Police in Portland, Oregon shot and killed 23-year-old Nick Davis Thursday morning, after they say he came at them with a crow bar. Friends told KPTV that Davis suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and was not typically a violent man.
Police said they reported to the scene at 6 a.m. after reports of a robbery, KPTV reports. They say Davis, whom police believed to be the suspect, left the area but was found along a trail nearby. When they approached Davis, he came at them with a crow bar and “continued to swing” as officers backed away and one fell to the ground. One of the officers responding by shooting Davis, seemingly without trying other measures to mitigate the harm.
After Davis was down, the officers began providing medical aid, but Davis did not survive. His longtime friend Brandon Mitchell told KPTV he “just needed support and people to help him.”
The officer who fired the shots, Robert Brown, is on administrative leave while his case is investigated and forwarded to a grand jury, according to KPTV. But Portland has a documented history of excessive force and deadly shootings, particularly against the mentally ill.
In late 2012, the Department of Justice concluded after a year-long investigation that the Portland Police Bureau engaged in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force against people with mental illness. Among the incidents highlighted by the investigation were the fatal shooting of a man threatening to kill himself, the frequent, unnecessary tasering of individuals perceived to have mental illness, and other uses of disproportionate force for purported low-level crimes.
The police department initially reached a settlement with the Justice Department to institute reforms, but the settlement was complicated by objections from the police union and was scheduled for trial in the summer of 2014. As of February, settlement talks remained ongoing.
Around the country, those with mental illness are the disproportionate victims of police violence. A study by the Portland Press Herald in Maine found that nearly half of people shot by police since 2000 were mentally ill, and that police lack proper training on defusing deadly conflicts.
Lack of proper training on mental illness is one of several factors that experts have cited to explain why police turn to guns when other, less deadly tactics might suffice. Among the recommendations of a recent report to police chiefs on the use of force against those with mental illness or addiction problems are “slowing down the situation” by getting a supervisor to the scene, and identifying “chronic consumers” of police services.