A Portland police officer told grand jurors he shot and killed a man with schizophrenia earlier this year because the man had somehow taken possession of a knife normally zip-tied to the front of the officer's police vest.
He also suspected the man he was trying to subdue was going through a mental health crisis.
The Multnomah County district attorney's office released grand jury transcripts Thursday in the Jan. 6 death of Andre Gladen, a 36-year-old African American man from Sacramento who was visiting family in Portland when he was killed inside a stranger's apartment. Gladen struggled with schizophrenia and took medication for bipolar disorder, family members told OPB. Gladen was also blind in one eye. The medical examiner told grand jurors Gladen had also taken methamphetamines on the day of his death.
Gladen arrived at Desmond Pescaia’s front door in Southeast Portland, wearing only one shoe. He seemed confused.
Gladen's family said he was seen at the emergency room at Adventist Medical Center in Southeast Portland — near Pescaia's apartment — not long before he was killed.
Pescaia told grand jurors Gladen seemed confused and disturbed when he pounded on his door:
"I went outside, I opened it and asked him, 'What do you want?' And his response was, 'Well, I'm legally blind and there's someone standing on the corner in a white hoodie with a gun, and he's coming after me to shoot me and kill me and you,'" Pescaia said, according to the transcript.
Gladen asked to go inside. Pescaia said no, though he said he also offered Gladen water and money for a MAX train.
Gladen pounded on Pescaia's door twice more. Both times, Pescaia told him to leave. Finally, Pescaia told grand jurors, his landlord recommended he call the police.
"I did not feel safe. I did not feel that I could handle the situation," Pescaia said. "I did not want to do anything that would bring myself or this young man harm."
Portland Police Officer Consider Vosu arrived on the scene to find Gladen lying beneath a blanket and behind two chairs on the front porch. Vosu said he told Gladen that he couldn't be there and needed to leave or risk an arrest for trespassing.
Gladen questioned whether Vosu was a police officer, so Vosu pointed to his badge. After a bit of back and forth, Gladen got up.
"As he stood up, I noticed that he was wearing a hospital gown and he had one shoe on his right foot and it was the wrong shoe. So I asked him, 'Did you just come from the hospital? What's going on?'" Vosu told grand jurors. "I said, 'You have a shoe on your right foot, and it's the wrong foot for that shoe.' And he looks at me and backs up to the door of the house."
Gladen, the officer said, kicked the apartment door. Pescaia opened it and began yelling at Gladen to leave. Vosu told Pescaia to go back inside, but the tenant stepped out on the porch and continued yelling. At that point, Vosu called for backup because "this is not going how I want it to go."
At that point, Vosu's and Pescaia's recollections of events differ slightly. Pescaia said he grabbed a stick to protect himself from Gladen, who Pescaia said was yelling and cursing at the officer. Vosu said he told Pescaia to put the stick down and go back inside because "there's a mental health component at play."
After multiple requests, Pescaia finally put the stick down. As he did, Gladen moved past him into the apartment. Pescaia followed, and Vosu said he went after them because he worried Pescaia and Gladen were going to fight.
Gladen, in socks, slipped on the wood floor. Vosu said Pescaia was on top of the intruder when he made it into the apartment. Vosu said he began trying to restrain Gladen. It didn't work.
"[Gladen] kicked Officer Vosu off. And because of how close the quarters are, Officer Vosu ended up on his butt in my room in front of my bed," Pescaia told jurors.
Vosu said he and Gladen both got up, and he warned Gladen to stop or get Tasered.
When Gladen didn't comply, the officer used his Taser. Gladen fell down, and Vosu saw something in his hand: a knife Vosu kept zip tied to the front of his vest that he had used in the past "for cutting police tape, for opening sandwiches and cutting rope."
"And he starts getting up again, but this time, I can register what's in his hand is my knife," Vosu told jurors. "I saw the knife in his right hand. I saw him holding it tightly, and he was advancing on me with — with intent. ... I did as — as we do in training. I stepped back, drew my firearm, I believe I admonished him and then fired three times."
Two shots hit Gladen at point-blank range. Gladen collapsed at the officer's feet.
In February, a Multnomah County grand jury determined Vosu's use of force was a lawful act of self-defense and determined no criminal prosecution was necessary.
A lawyer for Gladen's family disputes Vosu’s account.
“The officer and the witness escalated the situation,” said attorney Andrew M. Stroth. “Blind man, did not present a threat, was in distress, but then gets shot by Officer Vosu and then after the fact it’s our perspective that he makes up a story to support his unjustified shooting.”
Stroth dismissed questions about the drugs found in Gladen’s system, noting that whether it’s drugs or mental health issues, Gladen was suffering and in distress.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the city after their review found police engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive use of force against people suffering from mental health problems. The city remains under a settlement agreement that’s administered by a federal judge.
Stroth raised questions about Pescaia’s involvement during the incident as well.
“I don’t know what the police procedures are, or what the general orders are, but you also have a civilian interacting with the officer, to confront and engage Mr. Gladen,” Stroth said. “Again, Mr. Gladen was legally blind, and we just don’t believe the narrative given by the officer or the witness, Pescaia.”
Gladen’s family has said they intend to sue the city.
In February, members of Gladen’s family met with Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Police Bureau Chief Danielle Outlaw. They urged the city to do better in its policing, specifically with people who have mental illnesses.
In a statement following the release of the grand jury transcripts, Outlaw said the bureau makes every attempt to be transparent.
“Early on, detectives suspected it was the officer’s knife; however, they were unable to confirm it prior to the Grand Jury,” Outlaw said.
PPB said in a follow up email that they learned that the knife belonged to Vosu on Thursday after the grand jury transcripts were released.
The case will next go before the Police Review Board.