Grand jury clears Portland State University officers in fatal shooting of Navy veteran
By SHANE DIXON KAVANAUGH | The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. | Published: September 13, 2018
PORTLAND, Ore. (Tribune News Service) — A Multnomah County grand jury on Thursday declined to indict two Portland State University police officers involved in a shooting that killed a man outside a bar, an incident that ignited protests and rekindled calls to end the school's policy of arming its public safety force.
Officers Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey will not face criminal charges in the death of Jason Washington, 45, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office said in a news release.
Campus police killed Washington, a U.S. postal worker and Navy veteran, while he tried to break up a fight near the Cheerful Tortoise just before closing time on June 29.
The encounter marked the first fatal shooting by the university's police force, which began carrying guns three years ago in a decision decried by activists and some students. The Portland Police Bureau investigated Washington's death.
Portland State's student union plans to hold a rally on Sept. 24 at the school's Park Blocks, calling on the university to stop allowing campus police officers to carry firearms.
Portland State University President Rahmat Shoureshi said the university plans to have separate, independent reviews of the shooting and of campus security as a whole. He said the school is finalizing contracts with the OIR Group, a California-based police oversight and review firm, for the shooting analysis and Vermont-based consulting group Margolis Healy for the campus safety review.
Shoureshi said he had no timeline on when the reviews would be complete.
Public forums and student surveys are planned as part of the campus safety overview process, Shoureshi said. The findings of both reviews will be released to the public when they are complete.
McKenzie and Dewey will be taken off paid administrative leave due to the grand jury ruling, Shoureshi said. Both will be placed on desk duty, which will be re-evaluated based on the review findings, he said.
McKenzie has been with campus public safety since 2002 and Dewey since 2014. Both became armed sworn officers in 2016 and will still carry firearms while not on patrol.
The university has 12 sworn police officers and a chief of police who are all armed, according to the University. The school also has other six public safety officers who are unarmed because they aren't sworn police officers.
McKenzie and Dewey were wearing body cameras during the shooting and the footage will be released on a later date, the university said.
Michelle Washington, Jason's widow, said she and other family members appreciated the grand jury member's service but were disappointed with their ruling.
"We want those responsible for the death of my husband to be held accountable," she said in a statement. "We will always remember and love Jason and know he was needlessly killed while attempting to keep the peace."
Christopher Larsen, the family's attorney, said his team now plans to review all the evidence in the shooting with the intent of pursuing legal action.
Shoureshi said he hasn't spoken directly to Washington's family since the shooting, but he said he has expressed his condolences to them through school officials who have reached out to family representatives.
During the chaotic scuffle in June, a holstered handgun Washington was legally carrying fell onto the ground and he was shot while apparently trying to pick it up, witnesses said.
Washington's death came during a brief but divisive history with arming campus officers.
Police at the school first began carrying guns on July 1, 2015, after a 2014 Board of Trustees vote in favor of deploying some officers with guns.
The vote was a controversial one among the campus community, especially for the student group Disarm PSU.
Shoureshi said in a statement earlier Wednesday that Washington's death "has deeply shaken all those involved as well as the greater campus community."
"We are determined to learn from it," the statement said.
Everton Bailey Jr. of The Oregonian/OregonLive staff contributed to this report.