Earlier this month, Portland police officers shot and killed Koben Henriksen. In response to the officers' actions, Chief Danielle Outlaw asked, "Where is the same level of accountability throughout the mental health system?"
Chief Outlaw's question is right. Our community deserves a better and more humane mental health system. But her office needs to address the ongoing 2012 settlement process from United States v. City of Portland, which affirmed that the Portland Police engaged in systemic and unconstitutional behavior. Over the past decade, our community has had 27 deaths caused by police actions.
In 2010, while conducting a routine welfare check, Portland Police killed Aaron Campbell. The Rev. Jesse Jackson described his death as "an execution." Later that year, three other people with mental health conditions were killed: Jack Collins, Keaton Otis and Darryel Ferguson. In 2011, Thomas Higginbotham and William Monroe were killed by police. And in 2012, after calling a suicide hotline, Brad Morgan was killed. Later that year, Billy Wayne Simms was killed with an AR-15.
In 2011, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez began a federal investigation into whether there was a "pattern or practice" of civil rights violations by Portland Police. The outcome was a settlement that acknowledged the Police Department needed to make significant changes. The city of Portland approved a tax that created more than $3 million per year to fund the work.
In 2013, Merle Hatch ran toward police in a hospital parking lot and consequently was killed. Later that year, Santiago Cisneros III — a U.S. veteran — was killed. In 2014, two more people were killed — Kelly Swoboda and Nick Davis.
In 2015, three more people with mental health conditions were killed: Alan Bellew, David Ellis and Michael Johnson.
In 2016, Steven Liffel was killed. In 2017, Quanice Hayes, a 17-year-old teenager, was shot and killed by police. Later that year, Terrell Johnson also was killed.
In 2018, John Elifritz was killed by police after he ran inside a local men's shelter, City Team Ministries. Later that year, three more people were killed: Patrick Kimmons, Samuel Rice and Richard Barry. During Barry's arrest, six Portland police officers handcuffed him and forced him to the ground. The encounter caused him to have a fatal heart attack.
In 2019, five people have been killed. They are: Andre Gladen, Jeb Brock, David Downs, Lane Martin and Koben Henriksen. Gladen's death is unconscionable, a young man with a physical disability; his offense was sleeping in a hallway.
Investigations into the 27 deaths have caused only one officer to be fired. That officer was facing criminal charges when, in 2015, he committed suicide.
We have a use-of-force problem in Portland. City officials have not kept their agreement to change it. We need a culture shift, which cannot be purchased nor created by an outside consultant. We will know we are on the right track when officers ask, "Why are we using AR-15s?"
Cristal Otero is a Portland State University Hatfield Fellow and a recent graduate of the masters of social work program. She previously worked at Central City Concern and Cascadia Behavioral HealthCare providing direct service to adults living in poverty.
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