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Traffic stop ends in death, outrage
Police vow speedy probe as tempers flare
Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth personally promised members of James Jahar Perez's family that his shooting death Sunday at the hands of police will be thoroughly investigated, possibly by the end of this week.
Foxworth made the promise during a 50-minute visit with more than two dozen family members at the Northeast Portland home of Perez's aunt Vietta Lowe and uncle Paul Lindsey early Monday afternoon.
'It's a very sad time for the family, the police bureau and the community,' Foxworth said as he left the couple's two-story home just a few blocks from the bureau's Northeast Precinct.
After leaving the family, Foxworth appeared at a news conference where he said that no gun was found on Perez, 28, of Northeast Portland, after he was shot to death during a traffic stop around 5 p.m. Sunday in North Portland.
Flanked by his assistant chiefs, Foxworth Ñ facing the first controversial police shooting in his six-month tenure as chief Ñ said he 'recognized and acknowledged the heightened emotions in the community' and asked for the community's patience.
According to Foxworth, officers Jason Sery and Sean Macomber, both five-year veterans of the bureau, stopped Perez in his vehicle for failing to signal within 100 feet of making a turn. Perez turned into the parking lot in a small retail mall in the 7200 block of North Fessenden Street.
Foxworth said one officer asked for Perez's license, and Perez told the officer he had no license and no identification with him. Macomber came into 'physical contact' with Perez in the process of taking him into custody and, during the struggle, Sery fired multiple shots, striking Perez in the midsection of his body, according to Foxworth.
At some point, Foxworth said, a less-than-lethal taser gun was deployed. Medics were called, and Perez was pronounced dead at the scene, still in the driver's seat of the car with the door open. An autopsy was scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Sery and Macomber are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Foxworth emphasized that the investigation was still in an early phase; Macomber was interviewed Sunday evening, and Sery was scheduled to be interviewed Monday afternoon.
Police expected that a thorough search of Perez's car would be complete by Monday afternoon. Seven detectives from the East County Major Crimes Team are investigating the incident and will report to the grand jury, routine in all shootings involving police. Foxworth said information will be fully disclosed to the public after the investigation is complete.
Oregon Sens. Avel Gordly and Margaret Carter, both Portland Democrats, on Monday used the shooting as an opportunity to call for a public inquest into the incident, saying a Multnomah County grand jury investigation isn't transparent enough.
'There must be a process that allows for the public to be clear about what happened,' said Carter, who was among hundreds who gathered at the scene of the shooting Sunday night. 'The citizens have an air of sadness, anger, low self-esteem. É We want to see more facts.'
Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, said he was awaiting more facts in the case but that, in general, he has been 'reluctant' to support public inquests in the past, because he doesn't think it's a good idea for citizens in the community to hold such authority.
Gordly, Carter and other black community leaders had made the same plea after North Portland resident Kendra James was shot by police Officer Scott McCollister while she was trying to drive away during a traffic stop May 5, 2003. A grand jury cleared McCollister of wrongdoing, but he was suspended for 5 1/2 months by former Police Chief Mark Kroeker for using questionable tactics before the shooting.
'We don't understand it'
Family members said Perez is the father of a 5-year-old son, James Jahar Perez Jr. They identified his wife as Debra Perez and said the two of them had separated.
'He was a good father. He was always with his son,' his sister Tahliva Perez said.
Nearby resident Marie Garland said she had known Perez for years.
'I know him through my kids. He was a good man. He was respectful,' said Garland, who said she ran to the scene after hearing the shots fired.
Tahliva Perez, 29, said her brother was looking for work at the time of his death.
During the last year, police said, Perez had received one traffic ticket. Court records show that Perez had five felony convictions, all between 1994 and 1998, for such offenses as manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance, being a felon in possession of a firearm and burglary.
'It's not relevant where he'd been; it's not relevant what he'd been. This was a traffic stop. He wasn't trying to run. He didn't have a gun,' said Lowe, Perez's aunt, adding that the family would wait until the results of the investigation were announced before deciding what to do next.
Tahliva Perez said the family is devastated. She said her brother was unarmed at the time of the shooting.
'We don't understand it. Why is my little brother dead? What did he do?' she asked.
Two women who claim to have witnessed the incident said police had no reason to shoot Perez, who was sitting in a parked car in the parking lot in front of the retail mall on North Fessenden.
'He wasn't doing anything. He was just sitting in the car,' said Cara Sanchez, who was riding in a car driven by Kim Sunquist when they saw the incident.
Sanchez and Sunquist said they were driving north on North Fesseden on their way to a bingo game when they saw two officers crouched beside the parked car. Sunquist said she stopped in the middle of the lane just before the shots were fired.
'The officers were crouched down yelling, 'Don't get out of the car, don't get out of the car,' then they just shot him. It was horrible,' Sunquist said.
Although Sunquist said the area around the mall was quiet before the shooting occurred, it quickly grew chaotic. According to Sunquist, other police cars quickly arrived at the scene and blocked off nearby streets. Officers strung yellow crime tape around the area and kept local residents out.
Foxworth and King came to the scene, but neither talked to the media.
Hundreds of local residents and family members quickly gathered.
A woman who identified herself as Fannie Smith said she heard the shooting. She said she was in the apartment immediately across the street when the shooting occurred.
'It was two gunshots, followed quickly by two other shots. When I ran outside, the officer were standing there with their guns out,' she said.
Some people who stopped by the market the next morning said police are too rough with area residents.
'I'm afraid to reach for my insurance papers when the police pull me over. I'm afraid I'm going to get shot,' said Josh McLelland, who operates a scrap metal truck.
'We know there are gangs out here, but the police treat everyone like they're gangsters and that's not right,' said Jeff Landers, who operates the truck with McLelland.
St. Johns resident Dennis Kempler sympathized with the police.
'They have a tough job. I've seen people threaten them. They have the right to go home to their wife and kids at the end of their shifts,' said Kempler, an anti-graffiti activist, who stopped by the scene Monday morning.
New policies invoked
The shooting marks the first major crisis for Foxworth, who was appointed chief in September. Under the bureau's operating policies, it will be investigated as a possible crime by homicide detectives. Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk routinely presents all officer-involved shootings to grand juries to determine if any crimes were committed.
Katz press aide Scott Farris said that Mayor Vera Katz had talked to Foxworth after the shooting. She had not commented publicly by press time.
Former Chief Kroeker was forced out of office partly because of his handling of the Kendra James shooting. The killing set off months of community protests, in part because James was black and the officer who killed her, McCollister, is white.
The controversy also prompted the bureau to adopt new policies governing the investigation of officer-involved shootings. Although all officers involved in such incidents are entitled to attorneys, the new policies call for them to be interviewed by investigators as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours.
Vietta Lowe said the family wanted to hire the James family attorney to sue the city. The James family has filed a $10 million federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
'We're trying to handle this legally. We're trying to keep our tempers,' Lowe said.