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No Justice for Keaton Otis yet... US DoJ v City of Portland

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PORTLAND, OR: The proposed settlement between the City of Portland and the USA Department of Justice following a DoJ investigation into excessive use of force by Portland police is now likely to be endorsed by the Oregon District Court in about two weeks. 

Keaton Otis, shot 23 times by Portland police officers on 12 May 2010
Keaton Otis, shot 23 times by Portland police officers on 12 May 2010
(Image by Fred Bryant)
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Judge Michael Simon this week (3/24/14) told the interested parties -- including the Portland Police Association and friend of the court the Albina Ministerial Alliance -- he was minded to endorse the settlement, but with one caveat. The judge wants to keep the matter in his courtroom for possibly up to five years, with annual reports on moves towards compliance by the city and police with the settlement.

The parties have two, possibly, three weeks to respond.

The DoJ had found reasonable cause to believe that the Portland Police Bureau has an unconstitutional "pattern or practice" of using excessive force against persons with actual or perceived mental illness. Based on that finding, the United States sued the City of Portland.

The City of Portland reached a proposed Settlement Agreement with the US to remedy the problems identified in the US's investigation. The proposed Settlement Agreement was also reviewed and deemed "fair and reasonable" by the Portland Police Association and The Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform.

However, at two days of Fairness Hearings before the judge in mid-February it was clear not all the community was so happy with the proposed settlement.

In particular there was anger that the settlement only focuses on police interactions -- repeatedly not good -- with citizens suffering from mental illness. And even then, substantial organizations with an interest in mental health issues in Portland were also not supporting the settlement.

The DoJ investigation and the proposed settlement ignores the history of Portland police interactions with the city's black population.

In particular, the parameters and time-frame of the DoJ investigation seemed to have been carefully written to avoid any investigation of the police killing of 25-year-old African-American Keaton Otis on 12 May 2010.

At the height of the rush hour, yards from the city's main Grand Avenue, Keaton Otis was killed in a seven-second barrage of 32 shots by officers of the city's Hotspot Enforcement Action Team within minutes of being pulled over on the pretext of failing to signal a lane change.

Twenty-three of the shots hit Keaton Otis. Nine missed. One was found, still warm, in a Radioshack more than a block away.

He was tased three times. Witnesses say he was repeatedly hit through the  car's window. The autopsy showed injuries consistent with wrist locks. The tendons in his left arm had been sliced with a knife.

Eight bullets were recovered from his body.

"He kind of looks like he could be a gangster," the officers later claimed, "he's got his hood up over his head," and he had "some scruffy,  scruffy facial hair."

No contraband was found in his Toyota Corolla, which belonged to his mother. There was no alcohol or drugs in his body. He had no criminal record.

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David Whitfield was a progressive journalist in the UK for 25+ years. For the past nine years he has taught math at a public high school in Portland, OR. Blogs on education at, on general stuff at (more...)

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