Since 2007, when a Portland police officer pulls the trigger in the line of duty, Detective Erik Kammerer often investigates.
Kammerer is one of 16 detectives assigned to the Portland Police Bureau’s homicide unit, which also investigates police use of deadly force. Such investigations produce much of the evidence presented to a grand jury, which is tasked with handing down an indictment if it determines the officer’s use of deadly force was not justified.
But Kammerer is now under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice for his own alleged use of force.
“It’s the fox watching the hen house,” says Ashlee Albies, a Portland civil rights lawyer. “Having [an officer] investigate somebody within their own department, somebody that they might have a strong personal relationship with, and add on top of that that this person is under their own investigation—where you have that constellation of circumstances, there is either actual bias or the appearance of bias in that process.”
State prosecutors have declined to disclose details of their investigation into Kammerer so far. But the review will likely probe allegations that Kammerer used excessive force while working his other assignment for the bureau: a squad leader on the now-defunct Rapid Response Team, a contingent of about 50 officers who volunteered to police Portland’s racial justice protests.
As WW reported in September 2020, Elijah Warren, a Black homeowner in Southeast Portland, says Kammerer hit him in the back of the head with a baton while Warren was speaking to another officer outside his home. (Warren is now suing Kammerer.)
On Nov. 6, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office referred a criminal investigation of Kammerer to the Oregon DOJ, according to spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson. County prosecutors said they couldn’t probe the case against Kammerer themselves because of a “potential conflict of interest in our office.”
Steve Sherlag, a Portland criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, says referring the case to the state is an unusual move.
“These referrals aren’t made lightly,” Sherlag says. “That calls into question his judgment, his training, his ability to follow the law—so much so that the bureau could be potentially compromising its investigations.”
Kammerer first joined the Portland Police Bureau in 1994, moving up the ranks to detective in 2003 and joining the homicide detail in 2007. Since last summer’s protests, some Portlanders have grown familiar with the detective’s name—or at least his moniker, Officer 67, the number affixed to his helmet.
But Kammerer also plays an integral role in Multnomah County’s criminal justice system, having investigated between 150 and 200 homicides, by his own estimate in grand jury transcripts.
Kammerer also investigates the use of deadly force by his fellow officers. The results of those investigations into fatal police shootings are typically referred to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors present the findings to a grand jury, which determines whether the officers who pulled the trigger should be criminally charged and potentially face trial if their use of deadly force was not justified.
Kammerer told a grand jury in 2017 that he had led the investigations of “more than 10, less than 20” police shootings, and that he assisted in some capacity on “almost all of them.”
The Police Bureau investigated approximately 20 fatal police shootings in the first 10 years Kammerer served on the homicide unit. None resulted in the indictment of an officer.
Kammerer helmed the investigations of some of Portland’s most high-profile fatal police shootings during his tenure. The cases include Officer Andrew Hearst’s fatal shooting of Quanice Hayes in 2017; Officer Consider Vosu’s fatal shooting of Andre Gladen in 2019; and the 2010 killing of Keaton Otis, whom at least three officers shot a total of 23 times. (Officer Cody Berne, who fired 11 rounds, was later hired as a prosecutor in the DA’s office.)
In the eight months since county prosecutors referred Kammerer’s own case to the DOJ for possible criminal prosecution, his workload has remained steady.
The Police Bureau assigned him to investigate two nonfatal police shootings: the December shooting of Jonathan Crowley by a U.S. Marshals fugitive task force in North Portland, and the May 22 shooting of Darrin Carr by Officer Colby Marrs. (A grand jury declined to indict Marrs in early June, WW has learned. Kammerer did not testify; his partner, Detective Shaye Samora, did, court records show.)
“It’s not a good look,” says John Schlosser, a criminal defense lawyer. “The bigger question is why the bureau isn’t reassigning him.”
PPB spokesman Lt. Greg Pashley says the bureau removed Kammerer from protest duty in October, but that he has since remained assigned to the homicide detail. Pashley says it is normal for officers to remain in their assigned roles pending an investigation.
“PPB does believe Detective Kammerer is a credible, reliable witness in [officer-involved shootings] and homicide investigations,” Pashley says.
It’s worth noting that the Police Bureau did not assign Kammerer to investigate the most recent fatal police shooting: the killing of Michael Ray Townsend on June 24.
And low staffing in the bureau following a historic wave of retirements and resignations since last summer could also make it more difficult to remove Kammerer, a veteran investigator, from his work testifying before grand juries if needed. Spokesman Sgt. Kevin Allen says the bureau increased its homicide unit from 10 to 16 detectives amid a recent wave of homicides, but had to reassign officers from other divisions to do that.
If the DA’s office—which often builds its prosecutions on Portland Police Bureau investigations—has any discomfort working with Kammerer, it isn’t saying.
District Attorney Mike Schmidt declined to tell WW whether his office would continue to call on Kammerer to testify, or to answer further questions about how Kammerer’s continued testimony might affect public trust.
Schlosser notes that excluding Kammerer as a witness runs the risk of further eroding Schmidt’s relationship with the Police Bureau, whose officers have openly scorned his charging policies for nearly a year.
“I would imagine it’s very difficult to be Mike right now,” Schlosser says. “It’s in the DA’s best interest to keep a good working relationship with law enforcement agencies.”
In addition to Kammerer’s role investigating police shootings, some defense lawyers question whether he should continue to investigate any non-police-related homicides, which make up the bulk of Kammerer’s portfolio.
The DA’s office has called on Kammerer to testify as an expert witness in at least one grand jury proceeding for a non-police-related homicide since it sent his case to the Department of Justice last fall. The Police Bureau assigned Kammerer to the case in April—five months after his own case was referred to DOJ.
Sherlag says even in homicides that don’t involve police officers, a defense lawyer could seek to have a case dismissed if Kammerer were the detective who secured the indictment.
“It now calls into question prior investigations,” Sherlag says. “Any criminal defense lawyer in these circumstances is going to potentially have a field day with this.”