A 24-year-veteran of the Portland Police Bureau shot and killed a man during a hostage situation Wednesday who investigators say had frequent run-ins with the police.
The man, 30-year-old Samuel E. Rice, was shot and killed by PPB Officer Kelly VanBlokland after police say Rice held a woman hostage at the Del Ranch Motel in Southeast Portland.
Rice’s previous encounters with police involved transportation to area hospitals for mental health treatment and repeated attempts by the bureau’s Behavioral Health Unit to connect Rice and his girlfriend with mental health services. That unit links people with services if they’re in behavioral crises from known or suspected mental illness and/or drug and alcohol addiction. The bureau also shared information about Rice’s behavior with his care providers, investigators said.
At a press conference Friday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the bureau has improved the way it interacts with people experiencing mental health crises since facing federal oversight from the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ’s 2012 review of the bureau found that PPB had engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive use of force against people suffering from mental health problems.
“I believe the police bureau is doing a much better job of responding to people who live with mental health issues on our streets,” Wheeler said. He declined to comment on the shooting, citing a pending investigation.
The shooting came just six days after a status conference in court over the bureau’s compliance with the Department of Justice settlement agreement.
The compliance report, conducted by Rosenbaum & Associates, LLP, found the bureau is in substantial or partial compliance with several key recommendations from the Department of Justice regarding use of force.
However, it could not conclude whether the bureau has succeeded in attempting to avoid or minimize use of force against individuals in actual or perceived mental health crises.
“Although there appears to be greater documentation of such events, we have noted instances where force may have been avoided,” the report notes, adding such situations have been deemed justified uses of force based on other factors.
The bureau is doing a better job at providing timely reports following use of force incidents, according to the report. Wheeler, who also serves as the bureau’s police commissioner, said among his lingering concerns about the Portland police’s interactions with people experiencing mental health crises are the existence of the interactions themselves.
“How do we take this off the plates of the police, and put it onto the plates of appropriate mental health and addiction service responders, who are trained specifically for that purpose?” Wheeler said at the press conference Friday.
“How do we create upstream solutions around mental health and addiction services that prevent the interaction between law enforcement and somebody who’s in a mental health crisis in the first place?”
The next update on the city’s compliance with the settlement agreement is scheduled for June 6, 2019.