Many questions remain.
Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad has found that the Springfield police officer who shot and killed an unarmed 15-year-old is not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. Now, Springfield law enforcement officials must determine how this incident could have been handled in a manner that did not end in tragedy.
Oregon law states that police can use deadly force when an officer "reasonably believes that the officer's life or personal safety is endangered in the particular circumstances involved." After reviewing a week-long investigation by Oregon State Police, Harcleroad said he is convinced that Springfield officer Ethan Spencer fatally shot Jason Michael Porter because he believed the teen was "raising a gun to shoot him in the face."
While this newspaper criticized Harcleroad for prematurely revealing his decision before state police finished their probe, there is no reason to question his final conclusion.
A witness in the back of a nearby police car said he saw Porter open the driver's side door of the stolen truck he was driving and put his feet on the ground. That contradicted Spencer's claim that the youth was in the driver's seat with the door closed at the time of the shooting. Investigators said evidence strongly supported Spencer's version. Even the attorney who is handling the Porter family's lawsuit against the city said he believed the district attorney's decision was "probably appropriate."
Yet the question of criminal charges is just the first of many that must be answered. Now, Springfield police officials must complete their review of whether proper tactics and procedures were followed and, if they were, how they can be changed to prevent loss of life in similar situations in the future.
For example, it remains unclear why officer Spencer approached the stolen truck if the driver, as the officer claims, showed no signs of leaving the vehicle. Given the proximity of a backup officer and the likelihood that others would soon arrive, wouldn't it have made more sense to wait for more assistance - or to remain behind cover while ordering the driver to exit the vehicle?
Law enforcement officials probably have ready and good answers to many such questions. But it's important to keep asking them until it can be determined what really went wrong in the dimly lit Weyerhaeuser Co. parking lot in the early morning hours of June 26. Because something did go wrong. Terribly wrong. Unarmed 15-year-olds - or unarmed 50-year-olds, for that matter - should not die in stolen vehicle stops. Police officers should not have to bear the terrible burden of grief that invariably accompanies the taking of human life.
Some time, perhaps next week or years from now, another Springfield officer will encounter a similar situation. By completing a thorough, unflinching internal investigation into the Jason Porter shooting, police can make it less likely that they'll have to conduct similar investigations in the future.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; DA's decision on shooting should be first step|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jul 13, 2005|
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