SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Grand jury testimony released by a district attorney Tuesday into the fatal shooting by university police of a black man during a brawl outside a Portland, Oregon, bar describes a chaotic scene in which the two officers had to make a split-second decision when they saw a pistol in the man’s hand.
The grand jury ruled on Sept. 13 that Portland State University Officers James Dewey and Shawn McKenzie should not face criminal charges in the June 29 shooting of Jason Erik Washington, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
The 415 pages of grand jury testimony for the first time reveal the greatest details about the shooting that shook Portland and led to campus protests.
Washington was trying to break up a fight involving a friend, who had handed Washington his holstered pistol right before the brawl. Witnesses testified that Washington fell over in the melee and the pistol hit the sidewalk. Dewey and McKenzie said he had the pistol in his hand when he stood back up and pointed it at them.
“At this point, like it’s, kind a felt like that like twisting, like nauseous adrenalized feeling in your gut, that this is now, it’s no longer in the holster, it’s not safe anymore, it’s now in a fight and in his hand,” Dewey said. “I’m screaming, like, begging really for this guy to drop his gun.”
McKenzie described his reaction to the grand jury.
“In my mind I’m like thinking I’m gonna be shot right there, and I fire a couple rounds. I see him fall to the ground,” he said.
Portland police officer Anthony Eugenio, a forensic video technician, testified that enhanced images from officers’ bodycam video showed a black object that appeared to be a firearm in Washington’s right hand extended toward Dewey and McKenzie, with the holster in his left hand.
Only 40 seconds had elapsed from when the officers arrived and they fired a total of 17 shots, hitting Washington nine times.
Washington’s friend who owned the pistol, Jeremy Wilkinson, said he didn’t see the shooting because he had been knocked unconscious when one of his adversaries kicked him in the head. In police video, Wilkinson is seen sprawled motionless on the sidewalk, even during the gunfire. A third friend of Washington’s who had been out drinking with him and Wilkinson testified that he was very drunk that night and heard the gunshots. He didn’t offer details of the crucial moments.
Other witnesses said they did not see Washington pointing a gun at the officers, though some said they were distracted by other things happening or didn’t have clear line-of-sight to his hands.
In a police interview, Wilkinson told police he gave his black Walther PPQ 9mm pistol to Washington because he thought he might get in a fight and “he did not want to make a poor decision during the fight.” Wilkinson had kept it in a holster meant to be worn inside the pants’ waistline, but Washington let the holster dangle from his pocket, making the gun visible and more prone to falling out during the scuffle.
Officers later found a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon in Washington’s wallet.
Michael Kesten, a spokesman for Washington’s widow Michelle, had no comment on the grand jury transcripts and no developments to report on a possible lawsuit. Her attorney said last month they would “vigorously pursue legal action against those who are responsible for this tragic death.”
Multnomah County, which surrounds Portland where the shooting occurred, was the only county in Oregon where grand jury proceedings involving police shootings are recorded, until the Legislature in 2017 passed a bill requiring all audio of grand jury testimony in the state to be electronically recorded.
Portland State University said Tuesday the transcript from the grand jury proceedings and the Portland police investigation will be reviewed by two consultants it hired to study the shooting for a comprehensive review of campus safety.
The university decided in 2014 amid much controversy to arm its campus police officers. The shooting led to protests on the campus and demands that the campus police be disarmed.
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