Community members question police tactics used during the fatal shooting of Kendra James
The three Portland police officers involved in the shooting incident that took the life of 21-year-old Kendra James face internal reviews that could result in disciplinary action, and a group of Northeast Portland ministers is asking that officer Scott McCollister be fired for his actions.
'We believe this particular officer needs to be terminated from the police force,' said the Rev. Roy Tate, who led a community rally on the issue at a North Portland church earlier this week. 'I think it's unfortunate. I think he was just fast on the gun. But he's got to go. It's going to be very, very difficult for the community to allow this person to be back on the streets.'
Police union head Robert King strongly disagreed.
'He did nothing to justify being fired, and we will not allow that to happen,' said the Portland Police Association president, who promised to legally challenge any attempt to discipline McCollister.
On Monday, a Multnomah County grand jury declined to charge McCollister in the May 5 shooting, in part because witness accounts conflicted, according to District Attorney Mike Schrunk.
But 27-year-old McCollister and the two other officers at the scene, Rick Bean, 23, and Kenneth Reynolds, 26, still face an internal affairs review to determine whether they violated any bureau procedures.
On Wednesday, Bean and Reynolds were cleared to return to duty. McCollister remains on paid administrative leave.
McCollister said in police reports that he feared for his life when James tried to flee from an early morning traffic stop. The officers at the scene said McCollister was partly inside the 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier when James started to drive away. McCollister said he feared he would fall out and be crushed under the car.
James was under the influence of cocaine at the time, according to a toxicology report. Police reports show she had a history of drug and theft charges and on at least two occasions tried to flee while being arrested.
Many community members have said the shooting was unjustified. This week, an attorney for James' family notified the city that they intend to file a civil suit over the killing.
After reviewing the extensive police reports, Tate said he and other Albina Ministerial Alliance leaders are compiling a list of concerns and recommendations for Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker to consider during the reviews.
Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a police spokesman, said the chief is willing to listen. 'I sat in the room with him where he's said he's open to have meetings and discussions about this anytime, anywhere, so I'm sure he will consider anything that they have to offer,' he said.
'Obviously, what we can do, what we can't do, is all in this whole process of helping people understand what law enforcement can do. Part of it is reaching out and making changes where appropriate.'
Among the pastors' concerns about information in the police reports:
• That McCollister climbed into the vehicle to arrest James without removing the keys or knowing whether it contained any weapons. 'That's a rookie mistake,' Tate said.
• That the officers' use of less-lethal devices failed, signaling that they might have been deployed improperly.
• Whether the police were justified in pulling the car over in the first place. 'Racial profiling is what comes to mind,' Tate said.
• That the officers talked among themselves before they were formally interviewed by detectives. The officers said the shooting incident was not discussed.
Tate said he's incensed that this happened. 'We asked the question at the beginning about the officers being able to talk to each other. And lo and behold, they're out having dinner together, talking on the phone together.'
• That officers walked away from James after she was shot, believing she was 'faking it.' No one performed CPR on her until medical personnel arrived minutes later. 'It's troubling,' Tate said. 'It's not making us happy.'
Tate and other critics plan to press their demands during a rally and march this Saturday. It will begin at noon at Alberta Park, located at Northeast 22nd Avenue and Killingsworth Street.
According to the reports, police officials investigating the incident asked the officers questions about whether they followed bureau procedure during the incident.
Points of contention could arise around the following issues:
• McCollister decided to arrest James instead of letting her flee. Under questioning, McCollister said bureau policy is to allow suspects to flee in vehicles if their identities are known. James already had been identified by Bean who had arrested her twice before, most recently on March 3, when he charged her with drug possession and escape as she tried to flee from him on foot on North Interstate Avenue.
• Despite having knowledge of her past, the officers did not have a plan for removing James from the car. Under questioning, McCollister said he and the other officers at the scene had not discussed how to remove James from the car before approaching her. McCollister also climbed into the vehicle without removing the keys or knowing whether it contained any weapons.
Joe Key, a Virginia-based independent consultant on police use of deadly force, said the first thing officers are supposed to do is immobilize the vehicle by telling the suspect to remove the keys from the ignition. This neutralizes any chance that the vehicle can be used as a deadly weapon.
Key, a retired lieutenant with the Baltimore Police Department who has consulted with other police agencies nationwide, said he's seen at least a dozen cases in which a person drives off with an officer entangled in a car. In a couple of cases, the officer was killed, he said. In three or four other cases, the officer shot the individual to death while being dragged. In other instances, officers have been severely injured.
• Officers may not have used less-lethal devices properly. McCollister said in a report that he was trying to deploy pepper spray, but it didn't work because 'there's a safety mechanism on top of the pepper spray and if you don't get under the safety mechanism it won't spray or (it will) just faulty spray.'
Reynolds, one of about 100 Portland officers who are trained in the use of the taser, used it from only a few feet away. He found it ineffective because one of the electric charges stuck in James' jacket. Officers are taught that using the device from a distance of 12 to 20 feet is ideal.
Yet Key argued that even if the taser did pierce James' skin, there's no guarantee it would have had an effect. 'I can show you half a dozen ways to get someone out of a car pressure points, physical controls. But if you got someone that's very resistant, it just may not have any effect,' he said. 'You take somebody that's blown out on crack, there's just not much that's going to stop 'em.'
• Officers did not remain near James after she was shot. After the car came to a stop, McCollister pulled James out, handcuffed her and laid her on the ground, as required by bureau procedures. But he did not remain with her or make sure that the other officers remained with her before the ambulance arrived, even though he knew she was wounded. Instead, the reports say he got crime tape from the trunk of his car and began to seal off the scene.
• According to the reports, the officers involved in the incident met in person and spoke on the phone before they were formally questioned by investigators. McCollister and his wife had dinner at a restaurant with Reynolds and two other officers the night after the incident. McCollister, Bean and Reynolds also talked by phone. McCollister said they did not discuss the incident during these conversations.
Union keeps close watch
On Monday, Kroeker looked grim as he promised a full administrative review. After that review is complete, top bureau managers will look at it and determine whether the incident is serious enough to be reviewed by the internal affairs division.
King said all officers are watching the reviews closely. King does not believe the officers did anything wrong and hopes bureau officials will support them.
'There's a lot riding on this,' King said. 'They want to know if they act in good faith and get in trouble, will their organization and community support them or will they be second-guessed.'