Portland cop probed after wrong-way pursuit ends in death
It looks so doable in the movies, but on April 19, when Portland Police Officer Alfonso Valadez, Jr. used his police patrol car to follow a hit-and-run suspect the wrong way into speeding traffic on Interstate 84, a fatal head-on collision ensued in which the suspect died.
Police are now reviewing the case to determine whether Valadez's decision to follow the suspect into incoming freeway traffic may have contributed to 59-year-old Christopher Gene Cannard's death.
The matter will shine a light on the bureau's pursuit policy, which was revised last year and which discourages officers from engaging in dangerous pursuits. It also is sure to reignite controversy over how difficult it can be to fire a police officer in Portland.
Valadez had been fired from the bureau approximately a year ago — the date was not immediately released by the city — by former Chief Mike Marshman. His firing came over an allegation that the cop had sexually assaulted a woman. After Valadez's union challenged the firing to an arbitrator, after roughly a year off, Valadez was reinstated on April 5 — exactly two weeks before the chase that ended on I-84.
The bureau's vehicle pursuit policy revised in 2017 says that officers "must terminate a pursuit when the safety risks posed to the community clearly outweigh the benefit of capturing the suspect."
TJ Browning, a longtime police activist and appointee of the late former Mayor Vera Katz, had pushed the city for more than a decade to revise its pursuit policy to avoid fatalities.
Valadez's pursuit "clearly violates" the bureau's pursuit policy, Browning said adding that with a police car pursuing, Cannard presumably "is accelerating" to get away.
"Now you have two cars going down the freeway in the wrong direction,' Browning said, adding that for oncoming drivers, "it compounds the confusion."
Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Cannard's fatal flight from police began when officers responded at about 11:30 p.m. to a report of a hit-and run near Northeast 99th Avenue and Northeast Glisan Street. The crash resulted in no need for medical treatment, but a white Toyota Celica fled the scene.
Then a police officer not named in the official Portland Police Bureau press release about the pursuit sighted a white Toyota Celica in the 1300 block of Northeast 99th Ave. and attempted to stop him.
In the Celica was Cannard. It's unclear if he was intoxicated or why he fled police. Court records show he was prosecuted for driving while intoxicated in 1994, for fourth-degree assault in 1999. He also was cited for failing to use a safety belt in 2003, though it is unknown whether he wore his seat belt when he died on April 19.
Meanwhile, the officer who pursued Cannard was Valadez, the Portland Tribune has learned.
In 2014, Valadez drew some notoriety for posting a YouTube video describing himself as a tough'SOB'cop, including footage of himself on duty.
In 2015, he was accused of forcing a woman to have oral sex and intercourse with him while she was intoxicated and unable to consent at a party he held at his house while off-duty. The results of the investigation caused then-Chief Mike Marshman to fire Valadez in 2017.
News of the sexual assault investigation, reported in December 2017, did not disclose Valadez's name, only that an officer was fired. But the Tribune has confirmed that it was Valdez.
After approximately a year off and a successful challenge of the firing to an arbitrator, he returned to work on April 5, 2018.
Though details were not immediately available, the bureau typically requires retraining for officers in such situations. The bureau's vehicle pursuit directive, which was revised last August, calls for officers to only engage in potentially dangerous vehicle pursuits when it is objectively reasonable to do so.
That night, while fleeing from Valadez, Cannard drove the wrong way onto eastbound I-84 from 99th, and "As the driver of the white Toyota Celica drove the wrong way on eastbound Interstate 84, an officer pursued the suspected hit and run driver," according to a Portland Police Bureau press release, which did not name Valadez.
"Shortly after driving east on westbound interstate 84, the driver of the Celica collided with a yellow Toyota Prius being driven eastbound on Interstate 84. The collision between the Prius and Celica occurred east of Northeast 82nd Avenue. Upon observing the crash, the pursuing officer requested emergency medical personnel respond to the scene."
While Cannard was found dead, the driver of the Prius — a taxi owned by Broadway Cab — was transported to an area hospital with "what were believed to be non-life-threatening injuries."
Because of the involvement of its own officer, the bureau called in an outside agency, the Clackamas County Sheriff's office, to take over the investigation. When that is complete, the burea will review Valadez's actions to determine if he complied with the bureau's pursuit policy.
"That is horrifying on a lot of levels," said Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, when asked about the crash and informed of Valadez's firing and reinstatement. He noted the new pursuit directive and said "It makes you wonder whether he got up to speed on the new version."
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