing lethal ammunition with less-lethal munitions in their duty bags, as Reister did.
Further, the suit contended that the bureau had failed to adequately discipline officers who are “pre-disposed” to using excessive force. And, it demanded the bureau fire Reister.
According to the suit, Monroe lived in Hillsboro and had intended to drive to Bremerton, Wash., to visit his mother the day before the shooting, but he became disoriented and was suffering from a paranoid mania.
He ended up in Lair Hill Park the next morning, where children from a day camp were playing. Monroe pulled discarded flowers out of a park garbage bin and tossed them near the children. Camp supervisors told Monroe to leave. Police received two 9-1-1 calls from camp officials. The camp director said in the second call that Monroe may have had a pocketknife up his sleeve.
Reister responded to the call. He spotted Monroe on Southwest Naito Parkway, commanded him to stop and get down on his knees with his hands behind his head. Reister asked Monroe whether he had any weapons, and Monroe emptied his pockets, discarding his miniature Swiss Army knife, the suit said. Monroe put his hands behind his head but asked why he should get on his knees. Reister grabbed his beanbag shotgun from his car as two more officers arrived.
Monroe assured police he hadn’t done anything wrong as he backed away, then began running and yelled for help. Without warning, the suit said, Reister fired five times, emptying his clip. The fifth round jammed because of Reister’s “excessively rapid firing,” the suit said.
No one from the Police Bureau was present at Wednesday’s council session when the settlement came up for a vote.
Last month, Chief Mike Reese released a statement: “The Police Bureau continues to hope for Mr. Monroe’s full recovery and the Bureau recognizes that this incident has been extremely difficult for everyone involved.”
Commissioner Amanda Fritz asked Rice what changes have been made to avoid a similar mistake.
The Police Bureau adopted new protocol four months after the shooting in late October 2011, at the same time Reister’s attorney Janet Hoffman was arguing in court that the bureau’s “gross negligence” and lack of safeguards for the handling and storage of police ammunition contributed to Reister’s shooting.
The new directive required that officers who are certified to carry the beanbag shotguns to check out the firearm from their precinct’s armory at the start of their shifts. They must only load the beanbag shotguns with bureau-issued, less-lethal ammunition that would be stored in a carrier attached to the side or stock of the orange-painted, 12-gauge shotguns. The guns must be loaded in the police vehicle from this supply only.
At the time of Reister’s shooting, he carried both the lethal and beanbag ammunition in his duty bag. He mistakenly loaded live buckshot rounds – which are yellow – into his beanbag shotgun, Rice said. The beanbag shotgun rounds are red-colored.
Fritz asked if police officers are tested for color blindness.
“To have a serious error like this, I think we should be looking at every factor,” she said.
(Sgt. Pete Simpson, who serves as bureau spokesman, said police applicants are tested for color blindness during pre-employment screening.)
The bureau chose not to pursue a step taken by many other law enforcement agencies to ensure against similar mistakes: Not allowing the use of the same weapon platform, a 12-gauge shotgun, that can hold both lethal and less-lethal rounds.
Local resident Joe Walsh addressed the council, questioning how a veteran officer can fire five successive shots from his shotgun before realizing he was not firing a beanbag, but lethal ammunition.
“He put a pineapple-sized hole in a man’s leg. The man was mentally ill, again!” Walsh told the council Wednesday. He asked if anyone from the city has personally apologized to Monroe or his family.
Though Tienson has said he believed a higher settlement could be justified given Monroe’s permanently disabling injuries, he told The Oregonian last month, “There’s value in settling a case early on. Mr. Monroe wanted to put this case behind him and get on with his life, and that’s a decision I respect.”
Tienson said earlier he also hoped the large settlement would spur substantial change within the Police Bureau on how officers respond to people in emotional crisis.
“We’d like to think another multimillion-dollar settlement involving claims of excessive force by Portland police against someone who has a mental illness will provide further pressure on the city” to get reforms underway stemming from a recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Portland police, he said last month.
The investigation found that Portland police engage in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness.
Nearly two years after the shooting, Reister has faced no discipline and remains on paid administrative leave.
Yet Rice signaled Wednesday that the Police Bureau’s internal review of Reister’s actions are “somewhere near completion at this point.”
“The guy should be fired,” Tienson said Wednesday afternoon, of Reister.
Reister also faces pending criminal charges.
Reister has pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with third –and fourth-degree assault. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office added a negligent wounding charge, but whether that charge can stick is a matter pending before the Oregon Court of Appeals.
The indictment marked the first time in the county’s history that a grand jury brought criminal charges against a Portland officer for force used on duty.
Portland Copwatch, in an email to city commissioners, urged the council to consider pursuing a charter amendment that would require officers to buy their own professional liability policy, though the city could pay for it.
Officers who engage in repeated acts of misconduct could eventually become uninsurable, and unable to continue to work as police officers, said Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. He said that such a policy – also being floated in the city of Minneapolis – would rid Portland of “frequent fliers” who end up being the subject of multiple lawsuits and costly settlements to the city.
READ – Nope, the City’s Embarrassing $2.3 Million Payout Can’t be Explained by Color Blindness, Portland Mercury, June 5, 2013
READ – Portland agrees to $2 million deal with man shot by officer, KPTV.com, June 5, 2013
READ – Council OKs Payout In Wrong Ammunition Police Shooting, OPB.com, June 5, 2013