After three days of testimony, a Multnomah County grand jury determined late on Thursday that a Portland police officer’s use of force was justified when he killed a man who appeared to be armed and experiencing a mental health crisis.
“A grand jury returned a not true bill and found the use of force by a Portland Police Bureau officer that resulted in the death of 46-year old Robert Delgado was not criminal under Oregon law,” Multnomah County district attorney Mike Schmidt said in a statement.
Officer Zachary DeLong shot and killed Robert Delgado the morning of April 16 in Lents Park, on Portland’s southeast side. The grand jury decision means DeLong won’t face criminal charges.
“There is no part of us that is really surprised,” said Madison Scott, Delgado’s eldest daughter. “This wasn’t a thorough investigation. It can never be when people are investigating their own people. There’s just not questions being asked.”
Scott was referring to the Portland police practice of having their own detectives investigate officer shootings.
DeLong was dispatched to Lents Park on April 16 after a 911 call reported a man doing “quick draws” with what the caller believed was a handgun, according to police.
In dispatch recordings, officers also said people at the park told them that Delgado, 46, had a gun.
“Apparently, he’s acting like James Bond or like a cowboy doing quick draws with it, not pointing it at anybody,” an officer told the dispatcher.
The gun was later found to be a replica handgun with an orange tip, a fact that raised further questions for the family.
One witness and multiple officers testified that Delgado pointed the gun at officers.
“Did officer DeLong have a scope?” Scott asked. “If he’d had a scope he would have been able to see the tip was orange.”
Portland police do not wear body cameras, but a bystander video of the shooting shows police taking cover behind trees, yelling at Delgado and him yelling back.
At 9:40 a.m. the day of the shooting, about four minutes after officers first arrived on scene, police said DeLong shot Delgado from roughly 90 feet away, killing him. For approximately nine minutes after shooting Delgado, police continued to yell directions at him as he lay motionless in the grass.
Scott said the family was told that in grand jury testimony, officers said they thought he might be pretending to be injured.
“They said it was unclear if he was not complying because he was faking it,” Scott said. “We’ve seen the video. We’ve seen the opposite of what they’re trying to say happened. What unfortunately is witnessed by so many families across the nation every single day is that these institutions that are here to protect and serve do completely the opposite and are not held accountable.”
The Portland Police Bureau was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012, and into a settlement agreement in 2014 after the federal government found police regularly used excessive force toward people who experience mental illness. Ever since, the city and police have been working through a long list of requirements aimed at improving policing.
Delgado was the first of at least two people killed by Portland police this year while experiencing a crisis.
His friends and family said Delgado had struggled with mental health issues for years. Jennifer Fahey, one of Delgado’s close friends, said he was frequently beaten up or had his belongings stolen by other people on the street. He often thought other unhoused people were undercover police officers. His deep mistrust for institutions hampered attempts to get him help.
Medical records reviewed by OPB confirm Delgado had sought help on multiple occasions.
Delgado went to a Multnomah County urgent walk-in clinic in June 2020 for mental health treatment. He also sought stable housing. According to provider notes from that visit, Delgado had recently been to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center for treatment after being beat up on the street. Delgado was allowed to sleep, but staff there told him there was little else they could do.
Delgado also said he had sought mental health care on numerous occasions, had seen 17 different counselors, and said he had thought about taking his own life.
Scott said it’s not a crime to need mental health care.
“Rich people don’t get shot,” she said. “They were hoping my dad had no family. They were hoping that nobody would show up and nobody would care. And that’s not the case.”
Advocates for increased police accountability have pointed to a close relationship between prosecutors and police as an obstacle to prosecuting law enforcement in cases of fatal police shootings. Since before he was elected as Multnomah County district attorney, Schmidt has spoken about restoring the public’s trust in the process of investigating law enforcement when they kill someone in the line of duty.
“The best way to show that there isn’t a bias is to bring in an outside set of eyes, to have somebody else take a look and help us,” Schmidt told OPB in May. “Hopefully the community will see that and it will help restore integrity and legitimacy to the process.”
In Delgado’s slaying, Schmidt brought in the Oregon Department of Justice to assist. In another case involving a man killed by a Gresham police officer, Schmidt hired a Portland defense attorney to assist in presenting the case to the grand jury. A grand jury declined to charge Gresham officer James Doyle in July. That said, the investigations into Portland police shootings are still conducted by the agency’s own detectives.
Portland police officers have killed 43 people since 2003 and faced zero charges.