The United States Justice Department conducted an investigation into the unnecessary use of force of Portland, Oregon police on people with mental illness. On Thursday, September 14, the department announced that investigators found Portland police officers used excessive force without justification against people with mental illness.
Deadly Force Used Disproportionately on Mentally Ill
The investigation found that Portland police officers used deadly force 12 times over the last three years. Of those 12 suspects, 10 suffered from mental illness. Further, the city of Portland paid $6 million over the last two decades to settle lawsuits regarding alleged police misconduct.
The findings suggested that police engaged in a pattern of using dangerous force against people who, due to their mental impairment, could not follow the officers’ commands. Investigators found that police officers would use dangerous force against people with mental illness even when they posed no threat or danger. They also found that the officers escalated the use of force even if it could have been minimized or avoided.
Series of High-Profile Killings by Portland Police
The investigation was initiated after a series of police shootings in Portland that involved suspects with mental illness. Following the death of Aaron Campbell, an unarmed and suicidal man who was killed by Portland police, the Justice Department announced that they were initiating an investigation into the police department’s practices. In Campbell’s case, he was shot by a police sniper as he exited his apartment with his hands behind his head.
Campbell’s death was one of a series of high-profile cases of mentally ill individuals who were killed by Portland police. In 2006, James Chasse, Jr. was believed to have urinated in public. He died after being chased and tackled by Portland police officers.
In another incident, Jose Mejia Poot was shot by police at a psychiatric hospital. This shooting prompted community leaders to question the police department’s policies for handling mentally ill suspects.
The investigation found that most of the police uses of force were constitutional. However, officers occasionally used excessive force when dealing with people suspected of minor offenses. Investigators were particularly concerned with the police department’s use of stun guns, finding that officers would often use them without justification or use them repeatedly on a suspect.
Policy Revisions Will Improve Mental Health Crisis Response
Police officers are often first responders for individuals in the midst of a mental-health crisis. For this reason, it is important for officers to have significant training to understand the complexity of mental health issues.
Following their investigation, the Justice Department issued a letter to Portland’s Mayor Sam Adams. The 42-page letter recommended remedies that included special training and new policies that would be put in place to investigate alleged misconduct by the police.
Adams and the police department cooperated with the federal investigation. Adams has demonstrated his commitment to improving the police force by posting potential policy changes on his web page. He recommends revising the police department’s policy on stun guns, ensuring that officers use them only when reasonably necessary. He also recommends boosting the city’s treatment options to ensure police officers have the ability to assist individuals facing a mental health crisis.
The Portland police and the Justice Department are currently working on a detailed agreement that will be finalized by October 12. They will seek community feedback on the agreement, which will be signed by a federal judge.
Shelly O’Donnell wrote this article on behalf of EastBayDUILaw.com. She knows the serious implications that personal injuries can bring, and the importance of seeking help.