Cop’s ‘Use of Force’ report questioned

From the Portland Tribune, November 14, 2006

Officer tabbed man as armed, violent before police knew his name or his past

READ – Use of Force report by Officer Benjamin Davidson about Greg Benton – 5.5 MB PDF

When Portland police officers Benjamin Davidson and Quency Ho pointed a shotgun and an AR-15 rifle at Greg Benton’s apartment door, they didn’t know his name or anything else about him.

All they knew was that a call had come in earlier — shots fired — and that an anonymous female tipster had later called to say there was a bleeding, wounded man somewhere among the 10 apartments at 1621 N.E. Killingsworth St.

They never found a bleeding, wounded man. But when Davidson filled out a “Use of Force” report later that night on Sept. 18, as he was supposed to do after any encounter in which he drew a gun, he checked boxes indicating that Benton, 54, had been reported to be armed and that he had a history of violence.

The officers didn’t know anything about Benton’s past, their precinct commander said. And the anonymous caller mentioned nothing about an armed man, let alone one who lived in apartment No. 4.

“I don’t know if they made that up to cover their own butts or what, but what they put in that report has no truth about me or my situation,” Benton said.

Bret Smith, commander of the Portland Police Bureau’s Northeast Precinct, where Davidson is assigned, said the officer filled out the report based only on that one event, not based on anything in Benton’s past nor on a third-party report that Benton was armed.

“And based on his perception of the incident,” Smith said of Davidson, “he filled out the report with information he believed to be accurate, though it seems there was something unclear in the officer’s mind about how this information was supposed to be recorded. I would say I’m comfortable with how the officer did it in this case, but I’m not sure it’s the best thing to do in the future.”

Davidson noted on the report form that the guns were necessary to defend the officers, to prevent Benton’s escape and to make an arrest. Benton was not arrested or charged with a crime, was locked in his apartment for most of the encounter, and said he was not at all aggressive toward the police.

“But I wouldn’t let them in,” Benton said. “That’s what really seemed to escalate their attitudes.”

Police will review procedure

After the Portland Tribune began asking questions about this incident and whether the report had been filled out accurately, Smith said he called Lynnae Berg, police bureau assistant chief of operations.

He said she told him she was concerned that inconsistencies in filling out the reports made information contained in any of them suspect — something the police bureau could not afford as it begins its first-ever review of the reports, which officers have filled out since July 2004.

Berg also told Smith, the commander said, that the police bureau should immediately review how officers are instructed to fill out the reports and that the issue would be raised at a public Independent Police Review Division meeting this week. IPR’s public calendar shows no such meeting, though there is a Citizen Review Committee meeting next Tuesday.

Berg said in an e-mail that it was a routine review to ensure the reports’ accuracy.

“You’re damn right this is a problem,” Benton said. “It means police can put whatever they want on that piece of paper to make their actions look justified. I’m guessing they just looked me up and put something down in their report later on to make me look bad.”

Benton said he has lived in apartment No. 4 in the building for five years. He said he keeps a handgun locked in a chest in his closet and keeps ammunition separate.

A few traffic tickets are Benton’s only convictions. He was arrested in 1980 on a homicide charge but a Multnomah County grand jury did not indict him, finding that he acted in self-defense, records show.

And a 1997 arrest for a felony aggravated assault with a handgun charge was reduced to misdemeanor menacing, a charge that ultimately was dropped, records show.

But the officers with guns pointed at his door knew none of that. They didn’t even learn his name until afterward. Their written reports invariably call him an “unidentified male,” who was “later identified as Gregory Benton.”

Man wouldn’t open door

The officers arrived at Northeast 16th Avenue and Killingsworth Street around 2:30 a.m. Sept. 18. They found the door leading to the upstairs apartments locked and called the Portland Fire Bureau to force it open.

Upon getting inside, a handful of police officers went door to door, knocking and asking to look inside the apartments for the wounded person they thought might be bleeding to death inside, police reports show. A sergeant waited outside.

Police kicked in the doors to apartments No. 2 and No. 7 when no one answered — a man had barricaded himself inside No. 2, according to one police report — and soon found themselves in front of No. 4, Benton’s apartment.

Benton said he was asleep in bed and woke up just before the officers knocked.

“Despite Officer Ho’s explanation, [Benton] refused to open the door, stating, ‘I know you need a warrant or permission to come in here,’ ” Davidson’s report reads. “He became more and more agitated as Officer Ho continued to talk to him. Suddenly he became quiet and unresponsive.”

Another officer threatened to kick in the door, believing he did not need probable cause to enter because someone might have been dying inside.

At that point, Benton said, he called a friend to ask advice about whether police needed a warrant or his consent to enter the apartment. He also called 911 to ask dispatchers to tell him what was going on.

Four different officers each wrote in their reports that they thought they heard the sound of a bolt-action rifle being readied to fire.

Benton said he was just trying to undo the bolt lock on his front door.

The cops retreated to find cover. Davidson pointed his shotgun and Ho aimed his rifle at Benton’s door from an estimated 25 feet away, according to Davidson’s report.

Smith said Sgt. Ken Duilio called him at home during the incident to ask about their options for going in.

“At some point, I think through the emergency communications operator, we learned the subject’s identity, and someone probably ran his record,” Smith said. “But no one can remember anything about that. Honestly, we were more concerned about the probable cause issue and how we could get into that apartment.”

Benton said he asked the 911 operator to connect him with the sergeant. When the operator did, the sergeant told Benton and the officers what to do so everyone stayed safe.

“They made me walk out like Superman, hands straight out in front of me,” Benton said. “It was humiliating.”

Officer Zachary Kenney handcuffed Benton and took him outside. Officers searched the apartment, finding a box of .22-caliber ammunition in the dresser. They did not report seeing a rifle in the apartment.

“They had no reason to treat me like they did,” Benton said. “But then to lie about me on the report to cover themselves? Come on. How much am I supposed to take?”