Four candidates for Portland City Council sent a letter Thursday in which they object to the city attorney's strategy in a lawsuit against the family of Quanice Hayes, a black 17-year-old who was fatally shot by Portland Police in 2017.
The letter comes from four candidates vying for different seats on the city council: commission contenders Loretta Smith, Carmen Rubio and former mayor Sam Adams, as well as mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone. The candidates' letter calls the strategy, first described in a story in the Portland Mercury, "disgusting, oppressive, and polarizing." The letter summarizes the city's legal approach as "arguing that Quanice Hayes and his mother, Venus Hayes, are ultimately responsible for his death because of their negligence."
During a phone call Loretta Smith, former Multnomah County Commissioner said for her, "It's personal."
"I’m a single mother. Who raised her son here in Portland. And I was outraged that the city would seek to attack Miss Venus Hayes, who is the mother, who is still mourning the loss of her son. And it hit me in a very personal way,” Smith said.
According to records released in the months after the shooting, officers came into contact with Hayes as part of a robbery investigation. Police said Hayes ran from police, and when officers caught up to him and told Hayes to raise his hands, he reached for his waist area. Police shot Hayes three times. A replica handgun was found near Hayes' body after he was killed.
Hayes' death was part of a rash of officer-involved shootings of black males in recent years, including the 2016 death of Philando Castile in Minnesota, the 2015 shooting of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The letter argues that the circumstances of Quanice Hayes and his mother are “not unique” but are “representative” of challenges facing parents and young people in communities of color in Portland. The candidates are pressing city leaders to change their legal course.
“The City Attorney was not elected by the voters of Portland — you were,” the letter said. “You all are empowered to stop this attack on a mother who is still, and always will be, mourning the tragic loss of her son.”
Smith said, “We have to show true leadership especially in times like this if we’re going to come together as a city. And I thought, being poor and in need of wrap around services isn’t a crime and it's certainly not a justification for use of lethal force.”
Staff for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said there was a limit to what their office could say, given that the letter arrived while a lawsuit involving the city is working its way through the court system.
"We cannot comment on pending litigation," public information officer Tim Becker said in an email to OPB. "Our office will follow up with the city attorney to learn more about the circumstances mentioned in the letter."
This story will be updated.