Mejia Poot witnesses detail view from the back of the bus

From the Portland Tribune, April 13, 2001

Acquaintances of Jose Mejia say they watched in fear as he was arrested

From his seat in the back of the bus, Roger Yah says he witnessed five police officers kick, punch and pepper spray Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot after he had been subdued on the ground.

Yah is one of four Spanish-speaking witnesses who support other accounts that Portland Police Bureau officers used excessive force when they arrested Mejia, 29, on March 30 after he boarded a Tri-Met bus with insufficient fare. Two days later, police shot and killed Mejia in a Portland psychiatric hospital. The shooting is under investigation.

The witnesses, a group of friends who were on their way to look for work in Troutdale, knew Mejia because they came from the same area in the Mexican state of Yucatan. They are Celmi Carrillo, 24, Glendy Cortes, 23, Fredy Interian, 23, and Yah, 21.

They sat together in the rear of the bus with some other Spanish speakers and two black riders. Cortes and Yah, who sat next to each other on the right side of the bus, had a closer view of the arrest, which took place just after 6 a.m. in front of the Plaid Pantry on Northeast 72nd Avenue and Killingsworth Street.

Yah said Mejia looked different that morning, like a person who was distracted.

He noticed that after the bus had begun to move forward, Mejia continued to stand near the farebox. The bus driver appeared to be talking with Mejia. Although Yah could not hear what the driver was saying, he said the driver motioned to a sign that explained the cost of fares. He said Mejia didn’t raise his voice or lift a hand.

Police are summoned

Yah said the driver stopped the bus in front of the Plaid Pantry. At that time, a police car pulled out from a street behind the store and in front of the bus. The bus driver honked his horn. The police car turned around and parked behind the bus.

A male police officer boarded the bus and spoke with the driver. Yah said the officer did not attempt to speak with Mejia. After the officer had finished speaking with the driver, Yah said he put Mejia in a chokehold and pulled one of Mejia’s arms behind his back. The officer took Mejia off the bus.

Yah said Mejia freed himself from the officer’s grasp. They faced each other. The officer pulled out a baton. He ordered Mejia to drop to the ground loud enough for Yah to hear from his seat in the bus.

Yah said Mejia shook his head.

The male officer began to use the baton to strike Mejia, who covered his face and head with his hands.

Then Yah said the officer and Mejia struggled for a second time. The officer forced Mejia to the ground, face down, and pulled Mejia’s hands behind his back. He punched Mejia with his fist in the back and the head.

Three male officers and one female officer arrived at the scene. The four male officers hit Mejia with their fists.

“She (the female officer) had a long flashlight in her hand and she used this to hit him in the head, in the stomach,” Yah said. “One officer held his (Mejia’s) head up and the woman hit him in the forehead.”

‘It all happened so fast’

At some point, Mejia’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and his feet were hobbled.

Yah said that an officer then pepper-sprayed Mejia in the face, which was bloody around his nose and mouth.

Throughout the arrest, Yah said he could hear Mejia screaming, as if in pain.

Yah said the officers tried to pick up Mejia by his hands and feet, but they could not.

Afterward, Yah said an officer boarded the bus and spoke with the driver.

The driver passed out cards to passengers sitting in the front of the bus, Yah said. Then the driver asked people in the back of the bus Ñ about nine Spanish speakers and two blacks Ñ if they wanted a card. No one took a card.

Mary Fetsch, a spokeswoman for Tri-Met, said the driver passed out comment cards, which is typical after any incident or accident. Witnesses fill out the cards and mail them back to Tri-Met. Fetsch did not know if the cards were printed in languages other than English.

Interian, who has been friends with Mejia since they were children, said he had a brief conversation with Mejia before they boarded the bus.

Interian asked Mejia where he was going at such an early hour. He told Mejia he should be home sleeping.

Interian said Mejia responded, “If you sleep you don’t get work. If you don’t get work, you don’t eat.”

Interian motioned for Mejia to board the bus first, but Mejia deferred, boarding the bus last.

“It all happened so fast,” Interian said. “When I thought to get up and help (with the bus fare), the bus driver had already called the police. I was too afraid.”