Nearly four years after police killed an unarmed African American motorist during a traffic stop, the city approved a settlement for $350,000 in regards to his death.
James Jahar Perez, 28, was shot three times in the chest, and shot with a Taser -- still seat-belted into the drivers seat after being pulled over for failing to use a turn signal 100 feet before a turn on March 28, 2004.
The shooting was brought before a grand jury, who found no criminal wrong doing by officer James Sery, now working for the Beaverton Police Department. A public inquest was also held by Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk. The case made it all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where justices found the police bureau's use of force policy to be constitutional.
"Any loss of life diminishes not only a family and the officers involved, but our entire
Community," Mayor Tom Potter said in a statement. "And every death raises old questions of trust between the community and the men and women we have asked to protect us. We must continue working together to break down the stereotypes that keep us from being true partners in building the Portland we all desire."
The settlement will be divided between Perez's infirm mother and his young child to "provide an education." It is one of the largest settlements paid by the city to the family of a man killed by police, especially a shooting that was deemed officially lawful. The case has lead to changes in the way police are trained in the use of force.
The traffic stop, which occurred in broad daylight in front of numerous witnesses, turned deadly not even a minute after Perez was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. It took 24 seconds from the time Sery and Officer Sean Macomber to call in the stop to the time Perez was dead. Police testimony and eye witness testimony varied greatly according to reports at the time from The Oregonian. Police had asked for Perez's identification, and when he didn't produce it fast enough, Macomber attempted to pull him from the vehicle. As Macomber grabbed him, Sery moved in and shot as Perez was still apparently searching for his ID, although witness and police testimony conflicts as to the exact events. He was not armed. Police did find cocaine in his system and bags of drugs in his mouth.
Several witnesses also came forward to The Oregonian to say they had had aggressive confrontations with Sery – aggression that came solely from the officer. Sery only had one complaint of excessive force on his record.
Perez's death came only 10-months after the shooting death by police of Kendra James, who was shot while trying to drive away from a traffic stop.
There has been a decline in the number of people killed, as well as the number of shootings that did not result in death, by police in recent years. According to Portland Cop Watch, there have only been four officer-involved shootings in 2007 and 2008, so far. Three of those shootings led to the suspect's death. In 2006, there were five shootings – three of them resulting in death -- and two deaths in custody from injuries sustained from officers.