Ruling Rehires Officer Who Fired 22 Shots at Fleeing Man

Not Available Elsewhere Online – May 3, 1995 | The Oregonian

A Portland policeman who was fired in 1993 after he shot at a fleeing suspect 22 times was reinstated Tuesday with back pay by an arbitrator.

Martin Henner of Eugene ruled that Officer Douglas Erickson was justified in using deadly force against Gerald F. Gratton Jr. on July 19, 1993.

Gratton and his brother, Devon Simms, were confronted by Erickson and his partner for causing a disturbance on a Tri-Met bus in North Portland.

Erickson fired 22 times, reloading his weapon once, after Gratton fled from police. His partner, David Thoman, fired four shots. Gratton was struck twice, in the back and the elbow.

Police Chief Charles Moose fired Erickson on Oct. 8, 1993, because he didn’t think the shooting was justified. It was the first time the bureau had fired an officer for his role in a shooting.

Tuesday’s ruling left Erickson and his union vindicated and city officials frustrated over a process they think worked against the public good.

“Chief Moose and I terminated Officer Erickson, not to punish him, but to protect citizens,” said Mayor Vera Katz. “The present system gives the arbitrator, a single lay citizen, the sole power to second-guess the chief of police and mayor.”

Jeff Barker, the president of the Portland Police Association, doesn’t see it that way.

“I’ll remind you that this was an armed ex-con, drunk . . . with a history of cocaine use,” Barker said. “This was an evil kind of person who was completely in the wrong, and that’s what police officers are out there for.”

Henner said in his ruling that Erickson might have made some “poor tactical decisions” while pursuing Gratton.

But Henner’s ruling hinged on his judgment that from the way Erickson perceived Gratton’s actions at the time, shooting at him was justified.

Gratton, 27, and his brother had been drinking when they got on the No. 4 Fessenden bus that night. Police boarded the bus at the request of the driver, who said the two men were making threatening comments.

While patting Gratton down, the officers realized he had a gun. After a struggle, Gratton fled.

Erickson chased him. According to Henner’s review, Erickson fired his first 13 shots at Gratton when he saw him slow down, turn and, from what Erickson could see, point his gun at Erickson.

In fact, Gratton threw his gun down at that point, and the motion Erickson saw might have been Gratton’s effort to pull the gun from his wasteband and discard it.

Gratton kept running, and Erickson followed, not realizing that Gratton was now unarmed, Henner ruled. When Gratton neared some trees that could have provided cover from which to fire at Erickson, the officer fired five more shots, exhausting his magazine.

The chase continued down a dark sidewalk where, according to Henner’s ruling, Gratton turned and faced Erickson. Erickson told him to “get down.”

Gratton dropped to his knees, then the rest of the way down.

Erickson perceived that Gratton was taking a “shooting stance” to fire on him, according to Henner. Erickson, who had reloaded his gun, fired four more times. Gratton fell to the ground near Kenton Elementary School.

Henner ruled that, because Erickson had reason to think that Gratton was “creating an immediate threat of death or critical bodily harm,” Erickson was following his training in shooting at him.

“When all the facts were on the table, this was a good shoot,” said Barker, adding that the union does not automatically appeal all disciplinary decisions.

Barker did not want the decision misconstrued.

“Officers cannot go out and shoot anyone they want,” he said.

Barker said he thinks the Portland Police Bureau “rushed to judgment” on its decision to fire Erickson.

But Moose said he stands by his decision.

The arbitrator’s ruling “is one we will live with. It is a system we have and knew it would exist when we got into this,” he said.

Moose said the system makes his job as a manager challenging but not impossible. He said having the firing reversed would not make him hesitate to discipline officers in the future when appropriate.

Dan Handelman, a spokesman for the police accountability group People Overseeing Police, wasn’t so charitable.

“I’d say that it’s a devastating blow to the community because it sort of says it’s OK to shoot at someone, particularly in this case a black man, multiple times in a neighborhood setting when he wasn’t posing a threat,” Handelman said.

He supported the police having a union but said, “They wield way too much power in this city. For them to be able to get someone like that back on staff is pretty outrageous.”

Erickson declined comment. But Leo Painton, the secretary-treasurer of the Portland Police Association, said Erickson was overjoyed.

Erickson will return to work Thursday at the $45,323 salary he left with. He is scheduled to meet with Moose on Wednesday to discuss his next assignment.

Gratton has moved to Arizona and could not be reached for comment. But his attorney at the time, Jim Francesconi, said the arbitrator made a mistake.

“He didn’t deserve to be shot for it, and Chief Moose understood that,” Francesconi said.