Questions remain in deadly shooting

From The Oregonian, Wednesday, May 7, 2003. This is the first Oregonian news story about the killing of Kendra James.

More than 36 hours after Portland Officer Scott McCollister shot and killed a 21-year-old woman who was attempting to drive away from a traffic stop, Portland police said Tuesday they did not know why he used deadly force but said it appeared the car had run over his foot.

McCollister, a 27-year-old North Precinct officer who joined the bureau in April 2001, has not been interviewed by homicide detectives. He did not receive medical attention at the scene or at Northeast Precinct, where he was taken after the shooting, said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, Portland Police Bureau spokesman.

Schmautz said detectives, who have interviewed two other officers who were at the scene and two men who were in the car that was pulled over, received “consistent information that McCollister had appeared to be injured.”

Asked what that meant, Schmautz said, “Nobody did an examination of him, but he was hobbling. It appeared he had sustained an injury to his foot.”

The investigation into the fatal shooting of Kendra Sarie James continued Tuesday with interviews and examination of evidence. Police released few other details of the shooting, other than the names of the officers involved, and identified the weapon McCollister fired as a 9 mm handgun.

James, police said, had slipped behind the driver’s seat of a rented 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier after the car was pulled over by North Precinct Officer Rick Bean, 23. Bean stopped the car on North Skidmore Street, on the Interstate 5 overpass, for a “minor traffic violation” about 2:40 a.m. Monday. Police have repeatedly refused to identify the alleged violation.

Bean had taken the driver out of the car and was checking his identity when McCollister and North Precinct Officer Kenneth Reynolds III, 26, arrived. According to police, they saw James slide into the Chevrolet’s driver’s seat. Both officers, while standing on the driver’s side of the car, struggled with James to stop her from driving away. Reynolds fired a taser gun at her to subdue her. McCollister fired a single round from his 9 mm service pistol at James. Police have not said where McCollister stood when he fired or explained why he decided to use deadly force, other than saying it appeared McCollister’s foot was struck by the car.

“We won’t have a full, complete understanding until we interview him,” Schmautz said Tuesday. Under union guidelines, officers have the right to obtain a private attorney before being questioned by detectives.

The car traveled about 70 yards east in the eastbound lane of North Skidmore Street and came to a stop, blocked by two patrol cars.

James was taken by ambulance to Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center, where she was pronounced dead from a single chest wound.

State law and Police Bureau policy states that officers can use deadly force “to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believe to be an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury.”

Bureau policy also says an officer may shoot at a moving vehicle if, “in the totality of the situation, the additional risks are clearly outweighed by the need to use physical force.”

James’ parents said she probably was trying to get away from police. Records show that Multnomah County had a warrant for her arrest on charges of failure to appear in court and possession of a controlled substance. Her boyfriend, 41-year-old Darnell White, who was also in the car, was taken into custody on two arrest warrants at the pre-dawn traffic stop Monday but not booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center until shortly after 7 p.m.

White was arraigned Tuesday morning on charges of failure to appear in court on an April allegation of attempted possession of a controlled substance. He also was charged Monday with interfering with a peace officer. The charges were reduced to violations, but White was being held on a probation violation.

A second man who was in the car at the time of the traffic stop was interviewed by police but not held, Schmautz said. Police refused to identify him.

The three officers involved, who have been bureau employees for 2-1/2 years or less, are on paid administrative leave until the investigation is done. The results of the investigation, handled by the bureau, the East County Major Crime Team and Multnomah County district attorney’s office, will be presented to a grand jury for review.

Police Chief Mark Kroeker declined to comment on the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation. Schmautz said he was unable to release details, partly because the district attorney’s office “controls the grand jury process and investigation.”

His statement, though, fuels the concerns of members of [Portland] Copwatch, a police watchdog group, which has long argued for an independent citizens’ review, apart from the district attorney’s office, of police shootings.

“It would be very good to have that investigated sooner, rather than later, by the Citizen Review Committee,” said Dan Handelman, of Copwatch.

The City Council did not give the nine-member citizen committee the authority to investigate police shootings. Instead, it hired outside experts to do a review of 27 Portland police shootings that occurred between January 1997 and July 2000. That report is due in July.