On June 18, 2011, Portland cops arrested Cox, then 37, in the parking lot of an East Portland strip club on suspicion of driving under the influence. Cops say they had to use force to subdue him.
But Cox says he was beaten up by police without provocation. And his attorneys say the video—taken from a motion-activated security camera above the parking lot of the Pallas Club at Southeast 136th Avenue and Powell Boulevard—shows something different from what three Portland cops, who punched Cox and shocked him four times with a Taser, claim happened.
Cops say Cox fought them and resisted arrest. The video, however, shows officers punching Cox while he is on the ground and showing no signs of resistance.
Cox filed a $545,000 suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on April 9 against the city, alleging assault and battery. He declined to comment on the case.
“It’s one of the most egregious excessive-force cases, and it’s just clear as day on video,” Jason Kafoury, Cox’s Portland attorney, tells WW. “He thought they were going to kill him.”
Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says Internal Affairs reviewed reports and the entire video, and interviewed three independent witnesses, including a police chaplain. He said investigators found the officers’ reports were consistent with the video, and their actions were within bureau policy and state law. Simpson says the Independent Police Review board looked at the case and agreed with Internal Affairs.
Last fall, the U.S. Department of Justice rapped the bureau for excessive use of force, including overuse of Tasers, against the mentally ill. Although it didn’t address force used against other suspects, the DOJ did caution the department to use restraint. The bureau is updating its Taser and use-of-force policies and will pay about $5 million to implement DOJ reforms.
Court records show Cox has received six traffic tickets in the past 15 years. In 2008, Cox was charged with assaulting his wife, but those charges were later dismissed. Cox also was found guilty of DUII in 2008 in Clark County, Wash.
Officer Jeffrey Elias, in his report, said he stopped Cox just after 10 pm because he saw Cox’s Chevy pickup fishtailing and speeding as he left nearby Papa-Son’s Bar. He writes that Cox “became agitated and asked me why I was stopping him.” Kafoury, Cox’s attorney, concedes his client did argue with officers about being stopped.
And this is where discrepancies between police reports and the video begin.
Elias wrote that “Cox had slurred speech, smelled like alcohol and was unsteady on his feet.” The video, which does not have sound, shows Cox walking and standing without losing his balance.
Two other East Precinct officers, Robert Bruders and Sarah Kerwin, soon arrived to assist Elias. Bruders’ report says Cox was standing in a “fighting position.” The video shows Cox, agitated, standing several feet away with arms folded, as he complies with a field sobriety test.
Elias asked Bruders to help him arrest Cox. Bruders wrote that he felt Cox “immediately tense up and try to pull his left arm in front of his body.” But the video shows that Cox voluntarily put his arms behind his back when officers tried to arrest him.
Elias and Bruders wrote that Cox refused to spread his feet. The video shows them kick his left foot out as they push him to the ground, and Bruders punches Cox at least six times on the left side of his face.
“He was trying to roll and lift up as we struggled with him,” Elias wrote. Kerwin says Cox was “rolling around and swinging his legs at the officers on scene.”
The video shows that Cox lay largely motionless and didn’t kick his legs until Kerwin hit him with the first of four five-second shocks with a Taser, all applied in one minute’s time, according to Kerwin’s Taser records.
The officers say in their reports that Cox held his arms underneath his body and refused to bring them out. After her third Taser cycle, Kerwin writes, she saw Cox “attempt to pull his arm back almost as if he was going to strike Ofc. Elias.” The video doesn’t show that.
The city’s Taser policy allows use of the device when a suspect uses “physically evasive movements to defeat an officer’s attempt at control, including bracing, tensing, pushing, or verbally signaling an intention to avoid or prevent being taken into or retained in custody.” Multiple shocks are allowed, although police should “make every reasonable effort to handcuff the subject during and between Taser cycles.”
Kafoury says Cox, an ironworker, needed an $18,000 shoulder surgery after his arrest, preventing him from working. “The punches to his face by the 270-pound officer [Bruders] embedded concrete into his flesh, and bits were still coming out weeks later,” he adds.
Cox’s mug shot shows him with a pulped-up and swollen face. Later, when filing a search warrant to draw Cox’s blood to test for alcohol, Officer Jay Goodrich lists a flushed face and a bloodshot, watery right eye as signs of Cox’s intoxication.
A blood test showed that Cox’s blood alcohol content was .07 percent, under the legal limit of .08, Kafoury says. Court records show Cox was charged with DUII, reckless driving, resisting arrest, interfering with police, and disorderly conduct. He later pleaded guilty to DUII; the other charges were dropped.
Elias, Bruders and Kerwin do not have a publicly available record of brutality (the police union has blocked disclosure of complaints against individual officers). Bruders was featured on an episode of Cops in 2010, when he busts two people for having sex in the back of a truck near a park.
As first reported on wweek.com, Kafoury and his father, Greg, are behind an Oregon Senate bill that would end the use of binding arbitration to review cases in which Portland police are accused of using excessive force.
“We’ve spent years watching officers hurt people and juries finding they used excessive force,” Jason Kafoury says, “and in the end, there’s no punishment for the officers. No officer has ever permanently lost a job over excessive force on a citizen.”