Man Says He Feared Officer Out To Kill Him

Not Available Elsewhere Online – May 4, 1995 | The Oregonian

Gerald F. Gratton Jr. said he was running for his life the night of July 19, 1993, when Officer Douglas Erickson fired at him 22 times.

Erickson said he was firing at an armed and intoxicated man he believed would either shoot him or harm someone else.

On Wednesday, both men said their beliefs have not changed. But with the stroke of an arbitrator’s pen, their feelings about the outcome of this event have shifted 180 degrees.

Police Chief Charles Moose and Mayor Vera Katz fired Erickson in October 1993. They believed he was not justified in shooting at Gratton. On Tuesday, arbitrator Martin Henner of Eugene disagreed and ruled to reinstate Erickson with back pay.

He starts work Thursday as a patrol officer in Central Precinct.

“I believe I did the right thing on July 19, 1993, and will always believe that,” said Erickson, 35. “I feel real good and I’m just happy to be going back.”

Gratton, who called from his home in Bullhead City, Ariz., was outraged.

“Certain police are above the law,” said the 28-year-old Gratton. “I still have bullet fragments in me and nothing happens to the officer.”

Erickson, his partner, David Thoman, and Officer Cheryl Swenson confronted Gratton and his brother, Devon Simms, who were drunk and threatening a passenger on a North Portland bus about 11:45 p.m. that July night.

While frisking Gratton, Swenson saw a gun in his waistband and told Erickson. There was a struggle and Gratton then ran from police. Erickson chased after him and shot at him 22 times until Gratton dropped to the ground.

“I felt I was going to get shot at any second,” Erickson said Wednesday about the incident.

Erickson, a four-year police veteran, believed he was in danger because police had discovered that Gratton had a gun. Gratton, who had struggled with officers, was running from the bus and appeared to be reaching to his waistband for the gun as Erickson pursued him.

“No one was in my line of fire and I was worried what he was going to do,” Erickson said. “I had to protect myself as well as others.”

The arbitrator said in his ruling that the reaching motion Erickson saw was likely Gratton grabbing his gun to discard it, not to fire. But Erickson didn’t know that.

Gratton admits he ran from police because he wanted to ditch his gun which he was carrying illegally since he was an ex-convict. But he said he never intended or tried to shoot at Erickson.

“I paid my time for carrying the gun, but I didn’t deserve to get shot 26 times, especially when I was not threatening anyone,” Gratton said, speaking of the total number of shots fired by both Erickson and Thoman.

“Once he started to shoot, I couldn’t believe it. I’m running toward an empty schoolyard. The only thing on my mind is this officer is trying to kill me,” said Gratton.

In his ruling, arbitrator Henner questioned Erickson making himself vulnerable by running out in the middle of Lombard Street to fire on Gratton rather than calling for backup and closing in on Gratton in a more controlled way.

But he reiterated in an interview Wednesday that he was asked to decide if the shooting was justified, not if Erickson used the best tactics.

He said the Police Bureau could have handled Erickson’s dismissal differently but could not say whether that would have impacted the outcome.

“It has to be clear that if they’re firing someone for a tactical decision that they include that in the statement of charges,” Henner said.

Meanwhile, Gratton said he still gets sharp pains as a result of the shooting and has limited use of his left arm and hand. He was shot in the back and the left elbow.

A bullet grazed his head, and he’s had three surgeries.

Gratton was awarded $118,000 by the city of Portland in March 1994 for violation of his civil rights. Gratton said he had about $71,000 left of that after paying medical and legal bills. He and his wife now live in Arizona and own a landscaping business.

Erickson, for his part, was upbeat after meeting with Moose Wednesday to discuss his next assignment. He said he doesn’t expect to get a hard time from other officers or his superiors.

“So far people have treated me real well,” he said. “I’ve had numerous phone calls. . . . I just want to go out there and do my job.”