The family of Robert Delgado, the man shot and killed by a Portland police officer on April 16, is calling on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation into the shooting.
Speaking at a press conference Friday afternoon, the family’s attorney, Ashlee Albies, said the decision to appoint a special prosecutor in Minnesota led to former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd.
“And we think that sets a precedent,” Albies said. “District Attorney Mike Schmidt committed to supporting the idea of independent prosecutors in police killings and we call on District Attorney Schmidt to support an independent prosecution in this case.”
Schmidt supports the idea.
“DA Mike Schmidt sees the importance of having an outside prosecutor handle certain criminal investigations such as an officer’s use of deadly force,” said Schmidt’s spokesperson Brent Weisberg. “At this time, no one from the Governor’s office or the Attorney General’s office has reached out regarding this matter but the district attorney would be open to those discussions.”
Neither Brown nor Rosenblum immediately responded to questions asking if they plan to appoint one.
Members of Delgado’s family, some of whom had flown in from out of state, were on hand and remembered him as a loving brother, father and uncle. They called for accountability and changes in how police handle mental health calls.
“When a police officer shows up at a scene, they set the stage, they set the tone,” said Tina Delgado, Robert’s oldest sister. “That’s a big responsibility that they have in their hands. And I want them to be held accountable. I want an independent investigator. I want them to see how they could have handled the situation differently.”
Portland police said they were initially called to Lents Park for reports of a “white man pointing a gun in the park.” Witness video shows police standing behind trees and yelling at Delgado — who is about 90 feet away — to put his hands up and get down on the ground. Delgado appears agitated and is yelling back at the police.
Approximately four minutes after arriving at the park, Officer Zachary DeLong shot and killed Delgado. The video does not show what Delgado was doing in the moments before he was shot but the bureau later confirmed he had a fake handgun at the time of the shooting.
People who know Delgado said he was terrified of the police and often thought other unhoused people were undercover police, federal agents, or worked for the CIA. Albies said the police have to be more aware that their presence alone can be escalatory.
“When they show up on scene, people who might be triggered by that will have an adverse reaction,” she said. “They have to take that into account. Given the level of health care services and resources for people in crisis right now, this is going to continue to happen.”
The Portland Police Bureau has a troubling history of using excessive force against people in mental health crises. That pattern of force led to a federal investigation and, in 2014, brought the city into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. Steady progress towards improving outcomes and use of force practices started to unravel during last summer’s racial justice protests when PPB documented more than 6,000 uses of force.
Federal prosecutors said the Police Bureau had failed to adequately investigate officer actions during protests and that justifications put forward in some use of force cases did not “comport with PPB policy or the Constitution.”
“In these eight years we see that the Portland Police Bureau has taken the lives of many people, including Keaton Otis, Koben Henriksen, Andre Gladen, Lane Martin,” Ablies said. “And this is just a few. This is not all of the people.”
Albies said that half of the 40 people Portland officers have shot and killed since 2003 — the year Officer Scott McCollister shot and killed Kendra James — have been in mental health crises.
Albies said, from what she’s seen so far, responding officers did not follow bureau policy.
“I didn’t hear any warnings,” Albies said. “The way they’re approaching him and engaging with him is escalation. It was not one of deescalation.”
Flanked by eight members of Delgado’s immediate and extended family, his youngest daughter, Kennedy Garrett, 24, said the amount of pain this has caused is difficult to put into words.
“This incident isn’t something you ever think you will have to experience first hand,” Garrett said. “I want everyone who disregards these stories in the news to really ask what is it going to take for there to be change? And is it going to take this happening to your dad, or your mom, or your sister or someone that you care about deeply?”
Garrett said her dad was her best friend.
“He was a human regardless of his situation at the present time,” said Madison Scott, Delgado’s oldest daughter. “The way that he ended up leaving this world is just egregious. Accountability is so important right now.”
Delgado’s oldest brother, Kirkpatrick Fries, said the family needs DA Schmidt and Gov. Brown’s help.
“We’ve been watching and we will be watching,” he said. “And we’ll keep doing this until everybody else gets the right justice that they need.”