The Otis grand jury
I spent three and a half hours last night with the grand jury transcript in the Keaton Otis killing by Portland police. It's a riveting read, certainly captivating in its detail, and it will no doubt impress anyone who takes the time to look through it.
From the accounts of the six or seven police officers on the scene and many other witnesses, there is not much doubt that Officer Christopher Burley was shot a few seconds before most, if not all, of the 32 shots were fired by his fellow police officers. There was another, non-police-issue gun at the scene, which fired at least one shot. No fingerprints appear to have been taken from that gun. One bullet fired by it was recovered, and it had the wounded officer's DNA on it. The cartridge casing was in Otis's car.
It's not likely that Burley was hit by friendly fire -- his fellow officers on the scene were standing behind him when the shooting started -- and he never fired his own gun. There was no gunpowder on his clothing.
The police officers' stories all line up. Burley tried to grab Otis by the wrist through the front driver's side window of his car, and open the door so that another officer could reach in and pull him out. Otis pulled away and slouched along the front seat toward the glove compartment. Two cops shot their Tasers into Otis, who was in an extraordinarily agitated state ever since they stopped him, but that had only a limited effect. Otis pulled a gun out of a Crown Royal bag and shot twice, they say, or maybe it was three times (although only one bullet and one casing from that gun were recovered). Three officers then rained down a hail of hollow-point bullets, only one or two of which struck with fatal effect.
The victim was a severely depressed young man who had been locking himself in his darkened room for days and was starving himself to death. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, his weight was down to 155 pounds. Once in a while he would eat a bag of Doritos. One man testified that an enraged Otis had previously threatened him with a baseball bat in a bizarre incident. He clearly had serious problems.
His mother, with whom he lived, testified that she and her husband, who raised Otis, did everything they could to get him help. But he would not take it, and society would not force him to do so until he was more of a proven threat to himself or others. And so he was killed by the police instead.
Although it produces a gun and a bullet that hit Burley, which is what I needed to put my worst fears to rest, the grand jury transcript also points to an alarming circumstance -- the sickeningly thin reasons that the police officers gave for singling Otis out in traffic on Grand Avenue and tailing him. It was another one of the Portland police's amorphous "I had a bad feeling about that car" explanations, reminiscent of the James Jahar Perez killing a while back.
The main reason that the officer who instigated the incident gave for following Otis was how intently Otis was looking through his side view mirror at the police car behind him. Then a second police car got involved alongside the first, further upsetting the extremely sick kid. The police also said their suspicions were aroused because Otis was wearing his sweatshirt hood up on a warm evening, and the car he was driving was registered to a woman, and an older woman at that. (It turned out to be his mother.)
So they tailed him, and he reacted by cutting across a couple of lanes of traffic. Then he wouldn't pull over right away. And when he did, he screamed and cursed and refused to obey the cops' instructions. One of the police officers pulled out his gun, which got Otis even crazier.
Then more police cars showed up, boxing him in. Then one of the policemen reached inside the car and grabbed his wrist. He pulled away and got Tased twice. Then the Crown Royal bag appeared, and that was the tragic end of Keaton Dupree Otis.
I don't often agree with Portland's creepy mayor, but on this one, I think he's right: This sort of thing should not happen. Our community, all of us, should feel enough shame to try to do better, much better.