Portland cops, assisted by sandwich, talk man off ledge

By Jenny Westberg, Portland Mental Health Examiner, December 30, 2013

sandwichIt seemed the perfect setup for a tragedy.

But Thursday’s police encounter with a man atop a parking garage — naked, in crisis, threatening to jump, holding a knife he was using on himself – ended without police firing a single round. Instead, officers used something much simpler and far less lethal: a sandwich.

The Hotel Deluxe provided the sandwich.

Reports of the scene were grimly familiar to Portland mental health advocates, who remember another man on top of a downtown parking garage. In January 2012, 21-year-old Brad Morgan was on a ledge, telling police he wanted to end his life. Police thought Morgan had a gun (it turned out later to be a toy). Officers, worried Morgan might harm himself, opened fire and killed him – leaving Morgan just as dead as he would have been from suicide.

It was a curious way to save a life.

Thursday’s events were also reminiscent of another police encounter. In January 2010, Jack Dale Collins, 58, was in a restroom at Hoyt Arboretum, cutting himself with a pencil-type X-Acto knife, when a police officer ordered him to come out. Collins came out, but was seemingly dazed, shuffling forward, covered in blood from self-inflicted wounds, not responding to the officer’s commands. Feeling threatened, the cop fired at Collins four times, killing him.

Portland police have a long history of leaping to lethal force when a person has a mental illness, or cops believe they have a mental illness.

  • Aaron Campbell was shot in the back, unarmed, as he tried to surrender.
  • Keaton Otis was shot so many times that another officer arriving on the scene thought it sounded “like World War III.”
  • Anthony McDowell was shot dead as he came out of his house in a “surrender” position, his rifle held over his head.
  • Thomas Higginbotham was coming out the door, holding a knife, but with a blood alcohol content so high it’s difficult to imagine him wielding it — but police didn’t wait to find out; instead they killed him.
  • James Chasse was just standing on the street, not committing a crime or suspected of one; even so, police confronted him, chased him, knocked him down, and while he lay on the sidewalk, they kicked him, Tasered him, and beat him so savagely he died soon after in the back of a patrol car.

Those are just a few examples.

All the casualties listed above, plus Morgan, Collins and many more, happened before the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in, with a damning report and the threat of a federal lawsuit if the Portland Police Bureau did not shape up. Chief Mike Reese objected repeatedly to Justice’s conclusion that cops were targeting persons with mental illness, but he started implementing changes anyway. In the year since the feds’ report, there have been zero similar deaths.

Cops engaged in some creative problem-solving Thursday, ending the incident peacefully.

According to a PPB press release, at approximately 11:10 AM Central Precinct officers got a report of a naked man, apparently in crisis, on top of a parking building at S.W. 15th and Yamhill.

When cops arrived, the man was seated on the ledge of the building, cutting himself and talking about jumping.

A PPB Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team officer engaged the man in conversation, and learned the man was hungry. Officers high-tailed it to a nearby business, where they obtained a sandwich.

Police used the sandwich to get the man away from the ledge. He was then taken to an area hospital.

The sweetest part? Unlike so many others, he was not dead.