UPDATE (Thursday, 5:59 p.m. PT) – A grand jury has decided not to criminally charge two Portland State University campus police officers implicated in the first officer-involved shooting at the university.
Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill announced the grand jury’s decision Thursday.
Public safety officers Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey were under investigation for their roles in the June 29 shooting death of 45-year-old Jason Washington, a legally armed black man who witnesses say was trying to break up a fight in the moments leading up to his death. The grand jury determined the fatal shooting was a lawful act of self-defense and/or the defense of a third person.
Both Portland State University officers were wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting. The university plans to release the videos in the coming days.
Interesting: in an FAQ PSU just released, the two officers involved will resume work BUT WILL CONTINUE TO BE ARMED and carry their duty weapon.— Ericka Cruz Guevarra (@erkagvra) September 14, 2018
PSU president Shoureshi said today they’ll be doing office work while the 2 independent reviews are underway. https://t.co/PiEXJmeNDj
Meanwhile, the university says it plans to wrestle again with its controversial 2014 decision to arm its campus officers. That’s as an attorney representing the Washington family said he, along with other legal experts, will review all the evidence related to the case, and that they intend to pursue legal action.
In a statement, Michelle Washington said she was disappointed in the decision not to charge the officers.
“I will be looking to my attorney, Christopher Larsen, to guide us through the next steps in this process,” Michelle Washington said. “We want those responsible for the death of my husband to be held accountable. We will always remember and love Jason and know he was needlessly killed while attempting to keep the peace.”
Multnomah County grand juries have repeatedly exonerated officers for using deadly force while on duty, including the shooting at a Portland homeless shelter in April and the February 2017 death of an African-American teen.
Officer McKenzie has worked in public safety for the university since 2002 and Dewey since 2014. Both became sworn campus police officers in 2016.
PSU placed both officers on administrative leave during the investigation and the grand jury proceedings.
In response to the grand jury decision, PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi said Washington’s death has weighed heavily on all campus officers and the campus community.
Shoureshi also announced Thursday that the university hired two independent consulting firms in response to the shooting: Margolis Healy will review campus safety policies and procedures, and OIRGroup will review the shooting incident. Shoureshi said it’s still unclear how much the university will spend to hire the two groups because the university is currently negotiating contracts.
“Both of these firms are highly-qualified with years of experience in this area,” Shoureshi said. “We are confident that their independence and expertise will lead to recommendations that will help guide our decisions on campus safety and security.”
Shoureshi said he has not yet had a chance to discuss exactly when the two officers will return to work, but did say they will remain on desk duty while the shooting is independently reviewed by the outside consulting groups. The officers will also remain armed, according to a university FAQ on the grand jury decision.
Shoureshi said he met with elected student representatives of the Associated Students of Portland State University on Thursday. He said they have plans to conduct a comprehensive student survey to gauge support for campus officers being armed.
Camilo Abreu, legislative affairs director with ASPSU, said they were refused a meeting with Shoureshi on Thursday. Abreu said they aren’t surprised by the grand jury’s decision not to indict the two officers.
“It’s symptomatic of why our community was against arming police in the first place, because we don’t trust the judicial system to do the right thing,” said Abreu, who is a member of a committee within ASPSU campaigning to disarm campus officers.
“We’re not surprised but we are deeply saddened, because its another moment when there’s some semblance of justice for Jason Washington’s family and they don’t get it.”
The results of the grand jury decision took a noticeably long time. In the last five Portland Police Bureau officer-involved shootings, grand jury decisions typically came out within four to six weeks after a shooting.
The results in this case came 11 weeks after Washington’s death.
Underhill said the grand jury heard testimony for two days.
Keyaira Smith, a witness who filmed the encounter, said Washington was “trying to be a good Samaritan” and break up a fight that had broken out among a group of men on the sidewalk outside the Cheerful Tortoise bar. University police arrived on the scene, Smith said, but did not appear to try to stop the fight.
Smith said Washington, who had a gun attached to his right side, tripped while trying to break up the fight.
“The gun slipped out of the holster when he had fallen, and I think he may have tried to retrieve it,” Smith said. “Then they said ‘gun.’”
That’s when police fired, she said.
“There was absolutely no hesitation at all,” Smith said. “[The officer] went straight for his gun.”
Washington’s death was the first-of-its-kind involving campus police officers at PSU, who were armed following a controversial vote by the university’s Board of Trustees in 2014, despite backlash from students who worried the decision would make the university less safe.
At the time, the Portland Police Bureau was also on board with the University Public Safety Department’s plan to commission sworn officers. PSU was “almost exclusively” policed by PPB, according to background documents on the 2014 resolution, which resulted in “considerable wait times to calls for a police response.”
The Washington family meanwhile has become the face of renewed efforts to disarm campus officers at PSU.