Conflicting reports rule out prosecution in death of Kendra James; lawsuit likely
Members of Kendra James' family and the black community say they are outraged about the Multnomah County grand jury decision Monday not to pursue criminal charges against Portland police officer Scott McCollister in the May 5 fatal shooting of the young woman.
'There's a lot we need to work out about how someone can go to work and end up killing a 21-year-old mother,' said Robert Richardson, a member of the Albina Ministerial Alliance.
Ken Walker, the James' family attorney, said that he has no faith in the grand jury process and that he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the city.
Police Chief Mark Kroeker on Monday called the shooting 'a defining moment' and a tragedy for the city, the community and the police bureau. He promised a full review of the bureau's policies on everything from hiring to training to use of deadly force.
The community will be involved at every step, he said.
Mayor Vera Katz said there will be a public forum on the shooting at a date to be announced. A rally for James was planned at a Northeast Portland church Monday night, and a march was scheduled for Saturday, leaving Alberta Park at noon.
After a meeting Monday with alliance ministers, District Attorney Mike Schrunk said they should have faith in the system because the grand jury members 'represent the community and worked very hard at this case.'
Responding to questions about the closed grand jury process, Schrunk said state law prohibited him from placing an observer on the grand jury or conducting its deliberations in public.
He said the grand jury had to work with a very narrow issue: whether criminal charges could be proven against the officer. He said the seven witnesses to the incident Ñ including two passers-by on the freeway overpass Ñ had conflicting stories.
During a traffic stop May 5 on North Skidmore Avenue on the overpass over Interstate 5, police attempted to arrest James on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court on a drug charge.
James, a North Portland mother of two with a long history of drug and theft charges, had started the engine of the rented 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier with McCollister's foot stuck inside the vehicle. A toxicology report indicated James ingested cocaine within six hours of her death.
According to the 641-page police report released Monday, McCollister said he feared for his life as James started to drive off while his foot was still stuck.
Portland police rules allow officers to use deadly force to protect themselves and others. The rules also allow officers to fire at a moving vehicle 'if in the totality of the situation, the additional risks are clearly outweighed by the need to use additional force.'
According to the police report, officer Kenneth Reynolds responded to the scene shortly before 3 a.m. at North Skidmore Avenue. He said he was trying to get a clear shot at James with his taser as McCollister was struggling to get her out of the car, pulling a wig off her head in the process.
Reynolds said he wasn't sure if he got a clean shot, but he deployed the weapon after yelling 'taser, taser, taser.' He said he saw no effect from the taser, which is meant to immobilize a person by sending electrical charges through the body.
Within seconds, Reynolds said, McCollister fired a single shot from his service revolver and told investigators afterward: 'I fired from an unknown range, but as I fell, I fired my gun because I thought I was going to die. I was scared. I thought I was going to be dragged down the street.'
Darnell White, James' boyfriend, was in the car when the shooting occurred, and a friend, Terrol Jackson, was sitting in a police car. The three had been hanging out that night at a Budget Motel on North Interstate Avenue.
Alex Hamalian, White's attorney, said that after White testified before the grand jury for 1 1/2 hours Thursday afternoon, he expressed concerns about the closed process and the type of evidence the prosecutor was trying to elicit from him that he believed had little or no relevance.
At Kroeker's request, the FBI has opened a preliminary hearing into whether James' civil rights were violated. The Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also has promised a review of the case.
No Multnomah County grand jury has ever indicted a Portland police officer for shooting someone while on duty. Only one officer has ever been fired for a shooting. In 1993, officer Douglas Erickson was fired for shooting 22 times at a fleeing suspect. The police union appealed the termination, and an arbitrator ordered him reinstated with back pay two years later.