Grand Jury Clears Portland Officers in Fatal Shooting

From The Oregonian, January 22, 1999 – not available elsewhere online.

Officer Stephanie D. Rabey, who already had been smashed headfirst into a wall, thought she was going to be killed until a fellow officer shot her assailant to death in the hallway of a residential hotel three weeks ago.

Portland police gave their first full account of the Dec. 31 shooting Thursday before a Multnomah County grand jury, which cleared the two officers of any wrongdoing. The officers had no time to use pepper spray or less-lethal force after Peter C. Gilbaugh jumped on Rabey, police said.

In a fight the police described as extremely violent, Gilbaugh grabbed at Rabey’s gun. John Minnis, a homicide detective sergeant who helped investigate the shooting , said Rabey said she felt Gilbaugh pulling at her gun. Minnis said Officer William D. Balzer thought Gilbaugh had Rabey’s gun in his hand or at least had his hand on it.

Minnis said Balzer punched Gilbaugh, a successful used-car salesman living in a tiny furnished room downtown, several times. Gilbaugh did not let go of Rabey. She was face-down with her hands pinned under her body, with Gilbaugh on top of her, Minnis said.

Balzer then shouted a warning to Rabey that he was going to have to shoot Gilbaugh, who was also striking out at him. Minnis said Rabey replied something like “I know.”

Minnis said Balzer also felt his life was in danger. He told investigators he first pressed his gun to Gilbaugh’s side, then realized his shot could hit Rabey. Instead, he put the gun to Gilbaugh’s head and shot him over the left eye. Gilbaugh, 44, died instantly.

Investigators withheld any description of the shooting until after the case went before a Multnomah County grand jury Thursday. Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim McIntyre said the grand jurors heard evidence for about three hours and found no criminal wrongdoing.

A toxicology report said Gilbaugh had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent and tested positive for use of marijuana, but does not indicate whether he was high on the drug at the time.

Minnis played a scratchy snippet of a police radio recording of a frightened Rabey shouting what sounds like “Oh, my gun. My gun.”

The low-income Swindells Building, at 10 N.W. Broadway, is partly owned by the Housing Authority of Portland. Gilbaugh had lived there four years.

Gilbaugh for many years had a drinking problem, according to family and friends, and he had had alcohol-related run-ins with police, including harassment and drunken-driving convictions.

But he was respected by other car sales people and had worked for several car dealers. He also had worked downtown in a homeless shelter.

Police said the Gilbaugh that officers fought that night was not the friendly, gregarious used-car salesman so many people liked but a violent drunk.

Minnis called the deliberate shooting a nightmare, saying when it comes to such life-and-death crises, “These decisions are individual decisions that any officer hates to make.”

What ended in death started out as a minor, low-priority incident, Minnis said. Rabey took the call when a resident of the Swindells Building reported that Gilbaugh had urinated on his door. She asked for a second officer for backup. She and Balzer arrived about the same time.

When they went to Gilbaugh’s room, he poked his head out to ask what the officers wanted, then went back inside and bolted the door, Minnis recounted. The door has an opaque window, and the officers could see Gilbaugh putting on his pants. He had trouble opening the door until Balzer reminded him he had locked it.

He said Gilbaugh let the door close behind him and faced both officers. He denied the urination incident. The officers described Gilbaugh’s eyes as glazed, and they said he became increasingly aggressive as he talked.

Eventually, the officers decided to take Gilbaugh to the Hooper Center for detoxification.

Rabey held him on one side, and Balzer used a wrist hold to control him. At that point, the officers reported, Gilbaugh was clenching his fists and struggling. Because he was shirtless and slippery with sweat, both officers lost their grip.

That was when Gilbaugh tried to take Rabey’s gun, the officers said.

“She was fearful that she was going to be shot in the head,” Minnis said. She had been slammed into the wall at least twice during the struggle.

Jack Polance, an attorney retained by Gilbaugh’s relatives, said some of the police account does not fit what a witness told him. He said the resident said Rabey was off the ground before Gilbaugh was shot.

He would not comment further until he had reviewed the police reports.