The US Department of Justice's findings that the Portland Police Bureau has practiced a pattern of violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill citizens are based on a review of more than 700 incidents in the last 18 months.
The DOJ report specifically points to five cases—including officers hitting people with Tasers, punching them, using pepper spray and bean bag guns—that occurred despite obvious and better ways to deal with the situations.
*On Aug. 5, 2010, at 1:53 am, three officers arrived to do a welfare check on a man living in an an apartment on Southwest 13th Avenue. Police had received reports of a man screaming inside his apartment. Officers Bourasa, Sparks and Jack Hornstein, using a key from the front desk, went inside and found 48-year-old Anthony Charles Caviness unarmed and naked on his floor, screaming for help. When he saw officers, Caviness leapt up and ran toward them. Sparks shot him with a Taser, and Caviness fell to the ground. At that point, the DOJ report says, officers should have tried to handcuff him. Instead, when Caviness tried to get back up, he was Tased with three five-second rounds. As it turns out, Caviness had extremely low blood sugar due to diabetes and needed medical attention. He was transported to Oregon Health & Science University.
The DOJ report says the police’s violation of Caviness’ Fourth Amendment rights, protecting against unlawful search and seizure, was “substantial," while the police’s need to hit him with a Taser was “slight.” The report said the fact Caviness was naked and running at three armed officers made him a minimal threat—especially when, as the DOJ pointed out, the officers were there to perform a welfare check.
*On May 5, 2011, Officer Richard Storm went to Southeast 73rd and Yamhill to check on a report of a man standing for more than an hour in the rain. The man, Fausto Brambila-Naranjo, 47, spoke to Storm in Spanish, so Storm called for assistance from a Spanish-speaking officer. Storm described the scene in his report: "The subject tightened up his arms and fists then tried to kick me with his right leg. I caught his leg, threw it up over his head, and he fell to the ground, face first onto the sidewalk. I immediately got on top of him and told him to give me his hands. The subject then rolled over and was on his back. I then struck him 7-10 times in the face as he was trying to grab my hands.”
The DOJ report says that while Brambila-Naranjo did unsuccessfully attempt to kick Storm, once he was on the ground, Storm had no need to punch him. “Whatever threat the officer perceived was largely mitigated once he forced the subject to the ground, before he repeatedly punched the subject in the face,” the report found.
*On May 14, 2010, officers went to Northwest Third Avenue and Everett Street to check on a man who was spitting on cars and talking to himself. They found 32-year-old Aaron Emanuel Ferguson, who, Officer Thomas W. Pennington later wrote in a report, appeared to be "having some kind of mental break.” Ferguson was ordered to drop his hands, but instead he assumed what police described as a “fighting stance.” An officer first tried pepper spray, but Ferguson walked backward. Ferguson was then shot with a Taser and fell into a “turtle position.” When he wouldn’t extend his arms for arrest, the DOJ wrote, officers Tased him again several times. When officers arrested him, “Ferguson was drooling and spinning around as though he did not have any idea what he was doing or where he was at,” Pennington wrote in his report.
The DOJ report found that police superiors were wrong to label the use of force as justified and should have offered counseling to officers about using different tactics.
*On May 17, 2011, officers responded to a call from a 69-year-old woman who said her son, Joseph James Dowless, 42, hit her in the head. Officers reported blood on the woman's head, face and neck. Dowless had left, but the woman said her son had a sword, according to the police report. When officers arrived later, the DOJ report says, Dowless wasn’t armed and was in his room. When he walked toward officers without raising his hands, police used a bean bag gun and Taser on him.
The officers, the report says, knew the man had a history of mental illness and did not take it into account and were wrong to use force rather than confining him to his room to wait for crisis-intervention teams.
*On Dec. 26, 2010, officers were called in to help Project Respond, the mobile mental health crisis response team for Multnomah County, and they wound up punching and Tasering the man they were there to help evaluate. The DOJ report says the man was speaking incoherently; Project Respond officials asked officers to help take him in for a mental health hold. When the man resisted, officers forced him onto his stomach. The man locked his arms underneath his body and didn't comply with orders to allow officers to handcuff him. Officers Tased him multiple times, and punched him at least six times in the ribs and at least once in the neck and back area.
The DOJ report said officers were there on a call with Project Respond and should have “been aware of the increased likelihood that the subject’s ability to understand or follow officers’ orders is impaired.”