Larry McKinney’s family files wrongful death lawsuit

Larry McKinney, 37, was set to enter alcohol treatment in two weeks when he was killed by Fairview officers.

By Lynne Terry, The Oregonian, Sept. 12, 2012

The family of a man killed by Fairview police in January filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday, accusing the two officers involved in the shooting and the city itself of unreasonable use of deadly force, wrongful death and violation of the man’s civil rights.

The lawsuit comes nearly eight months after Larry M. McKinney was shot dead at age 37 by a Fairview police officer outside his mother’s apartment on Jan. 27. A grand jury in February cleared the two officers of criminal wrongdoing. Afterward, Fairview Police Chief Ken Johnson conducted his own investigation and declared the shooting justified.

It was the first fatal shooting in the department’s history.

Sandra Kelley, McKinney’s mother, accused the officers of lying and the chief of covering it up. She said she filed the lawsuit because she wanted justice for her son, who would have turned 38 this past Saturday.

“I’ve been so depressed,” she said. “I thought we would never get it filed. I want justice so bad. It’s an outrageous lie that they concocted.”

Here’s what everyone agrees on:

Late that Friday night, Jan. 27, McKinney showed up at Kelley’s second-story unit in the Wood Creek Apartments on Northeast Halsey Street near 203rd Avenue. McKinney was drunk and became belligerent. He was not supposed to sleep there. Kelley told him she would not tolerate drinking and asked him to leave. When he refused, she called 9-1-1. Veteran officers Mike Morton and Joe Kaiser showed up at the scene right before midnight. Several minutes later McKinney was shot dead while holding a large kitchen knife on the landing of the staircase outside Kelley’s apartment.

At issue is where the officers were located.

The lawsuit disputes the officers’ testimony before the grand jury, saying their statements conflict with the forensic evidence. Kaiser testified that he was nearing the top of the narrow, enclosed flight of stairs to Kelley’s apartment when McKinney darted out, looking crazed, holding a large knife and saying he was going to kill the officer. Kaiser said he was an arm’s length away from McKinney and thought he would be stabbed. Morton testified that he was a few feet behind Kaiser on the stairs, heard his partner yell “knife,” saw the glint of the blade, and fired.

The complaint puts the officers at the bottom of the stairs when McKinney came out holding the knife. It says they drew their weapons as soon as they arrived, ignored Kelley’s plea not to shoot her son, told him to drop the weapon, and fired immediately. A diagram in the police investigation of the shooting shows Morton at the bottom of the stairs. That was never shown to the grand jury, the lawsuit says.

The complaint says because of McKinney’s death his three children — ages 10, 9 and 4 — will have no father and will be deprived of his love and financial support. He had a lengthy criminal history, was unemployed when he was killed and was on probation for driving while suspended and under the influence.

Chief Johnson could not be reached on Wednesday for comment. In February, he said his officer “did what he had to do.” He said an internal review of the shooting showed not only was it justified, but it likely saved the lives of as many as three people.

No damages are specified in the complaint, but Kelley’s lawyer, Michelle Burrows, said they could be “substantial.”