Shooting incident not first for officer

From the Oregonian, November 10, 2007. Not available elsewhere online.

Leo Besner, the Portland police officer at the center of a $500,000 city settlement with the family of a man he shot in 2005, was involved in another shooting six years earlier.

When the settlement was announced Thursday, Robert J. King, the president of the Portland Police Association, said in an interview that Besner had “never been involved in a shooting before, and shot because he believed it was necessary to defend his life.”

Besner shot Raymond Gwerder in the back during an armed standoff. The City Council must still approve the settlement.

On Friday, a member of Portland CopWatch, a grass-roots group of citizens who promote police accountability, took note of the quote and contacted King to point out that Besner had been involved in an August 1999 shooting.

“I have an unfortunate memory for these kind of things,” Dan Handelman said.

King said Friday that he had been specifically referring to Besner’s eight years on the bureau’s Special Emergency Reaction Team.

“He’s been on the SERT team and in all of the call-ups on SERT he has not used any force,” King said. He said he knew of another shooting Besner had been involved in as an officer, but “I don’t even know the details.”

Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman, said that in 1999 Besner was involved when police chased and exchanged gunfire with a man sought in connection with the shooting of a Clackamas County sheriff’s deputy and a Portland man.

Richard Lynn Smith was eventually spotted driving a stolen car and chased along Interstate 5 and onto U.S. 30 at speeds of up to 80 mph. The car hit a police spike strip, and even though at least one tire was shredded, Smith continued driving. Police used a patrol car to force him to stop and there was an exchange of gunshots.

Schmautz said Besner fired a shot at the suspect, who was later found dead in the car.

Police were initially unsure whether an officer had killed Smith or he had killed himself. Besner was placed on paid administrative leave, routine during an investigation.

“Detectives found that he (Smith) had not been struck by gunfire,” Schmautz said. “The medical examiner said he took his own life.”

An autopsy showed that Smith died after shooting himself in the temple with a .22-caliber handgun. The gun and a shell casing were found in the car.