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Sunday, April 4, 2004

Making it worse

Portland media is a disgrace sometimes. Now every story we read or hear about last week's police shooting has to include obligatory comments such as the following from KGW-TV:

A deputy state medical examiner said Friday that he found an "extremely high level" of cocaine in Perez’s bloodstream.

Perez had a felony record for burglary, gun and drug possessions and was on parole at the time of his death. His record included a 1998 conviction for assault of a police officer and resisting arrest following a traffic stop similar to Sunday night's stop.

All of which is completely, totally irrelevant to the question now at hand. Even if the man was a hardened con and coked up beyond belief -- even assuming all of that is true -- if he didn't threaten the officers, he didn't deserve to die. Still seated in his parked car. Twenty-four seconds after he was pulled over.

Hey, fourth estate out there. You might as well be telling us, "The victim was wearing socks that had holes in them." It simply doesn't matter.

And shame on those who keep repeating these facts as if they did. What sleaze! The clear implication is: "The guy was a criminal, so it's less of a crime to kill him than an upstanding citizen."

Did they do drug tests on the officer who killed Mr. Perez? That would be far more germane.

They probably didn't.

Comments (22)

"All of which is completely, totally irrelevant to the question now at hand. Even if the man was a hardened con and coked up beyond belief -- even assuming all of that is true -- if he didn't threaten the officers, he didn't deserve to die."

I don't see you presenting a question here... you are merely making a statement, not presenting a question. What is this "question at hand"? I ask this, please bear in mind, agreeing with your obsevation. I am truly wondering, what is the relevent question we must ask?

I do not agree from either a small or a large view.

From the small view, I think it does matter that mind & 'mood' altering drugs, and at what level, the victim/suspect had in his system. And I don't find the sock analogy to be an 'analogy' at all. There is no relevance to socks as to chemicals. What new political correctitude is this?

But that is the small point.

The really larger ones are what I have learned living in North and NE Portland over the past four years. I have been a victim of serious property crime three times (personal theft from person, home burglary and car theft). All of these crimes are thought by me and the police to owe 90 percent to the illegal drug trade and pervasive crime culture that springs up all around it.

Society is paying a fortune directly for police and prisons, individuals are paying the unreimbursed crime & loss of safety costs, and then ... and then, we pay costs like that of this shooting.

It is a huge issue that needs so very much a closer look, with most of the preconceptions foregone.

The question at hand is actually several-fold:

1. Whether the police were justified in killing this man.

2. If not, how should the officer who killed him be disciplined.

3. If not, how should the victim's family be compensated.

4. If not, what should Portland and its police do differently.

The fellow's criminal record and drug ingestion are not relevant to these questions. He was killed by gunshot, not by drug overdose.

When the cops pull someone over and run the car's license plate through their computer system, what information are the police shown? Does anyone here know for a fact what information the police have about the detained car?

I assume the feedback the police receive includes the car owner's name and criminal history. If so, the cops involved could reasonably suspect that the driver (who is likely to be said owner) was indeed a burglar, drug possessor and likely to assault police officers again.

I don't point this out to argumentative, but constructive. Does anyone actually KNOW what information the police have when someone is pulled over?

Good question, Scott. Here's one I have -- How is the police chief able to say that 24 seconds elapsed between the officer's first call on the stop and the firing of the shots? Is there an open radio connection during the entire stop? They also say that Offcr. Macomber ran the stun gun on Perez for a long time after he was shot by Offcr. Sery. How do they know that? Is there a timer on it?

There are still many questions. But based on what's been released so far, this does not appear to be a justifiable homicide.

Imagine, you've just pulled over a kid for some sort of (yet unspecified)suspicious behavior (not using a turn signal is reason to believe that he was impersonating an officer of the law). Your training and experience give you the sense that this kid is on crack, and that you could be killed. The kid gets belligerent and threatening to the point that you decide to hit him with the tazer.

The tazer has no effect! What is this kid on! Escalate, fin. "An extremely high level of cocaine" is a completely relevant fact in this case.

I'm very glad that the Feds are looking into this case. Many police officers are racists who see the wrong side of my N PDX community on a daily basis, and become jaded and sloppy.

Speaking of jaded and sloppy, what about people associated with our tax code?

Stacks of convoluted laws that are used to extract a disproportionate amount of the hard earned money that my N PDX brothers and sisters try to live on. Offshore accounts, tax shelters and obfuscation through blinding complexity.

Fear a bad criminal justice system? Fear a bad tax system. in glass houses throwing...

1. Stash's comment above is an attempt at postmodern poetry.

2. The Taser has an internal cycle monitor. That's how they know how long the Taser cycle lasted. But according to the timing, Sery shot Perez before the other officer hit him with the Taser. Also, ME Lewman concluded that the Taser had no effect because both Taser darts did not penetrate.

It's so easy to take sides against the trigger happy police or a coked up drug dealer.

None of us really know what happened that night, but we can fill in the blank parts of the story with conclusions framed by our own perspectives.

Anyone else out there (like me) thinking this is mostly just another sad symptom of the Drug War?

I still can't fathom how that shooting was justified, but I also think the fact that this guy was not only coked to the gills but he was holding some drug baggies in his mouth might make a difference in how this traffic stop was handled. I mean, he was obviously up to no good.

Granted, I seriously doubt he deserved to be shot, but he sure as hell should have been arrested. This story of "he was just on his way to the store to buy candy for the kids" is bullsh*t.

I agree. This is another sad symptom of the War on Drugs.

The problem I have is that being high is not a death penalty offense. I agree that there may be times when being on cocaine could cause you to resist arrest more than you otherwise would. But until there's some evidence of some provoking event that caused the guy to get shot, it's hard for me to see how the evidence of having cocaine in his system is relevant.

With all due respect, it's problematic to me precisely because it causes the "up to no good" calculus to be done, which I don't think is where the investigation is yet. Being up to no good isn't punishable by death. At this point, I'd think what matters is what caused the guy to get shot, and being high and being up to no good aren't enough, I don't think.

I do react, too, with a lot of frustration over the refusal to deal with the fact that there is open pretextual use of laws like "100 feet before a turn, you have to use your signal." If we want it to be legal for police officers to pull you over because of what you look like and what car you're driving and what neighborhood you're in, it seems to me we ought to just say that. And if we're not prepared to say it's okay, then it shouldn't happen. Elaborate, persistent fictions are very dangerous, and I don't like having a lot of laws on the books that are used almost exclusively to achieve purposes that are, in and of themselves, illegal.

Sigh. It's upsetting.

"Anyone else out there (like me) thinking this is mostly just another sad symptom of the Drug War?"

Did I not say that, second post up?

Here's something else I am positive of: Portland's police are WAY readier for this discussion than the politicians or citizenry are.

I believe that information IS critical to forming an opinion on the act. Assuming that the police had access to the registered car owner's criminal history (I do not know this as fact, but frankly, I hope they do), which includes gun possession and prior violent behavior towards the police, they did have cause to approach this person with a defensive stance.

And while not known at the time, the rather dubious reason for the traffic stop did expose criminal behavior, and must remain a critical tool for the police to fight the war on drugs. Maybe Perez should have stayed at home and finished his cocaine rather than exposing the community to his DUI behavior.

Without proper ID, the officers attempted to arrest him. At that time, he began to struggle with the officers, realizing that his criminal behavior (drug intoxication and possession) would send him back to prison. During the struggle he ended up back in the car, an act that appeared to the officers, an effort to retrieve a weapon. In the adrenaline charged atmosphere, the officer's decision was made in a split second.

Hindsight now tells us that he was wrong. Perez made his choice to use drugs and fight with police, not once, but several times. His death, while unfortunate for his family, was a result of his previous and ongoing criminal behavior. I hope that the officer is not hung out to dry as I do not want some other officer's hesitation to act because of this incident to result in him taking a bullet from a Perez-like criminal who does have a weapon in the car.

I asked a friend who's a police officer what information comes up when they run a license tag. When a police officer pulls you over, they immediately run the plates on your car. This tells them who owns the car, whether or not it is stolen, stuff like that. Then they run the owners name and at that point they have alot of information available. Not only age, height etc, but any previous arrests. They can then look at each arrest in detail. This information is only germane if the owner of the car is the driver of the car.

I agree that his criminal record shouldn't really be much of an issue. But I used to see people in college all the time who had been using coke and they acted in a crazy, irrational manner.

I'm not saying that the shooting was justified, but saying the coke level is irrelevant is a foolish statement.

While the shooting might not be justified, it might be mititgated if they guy was acting crazy and made a sudden movement. Panic? Unfortunate? Tragic? sure, but not implausible.

A couple years back I had just raced to finish grading some land on an affordable housing project. I was a sweaty dirty pig with mussed up hair. On top of that Mother Nature was calling. I was driving in the slow lane on 205, with my temporary registration just expired, and I was pulled over for the requisite ticket. I asked the cop to state his reason for the stop – a contemporaneous reason is better than any later rationalization with the aid of an attorney. You would have thought that the cop believed that I had just robbed a bank or was high on drugs. My sweat and dirt and Mother Nature calling and all caused the cop to nearly forget the reason for the stop and then his “subjective” imagination went into overdrive. I am just a middle-age white guy and I too fear twitchy cops. Suppose I reached into my glove box for my documentation of insurance and the cop thinks . . . “I thought he” . . .

The policeman is not allowed to make value judgments, subjective or objective, on the life of a target. To allow them that freedom would be like a court entertaining a defense to rape-murder that the victim was a prostitute and that society was better off. I am an economist and instead look to the economic factors that led to the cocaine use or prior convictions and to seek proactive economic solutions to reduce the reasons for cops to feel so twitchy.

Stash’s comment on the tax code is not postmodern poetry but is precisely on point, at least if someone is looking for a longer-term solution.

Hasn't the discussion strayed from the point?

Jack's point, I thought, was that the Media was doing a bad thing by introducing James Jahar Perez' rap sheet into the equation. So the issue is not whether Perez' record mattered at the time of the incident (I agree with Jack that it did not), but whether the Media's reporting of it did. I think the answer to that question is "no" as well.

I've never really understood whatever it is that passes for "journalistic ethics". I guess journalists do, but to me journalistic ethics issues have always been pretty much matters of taste, in that they're basically little more than questions as to whether it bothers the reporter's conscience to print something. I guess journalists frequently have heated debates over exactly this question (to print or not to print) with regularity, which wouldn't happen nearly as often, one would think, if they had bright-line objective rules that they could follow rather than the amorphous, subjective gut-instincts that they seem to employ. I mean, if the rules - assuming there are any - were all that clear, they wouldn't have debates, frequent, heated, or otherwise.

Then there are the apparent inconsistencies. They'll print Perez' rap sheet without regard to the extreme prejudice it will work to the investigation over the incident, the career of the officer involved, the morale of the police department, city politics, and the community as a whole; but they won't, for example, print the name of the victim in a rape trial - even though the mere release of the name, and nothing more, would have far less impact on the victim, the trial, or anything else you could name.

It just doesn't make sense.

KGW is not a court of law. The public has been interested in exploring the background of the officer, they have a right to know Perez' background as well. Portland obviously has a problem, here. and the media should let the public know wha tthey think is newsworthy.

Again, however, while Perez' cocaine level is not an excuse for shooting him, it is relevant, though I agree that his criminal record isn't relevant (in court), the public certainly has a right to know

In response to Mojomark's comment that Perez jumped back in the car: I've heard that Perez wrestled with Serey's partner in the car but I never heard anything about him getting out of the car and then back in. Has anyone else?

Responding to Bill Richards post- There's a BIG difference between not publishing the name of a rape victim and publishing info on Perez. He didn't deserve to die in the manner that he did, but if he hadn't been really high, and trying to hide drugs maybe he would've gone along with the cops instead of struggling with them. So his behaviour helped to create the situation.

Most if not all rape victims have done nothing to warrent the violence visited upon them. I think it's good that they are afforded some protection by the media. You are comparing apples and oranges here.

Jack is right, though-looks like a bad summer ahead.

I agree, Lily, it does look like we have a bad summer ahead of us - but at least part of the reason it's going to be bad is due to irresponsible reporting on the part of the media. And that was the point of Jack's post. Unfortunately, though, the comments I'm reading (including yours when you say "he [Perez] didn't deserve to die in the manner that he did", implying that officer Sery acted unjustifiably) indicate a preference for discussing the merits of the case, rather than the issue that Jack raised - irresponsible reporting by the Oregonian.

It seems to be the policy of the Oregonian that they will not publish the name of the victim when reporting a rape trial. I'm fine with that. Reporting her name can't possibly help me, as an Oregonian reader, to determine whether the crime of rape actually occurred. But it DOES matter a great deal to the person involved, since it can impact her life adversely to an extraordinary degree as long as she lives. To this we can all agree.

But it would be just as irrelevant, in such a case, to report the rap sheet of the alleged rapist, even if the Oregonian were to omit his name - Again, because it is irrelevant. What a person may have done in the past, as evidenced by a rap sheet, cannot possibly inform me, as an Oregonian reader, as to whether the alleged criminal committed the crime with which he is charged. All that matters - and all that any Oregonian reader should rightly consider - is the evidence presented at trial as to what actually transpired with respect to the actual incident itself. In short, if anyone is to be convicted of a crime, it should be because of something he or she has done, not because he or she may have a less-than-stellar reputation.

No rape victim, by definition, has ever done anything to warrant being raped, and I never said or meant to imply that the Oregonian's policy of not reporting the name of a rape victim was in any way wrong. The name is irrelevant and should not be reported. James Jahar Perez' rap sheet is irrelevant, and should not have been reported, either - but it was. Why? Officer Sery's history is being reported by the Oregonian as well, even though it, too, is irrelevant. Why? Does knowing Perez' rap sheet help me, as an Oregonian reader, to decide what happened during those three fateful minutes? Does knowing that Officer Sery had a stellar, albeit short, career as an officer in Portland and In Billings, MT make it more likely that Sery was in the right and Perez was in the wrong? Does this information help me, as an Oregonian reader, decide whether police procedures and/or training need to be reformed?

No. But I guess the Oregonian thinks it does, since it has reported all these things. Why? That, in essence, was the point of Jack's post. And that is the point I assume he wanted to discuss, and which everyone who has commented upon it thus far has scrupulously avoided doing.

Jack's point, if I understand him correctly, is that the Oregonian's reporting of Perez' rap sheet as if it meant something was sleazy. I agree. Which makes me wonder (again) what it is that passes for "journalistic ethics". It sure doesn't include consistency, if it means they will refrain from publishing a rape victims name (because it is irrelevant) while publishing Perez' rap sheet (which is equally irrelevant). I suspect that the Oregonian's explanation might include words like "newsworthy" and phrases like "the public's right to know". But my response to such an explanation might include words like "pandering" and phrases like "anything to increase circulation".

To rustymonk-

As Perez was still strapped in his seatbelt when killed, he probably never made it out of the car.


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In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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