Steve Duin: Another rough night in Taser city

By Steve Duin, The Oregonian, July 8, 2013
Tidiness makes me nervous.

Especially when we’re talking about a 4:15 a.m. mess involving two weary partiers, a half-dozen cops and one Taser, the unofficial mascot of the Portland Police Bureau.

Taser target

For Mshaka Messiah Mitchell — a concierge at The Casey in the Pearl — and his girlfriend, Alix, the weekend began to unravel when they were dropped off near the Lloyd Center at 3 a.m. Saturday and couldn’t scare up a cab.

They trudged across the Steel Bridge, hoping to find that cab downtown, then drifted toward the train station to avoid the homeless stragglers who took note of Alix’s heels and party dress. They were quarreling, Mitchell admits, and frustrated: “We’d just walked a mile. She was yelling on the phone and yelling at me.”

They finally collapsed on a wooden bench by the tracks at Union Station, exhausted. Unfortunately, that bench was parked in “Do Not Enter” territory. A city-contracted security guard quickly arrived, followed, Mitchell says, by six Portland cops.

The accounts of what happened next, as you might imagine, quickly diverge.

According to Sgt. Pete Simpson, the officers “saw Mitchell and a female arguing.” Granted, he was on one knee but when police tried to talk to Alix, “Mitchell interrupted them.” When two officers told him he was under arrest for criminal trespass and laid hands on him, he tried to stand up.

“Mitchell was given multiple commands to stop resisting and to relax his arms,” Simpson wrote in an email. “Mitchell refused to follow commands and was warned that if he continued to struggle he would be Tased.”

Mitchell, who is 26 and 5-foot-10, remembers things differently. He says he was 20 feet away from Alix, still trying to raise a cab on his phone, when the officers crossed the railroad tracks.

As one of the officers approached him, Mitchell says, “I put my hands up, walking toward him.” He was arrested two summers ago — and later acquitted — on charges of “interfering with a peace officer.” He knew the drill.

And the cop? “He throws me down, head first,” says Mitchell, who suffered several nasty cuts on his forehead.

“Puts his knee in my back. I said, ‘I’m not doing anything, I’m not doing anything.’ I was trying to get back on my feet. I had a few words for them. He says, ‘Stop resisting, stop resisting.’ Once he said that, all the other cops came over.”

Everyone agrees Tasing ensued. As Simpson’s email politely observes: “Taser worked.”

This might be as good a time as any to remind readers that the U.S. Department of Justice concluded, after a 14-month investigation, that Portland cops employ that Taser stun gun far too quickly in what amounts to a “pattern and practice” of excessive use of force.

Mitchell got nailed on the right side of his rib cage. You’re darn right he could feel it when he woke up the next morning at the hospital.

Moments of severe stress can wreak havoc on one’s memory. Mitchell insists police injected him with a sedative at Union Station. No, Simpson says, “medical personnel administered a sedative to him because he was being combative with the medical staff” at the Multnomah County jail.

I can’t explain the discrepancy. But consider this: Mitchell — who was arraigned Monday on charges of resisting arrest, criminal trespass, criminal mischief and that ol’ standby, messing with a “peace officer” — admits his mistakes.

He and Alix were arguing. Alix was “heavily intoxicated.” And, yes, he did “resist” once he was knocked to the ground.

Simpson and the cop, on the other hand, concede nothing. No errors. No overreactions. No second thoughts on the threat posed by a 165-pound concierge and a woman in a party dress on an otherwise deserted train platform at 4:15 a.m.

How, then, do they explain those bloody cuts on Mitchell’s forehead, cuts so severe the jail staff ordered him to the hospital?

“Self-inflicted,” Simpson says. “En route to jail, Mitchell slammed his head against the safety glass in the back seat of the police car multiple times.”

Say what? Handcuffed and freshly Tased, he still has the ability to ram his head against the “safety” glass with enough torque to need multiple stitches.

“9-10 times,” Simpson says. “Photos of the back seat of the police car as well as his injuries were taken as evidence. All consistent with the reports.”

Everything was textbook, including the trusty Taser. And, once again, I find that tidiness unnerving.