Citizen complaints indicate police still rely too much on firearms
lethal and less-lethal to control situations.
By Diane Lane
Most parents breathe a sigh of relief when their kids are home, believing that home is the one place thats safe. At least that whats Andria Jones thought until her fifteen-year son, DeNorris McClendon was shot with a Taser in his own home by a police officer.
Jones had a chance to share some of this incident during a public hearing in June held by the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), a nine-member volunteer panel of the Independent Police Review (IPR), which accepts citizen complaints against the police.
Jones filed a complaint against the officer who fired the Taser Officer Ware with the IPR in January 2003. Unhappy with findings that essentially cleared the officer of wrongdoing, she appealed her case to the CRC.
Surprisingly, the CRC, comprised mostly of recent replacements for members who resigned together last summer, showed some muscle during this hearing by disagreeing with one of the Portland Police Bureaus findings. (The IPR turns over complaints that its director, Richard Rosenthal believes have merit to the Bureaus Internal Affairs Division (IAD) for investigation. Either IAD or precinct commanders issue decisions referred to as findings on each allegation of police misconduct. Complainants who disagree with the findings can appeal to the IPR. If the IPR director agrees with the Bureau, which he often does, the CRC will hold public hearings for appeals that it finds worthy.)
According to Jones, on Sept. 20, 2002 she called 911 seeking help for her son, Jelani McClendon, who lay on her bed, face bloodied, the victim of an assault. The dispatcher told her an ambulance was on the way as well as the police, and that most likely her son would need to go to the hospital. Jelani was not unconscious but had been hit in the face with a pipe. Later on, it was determined that he suffered a broken nose and a concussion.
In preparation for the trip to the hospital, Jones told her younger son, DeNorris, to lock up the house. In the chaos of Jelanis earlier entrance with blood covering his face, the front door of the house had been left open. DeNorris knew they would exit through that door and so began to lock up the rest of the house. He picked up a metal bar, which according to Jones was aluminum and about two feet in length, to place it at the bottom of a patio sliding glass door to securely lock it.
With the bar down at his side, he turned around at the sound of Officer Ware, who had stepped inside the house with his gun drawn, ordering the boy to drop the bar. According to his mother, DeNorris did not drop the bar right away because he was confused and alarmed at suddenly being at gunpoint. By then, Jones and Jelani had run out of the bedroom to see the incident unfold. At Wares second order to drop the bar, DeNorris complied and, in fear, called out for his mother, taking a couple of sideway steps toward her.
Suddenly, he felt excruciating pain as Officer Ware fired the Taser. Two barbs entered the boys bare torso, allowing 50,000 volts of electricity to travel through wires attached to the Taser. He begged the officer to stop and tried to pull the barbs out, burning his fingers in the process. Jones and her sons claimed that they heard the officer pull the trigger more than once (each trigger pull results in a 5 second pulse of electricity.) The ambulance originally designated to take his wounded brother to the hospital ended up taking DeNorris there in order to cut the barbs out of his skin.
Officer Wares explanation for firing the Taser at the youth in his
home contradicted Jones and DeNorriss account. Ware described how
he initially responded to a call to break up a fight amongst kids.
No one was at the fight location except a witness who said he saw one of
the kids who was injured walk off in a certain direction. In
the meantime, Ware heard over the cars radio that the mother of a
victim injured in a fight called 911 for medical help.
Ware then arrived at the home of Andria Jones, where the front door was open. Ware knocked and announced his presence more than once with no response. Claiming that he heard yelling and screaming inside, Ware entered the home under the Bureaus community caretaking policy, which allows officers to go inside residences without owner permission to render assistance, including first aid.
Ware claimed that DeNorris walked past him, about five feet away, and picked up a metal bar to cock it over his head while turning around to face and cuss at the officer. Ware pulled out his Taser and ordered the boy to drop the bar. The boy did so on Wares second command; however, Ware claimed the boy then came towards him with his fists raised in a threatening manner, a fact the youth disputes. Because Ware believed his safety was threatened by DeNorris, he subsequently charged the boy with menacing, interfering with a peace officer, and disorderly conduct - all of which the District Attorney dismissed.
Jones requested the review of this complaint because the Bureau had decided
that Officer Wares use of the Taser on her son was justified.
The CRC disagreed, but found both the officer and the complainants credible. As a result, the CRC voted to challenge the Bureaus finding, by recommending it be changed from Exonerated to Insufficient Evidence, which essentially means that there was not enough conclusive proof that the Taser usage was or was not against police policy. The Bureaus Taser policy allows officers to use the weapons where a person displays the intent to engage in violent, aggressive actions; displays the intent to engage in suicidal behavior; or displays the intent to engage in physical resistance to lawful police action...
CRC member Irma Valdez led the call for the changed finding by stating
that if the boy wanted to assault the officer, it didnt make sense
that he would first drop the bar. She pointed out that it was unlikely that
someone with no shirt and no weapons would try to assault someone with a
gun using only their fists.
After the hearing, Jones stated that her son has been a special needs child all of his life. After being tasered in his own home, his doctor found that DeNorriss emotional state regressed about 75%. DeNorris cringed for months whenever he saw a police car and continues to have nightmares over the incident. Jones said that for a while immediately after the incident, her son started cutting himself - something he had never done prior to being shot with the Taser.
Regarding the CRC hearing process, Jones lamented the fact that she wasnt given enough time to tell the whole story, including the serious impact on her son. Her point is valid, since the majority of citizens testifying before the CRC are given significantly less time to speak than the police. Even though the IPR ordinance permits CRC to allow testimony by IAD representatives and Bureau Commanders who have made findings, they are supposed to merely explain their investigations of police misconduct and the resulting decisions. Unfortunately, the CRC allows them to go way beyond such explanations and instead offer rationales for accused officers behavior.
During the hearing, CRC members pointed out that Officer Ware initially described the bar in DeNorris hands as approximately five feet long instead of its actual two and half foot length. Ware also described DeNorris as 6, 300 lbs. According to his mother, DeNorris, at the time of the incident, weighed approximately 185 lbs at 55. Its understandable that in the heat of the moment, even trained professionals such as police officers can misjudge certain physical characteristics. Despite this fact, at the point that Jones described the amount of time that Officer Ware engaged the Taser, IPR Director Rosenthal interrupted the process to emphasize that complainants - meaning non-police citizens - almost always exaggerate such measurements.
Bureau Commanders will review the recommended finding made by CRC. If they dont accept it, the IPR ordinance permits the case to go before City Council, which would make a final, binding decision. However, IPR Richard Rosenthal designed an additional step referred to as a conference committee, where Bureau Commanders would have an opportunity to talk the CRC out of its decision. Most likely, either the next step or the Bureaus acceptance will be announced at CRCs July meeting.
Check the Citys website for CRCs meeting schedule as well as the minutes for previous CRC activity:
Diane Lane is a writer, paralegal, police accountability and civil rights activist, and member of Portland Rights Watch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: July 5, 2004