Portland Mayor Tom Potter's decision to fire police Lt. Jeffrey Kaer for his role in the January 2006 shooting of a motorist does nothing to end a tragic case in which little good will come to anyone involved.
Potter said Thursday that Kaer's actions contributed to the death of 28-year-old Dennis Lamar Young and failed to follow Portland Police Bureau tactics and standards.
Kaer admits to leaving his post as nightshift commander in the Southeast Precinct to respond to an early-morning phone call from his frightened sister concerning a suspicious car parked in front of her home. Her son had been shot recently in a road-rage incident, and she was concerned the strange car outside her home foretold more violence.
Leaving his precinct, Kaer approached the suspicious car, only to have the driver, Young, attempt to drive away and then suddenly throw the car into reverse. Kaer said he feared he would be struck by the car and fired two shots - one that killed Young.
Mayor acted outside normal procedures
We agree with Potter that Kaer's judgment and actions as a police officer leading up to the shooting were horribly flawed. However, what happened in the split second in which two shots were fired is beyond our - or Potter's - evaluation.
In matters such as these, there are accepted investigatory processes to judge the actions of a police officer. And following their completion, there are established precedents, procedures and standards for taking action.
We think Potter's early criticism of this tragic shooting and his eventual termination of Kaer step outside those boundaries. Ultimately, we believe, this will lead to the firing being appealed and overturned by a state arbitrator.
A Multnomah County grand jury already had declined to press charges against Kaer. The police bureau's Use of Force Review Board had ruled that the shooting was justified, but that Kaer had committed several policy violations and should be suspended without pay for four weeks. And police Chief Rosie Sizer had agreed with that ruling and disciplinary action against Kaer.
Potter should have accepted these conclusions. Instead, his early criticisms before his own 'due process' meeting with Kaer and his firing decision are at odds with customary police bureau procedural reviews and disciplinary actions.
Potter's motives unclear
So what prompted Potter's actions? Principle or regret? A desire to send a strong message to police officers? An attempt to make a political statement for the public?
No matter the motivation, there's no question that Potter ignored police bureau procedures and policies - including the police shooting review board decision - and undermined his own chief by overturning Sizer's decision not to fire Kaer.
We judge Kaer's involvement in this shooting with great sadness. Until the shooting, he was a model cop and community member. We also sympathize with the loss felt by Young's family. Even though he was a meth addict and a car thief, he was a human being.
Looking back, no one can change the outcome of this shooting. But by looking ahead, we believe the mayor could have served Portlanders and the police bureau better by working to ensure that such an incident never happen again.
One step in that direction is to adopt and enforce formal standards and procedures within the bureau that require a review and a correction of tactical errors and misjudgments by officers in all cases - not just those that result in death or serious injury.
Portland Tribune editorial board
The Tribune publishes editorials on local and regional issues every Tuesday and Friday.
• Steve Clark - president, Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers Inc.
• Dwight Jaynes -executive editor, Portland Tribune
• Mark Garber - vice president, Community Newspapers Inc.