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Portland Police Resist Medical Examiner’s Involvement in Officer-Involved Shooting Investigations

Friday, December 05, 2014


Portland Police officials stated in a report to the City of Portland they did not want county medical examiners to be more involved in the investigations of officer-related shootings and in-custody deaths

The Report to the City of Portland on Portland Police Bureau Officer-Involved Shootings and In-custody Deaths was released Tuesday afternoon and made 21 recommendations to improve police procedures following an examination of nine fatalities resulting from police actions. The report recommended that a medical examiner determine if a suspect might have lived if they had received immediate medical attention. In the same report, police chief Mike Reese stated that he disagreed with recommendation.

One of the cases cited in the report was the shooting death of Darryl Ferguson, who was killed by police in 2010. Approximately 84 minutes went by between the time officers first reported shots fired and when paramedics entered Ferguson’s residence and pronounced him deceased, according to the report.

The bureau’s internal investigation of Ferguson’s death “didn’t significantly focus on this delay,” the audit stated.

The report was also critical of a the 2007 police shooting of Steven Bolen, stating "officers waited 48 minutes after they shot Mr. Bolen and exited the house until SERT arrived and reentered to find Mr. Bolen deceased."

At a Dec 3 meeting, the report's findings were submitted to before a capacity crowd at Portland's City Hall.  Several members of the public expressed outrage that medical examiner recommendation was initially dismissed by police officials.

"It feels like (the some of the police) just doesn't care about us," said resident Bishop Stylze said after listening to a discussion between city commissioners and police officials. 

On Dec. 3, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who also serves as police commissioner, did not adopt the recommendations but said he wanted investigators to begin posing the question to medical examiners in fatal use-of-force cases.

Police officials told the Hales that they have “no problem asking the question." However, in the report, compiled by California-based consulting firm OIR Group, police specifically stated the a medical examiner's opinion of a suspects chance for survival would be dubious. 

“The Police Bureau has the ability to make the inquiry regarding the potential survivability of injuries sustained by the use of deadly force; however, such information from the medical examiner (if they chose to provide it) would at times be speculative,” Reese stated.

During the Dec. 3 City Council meeting, Commissioner Amanda Fritz asked police officials to clarify why the Bureau stated that it disagreed with the audit’s recommendation.

“The concern that we have with this (recommendation) is that we’re asking somebody to make a decision or opinion based on the outcome, rather than all of the other circumstances around it,” police Commander George Burke said. “But I don’t see why we couldn’t ask this question.”

Theresa Raiford, an organizer for Don’t Shoot Portland, said she was frustrated with a lack of police accountability at the City and that she didn’t expect the Portland Police Bureau would ever implement a suggestions that officers aren’t comfortable with.

“If you don’t want to (adopt recommended procedures), you won’t,” Raiford said of the bureau's responses criticism.

On Thursday, Damon O’ Brian, the deputy medical examiner for Multnomah County, said he hadn’t heard of the report’s recommendation. He agreed, in concept, that it may be difficult to judge whether a person’s death could have been prevented if they had received medical attention in a timely manner after the fact, because there are many loose variables to considered. 

“That (determination) would have to be up to the individual doctors." O'Brian said. "You just never know.”

Some city councilors voiced their support for the idea.

The city might be better protected from potential legal actions from the families of the deceased if the medical examiner determined no additional help could have been provided, Commissioner Amanda Fritz said.

“It’s helpful for the family (of the deceased) to know that in fact there was no negligence, or no opportunity, to save their life,” Fritz said.

While City Council accepted the report Dec. 3, there was no certainty that the recommendations in the report will ever be implemented, according Dana Haynes, the communications director for Mayor Hale’s office.  


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