Plans to promote Portland police officer Leo Besner—the police sniper who shot Raymond Gwerder in the back in 2005, while Gwerder was on the phone with a hostage negotiator—are raising an outcry among community members who complain that his conduct over the years has cost the city nearly $1 million in legal costs.“When will I have to preside over another memorial service for someone killed by a member of the Portland Police Bureau?” the Rev. Chuck Currie wrote in a HARSH letter sent to Mayor Sam Adams late last night.
The letter blames Adams for the “years of chaos” in the police bureau “since you took office” and says allowing Besner to be promoted “will provide further evidence that either you have no control over the Police Bureau, due in large part to your self-inflected political wounds, or that you simply do not have the political capacity to led the city.”
He was responding to an Oregonian story published earlier in the day in which Chief Mike Reese confirmed that Besner would be made a sergeant in a ceremony on Thursday—never mind the fact that Besner has been repeatedly disciplined for conduct like inappropriately Tasering and menacing people. Reese tells the O that Besner did well on the examinations used to slate who deserves a bump.
The O says Gwerder’s family also have pleaded with the police bureau not to promote Besner. And earlier Monday Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch submitted a letter that broke down Besner’s misconductmore questionable conduct over the years—along with the costs associated with each incident. “It’s amazing that Besner continues to patrol our streets, much less that the bureau would consider promoting him.”
Handelman’s letter notes that last month, when Officer Ron Frashour was fired for killing Aaron Campbell in January, Reese cited past misconduct in Frashour’s discipline letter as added justification for the dismissal. Frashour’s rap sheet, however, was smaller than Besner’s list of settlement-worthy actions.
Update 5:40 pm: Handelman this afternoon wanted to clarify something after reading this post: “Just because Besner cost the city money does not mean he was disciplined” after any of the incidents laid out in Copwatch’s letter. “We don’t know whether he was in most of the cases.”
Keep reading to see the full letters sent by Currie and Handelman.
Dear Mr. Mayor:
It has come to my attention that Officer Leo Besner will be promoted to sergeant on Thursday.
Portland Police Chief Mike Reese told The Oregonian today that he could find no “justifiable reason” for denying the promotion. This shows a lack of moral clarity on the part of the chief that reflects back on you, Mr. Mayor, as police commissioner.
As you know, Officer Besner not only shot Raymond Gwerder in the back, killing him, but has faced numerous other serious charges of professional misconduct. The city of Portland has been forced to pay out nearly $1 million to settle suits against the city related to Officer Besner’s professional conduct. That conduct has been violent and unprofessional.
During your tenure as mayor the Portland Police Bureau has spiraled into a dark abyss. Today, many Portland do not trust the Portland Police Bureau. The reasons for this are many and very legitimate.
If and when Officer Besner is promoted it will provide further evidence that either you have no control over the Police Bureau, due in large part to your self-inflected political wounds, or that you simply do not have the political capacity to led the city. The harshness of my tone is a direct result of years of chaos in the Bureau since you took office. You have put the public’s safety at risk and failed to stop at atmosphere of distrust from developing.
You should demonstrate to Portlanders that they can have some measure of confidence in their police by intervening in this matter and stopping the promotion. Anything short of that will only reconfirm that Portlanders have little reason to trust you as mayor or their police to protect them.
When will I have to preside over another memorial service for someone killed by a member of the Portland Police Bureau?
Rev. Chuck Currie
To: Portland City Council, Chief Mike Reese
From: Dan Handelman and other members of Portland Copwatch
re: The proposed promotion of Officer Leo Besner
Dear Mayor (/Police Commissioner) Adams, Chief Reese, and Commissioners Fish, Fritz, Leonard and Saltzman:
It came to our attention last week that the Bureau is considering one of your officers, Leo Besner, for a promotion. We have deep concerns about the idea of Besner moving up the ranks and supervising officers, based on his history with the Portland Police.
We refer to Besner as the “million dollar man.” Many companies have million dollar employees who bring in $1 million in business, but Besner, instead, has cost the City over $1 million by his own conduct.
- $500,000.00 settlement: Besner shot Raymond Gwerder in the back while Gwerder was talking to hostage negotiators in 2005
- $338,891.58 settlement and legal fees: Besner brutalized Bill Ellis, a protestor, in 2003, and may have lied on his police report as well according to a Citizen Review Committee hearing (This figure is from the Risk Management department and was part of an overall $845,000 settlement over two protest actions).
- $177,161.41 settlement and legal fees: Besner roughed up teenaged Maria-Janeth Rodriguez-Sanchez at a transit stop in 2003
- $175,000.00 judgment: Besner and other officers terrorized Harold Hammick, Ri’Chard Booth and Alex Clay, three African American men, in a parking garage in 2007
- $1,191,052.99: Total cost to the City for the actions of Officer Besner
Besner also tasered 71-year-old Charles Lincoln in 2002 when he mistook Lincoln’s efforts to restrain a woman holding a knife for criminal activity.
Considering that Officer Ronald Frashour was just fired after three inappropriate uses of force—using a Taser on camcorder-wielding Frank Waterhouse in 2006, crashing into the wrong car and injuring its driver in 2008, and shooting and killing Aaron Campbell in a situation eerily similar to Gwerder’s, it’s amazing that Besner continues to patrol our streets, much less that the Bureau would consider promoting him.
—dan handelman and other members of Portland Copwatch