Portland Cop Chooses Bullets Over Taser

A grand jury found “no criminal wrongdoing” in the case of a Portland police officer who shot a homeless man named Jack Dale Collins. According to the police report, Collins was approaching officer Walters with a knife—even though the officer repeatedly told him to drop it. So officer Walters shot and killed Collins. Which is fair enough. Or is it? Officer Walters didn’t tase Collins. Officer Collins claimed he didn’t use a Taser stun gun “because it wouldn’t have worked through the man’s heavy coat” (according to an investigative report released Monday, reported by tdn.com).

He said he rejected pepper spray or a baton because the man was too close to him, and there was no backup. In a transcript of his statement to investigators, Walters said the coat Collins was wearing “looked like a jacket you might sleep out at night in.” He said stun guns are ineffective on such coats because the electrical probes get stuck in the material and fail to make the connection needed to shock the person.

Taser’s VP of Comms confirms the officer’s claim. “A two-inch coat could defeat an X26 Taser. There are ways to increase your effectiveness,” Steve Tuttle tells TTAG. “We train officers to aim for the shoulders or legs. And we’ve developed an X3 Taser with three shots; it’s like a semi-automatic compared to a Derringer.”

Yes, well, the Portland po-po ain’t got one. So, would Tuttle choose a gun or a Taser when approached by a man with a thick coat and a knife. “The gun,” he says without a moment’s hesitation. “You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” Tuttle says, reversing his metaphors.

That said, Tuttle says the choice of weapon is often determined by the pace of events. “Dynamic” > gun. “Stand-off” > Taser. So how did it go down in Rain City?

Walters said he was answering a routine complaint about an intoxicated man and was surprised when he knocked on the door of the arboretum restroom and Collins emerged with blood on his neck, face, clothes and hands.

Walters said he was “totally shocked for a moment when it opened because it just doesn’t normally happen that way.”

He described a relatively small courtyard area and Collins moving closer until “now we have like a couple feet between me and being cut by a blade.”

Walters shot Collins four times, and one bullet struck a major artery. In a recording of the police dispatch exchange, Walters says “shots fired, shots fired” shortly after asking for backup.

When asked during the interview with investigators whether he could have done anything differently, Walters replied, “I just don’t think so.”

Walters said that when Collins responded at one point that he was not going to drop the knife, despite repeated commands, “it really just solidified to me that that was, that was it.”

comments

  1. avatar Martin Albright says:

    I'd be reluctant to play Monday Morning quarterback here. It is beyond dispute that Collins was armed and it seems reasonable to believe that (a) he approached Walters and (b) he refused Walter's repeated commands to drop the knife. It's easy to play "woulda, shoulda" but in such a circumstance I will always defer to the man who was on the spot.

    Remember also that in a Grand Jury proceeding, the jury looks at all of the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution. So if, after reviewing the evidence in a manner that is most damning to Walters, the Grand Jury found that there was no evidence of a crime (and violation of police procedures – even if such a violation occurred, which I'm not sure it did here – is not a crime) then I'm inclined to believe them, as well.

  2. avatar Robert Farago says:

    Cops are supposed to have an escalating scale of response. From verbal to physical to lethal.

    While I would also generally defer to a 13-year-veteran, the lame excuse for the non-Tasering betrays either lousy training or a tendency towards deception/prevarication. Neither is desirable when you're talking about a gun owner charged with protecting the peace.

  3. avatar Martin Albright says:

    Robert, even back when I went through continuum of force training (about 14 years ago) it was understood that while escalation was desirable, it was not always possible to go through all the levels of force because of the circumstances of the incident – like when an knife-weilding assailant is within stabbing distance (21 feet) and is coming towards you.

    As to the efficacy of a taser, the failure to use a less-lethal weapon is not a crime. Again, the only issue is whether the officer reasonably believed he was threatened with death or serious bodily injury. If he was, his use of lethal force was legal, whether he had an alternative or not. Secondly, note that what is key here is what the officer reasonably believed (i.e. that the taser would not work) not what was objectively true. Perhaps the officer had some conversations with his fellow cops and some of them related stories about trying to use tasers on heavily-clothed assailants.

    Certainly the folks at Taser would like you to believe that their weapons are effective in all circumstances, but then again, they aren't exactly objective either, are they? And what is an officer more likely to believe: "War stories" from fellow cops or the promotional material from the company that makes the weapon? Even if the Taser folks are correct, and the weapon will work through heavy clothing, it is likely that they will only work when employed in exactly the right manner under ideal circumstances, which is another way of saying "not the way things happen in the real world."

    So I'm not sure what you're saying with the article here. Do you think the grand jury got it wrong and that Walters should have been criminally charged? As I said above, an action can be in violation of policies and procedures and still be within the law. Generally, most states say that in order to raise self defense a person has to show that they reasonably believed they were in imminent danger of the assailant causing death or serious bodily injury to them. That requirement seems to have been satisfied here.

    After all, there's no difference in the law between a police officer and a regular citizen in terms of self-defense, except that in some jurisdictions a police officer in performance of his official duties might not be required to retreat, while a civilian might be required to do so if possible (though I wouldn't turn my back on a knife wielding attacker – would you?)

    Violations of department policy (if there even were violations of policy – I'm not sure there were) might subject Walters to disciplinary action and certainly if Collins has any relatives they will undoubtedly sue Walters, the department, and anyone else with deep pockets that they can connect to this tragic incident. In those suits, the issue of whether Walters disregarded his training and/or had other alternatives would be relevant. But in the criminal proceedings, they just aren't, because the only issue is: At the time Walters fired the fatal shots, did he reasonably believe Collins would inflict death or serious bodily injury on him if he did not fire? It seems clear that this requirement was met and thus Walters was exonerated by the Grand Jury.

  4. avatar Donal says:

    He probably should have used his taser, but on the evidence presented, I’d have a hard time voting to convict the officer of anything but making a bogus excuse for panicking.

  5. avatar Robert Farago says:

    Having read your comments, I'm changing the headline of this article from "IIrresponsible Gun Owner of the Day: Officer Jason Walters [Not Shown]" to "Portland Cop Shoots First, Tases Never". I've also removed some of my commentary questioning Officer Walters conduct. I apologize for my mis-characterization, and thank TTAG's commentators for keeping me honest.

  6. avatar Robert Fure says:

    Good comment from Martin Albright.

    If an officer is threatened, it's unreasonable to expect him to issue a verbal, then a stern verbal, then draw pepper spray, then draw a taser, then draw his weapon. Try to do that and you end up with a knife in your belly.

    The taser is a good tool, but I'd never want to put a taser up against something lethal. Real, physical studies have shown some people capable of knocking out the barbs before being incapacitated. Plus, if you miss with a one shot taser, you're screwed.

  7. avatar Martin Albright says:

    There is also the fact that AFAIK a taser is used with the same hand as the firearm. IOW, an officer cannot have both the taser and the gun ready at the same time, it's either/or. When approaching a call for a person with a weapon, I would think it normal police procedure for the officer to have his most effective weapon (his pistol) in his hand. To use the taser, then, would require him to holster his pistol, then draw and fire the taser (and hope that it works.)

  8. avatar Robert Farago says:

    After speaking with Taser and a specialist in police tactics, it’s clear I got this one very, VERY wrong.

    I’ve amended the text to indicate that Officer Walters made the right choice.

    I apologize to TTAG’s readers and Officer Walters for my inaccurate analysis.

  9. avatar Roberta Saum says:

    Martin is correct, while they used to call it a “continuum of force, like a ladder escalating as you go up”, it is more like a wheel of force options now. As an officer you pick what is appropriate for the situation. When someone comes at you with a knife within 21 feet, you are justified to go immediately for your gun. Nothing says you must use your baton or taser first. I’d be yelling “drop the knife!” the whole time though, for a variety of reasons.

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