Officer Forgot He Had A Partner, Expert Dodges Issue Of Racial Bias
Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post.
Officer Sean Macomber and Doctor William Lewinski provided the most important elements of today's testimony before the jury of inquest into the officer-involved shooting death of James Jahar Perez.
For us, Macomber's testimony opens up two particular avenue of exploration, beginning with his description of the events as they transpired from the moment he and Officer Jason Sery arrived at the scene until the moment Sery fired three shots into Perez.
Macomber's fairly detailed sequence of eventsincluded a certain amount of verbal communication between himself and Perez, movement of Macmober towards the vehicle, movement of Perez inside the vehicle, the rolling up of the dirver's side power window, the opening up of the door by Macomber, more movement by Perez, more verbal exchanges, silences, and eventually the shots fire by Sery.
All of which cries out for re-enactment because it's very difficult to see how everything he described could occur within the previously-reported (and reported again during testimony) twenty-four seconds between the radio call indicating the traffic stop and the radio call indicating that shots had been fired.
But for us the striking element of Macomber's testimony was his indication that his responses to the situation were informed (or dictated) by a combination of two things: His "fight or flight" instincts, and the fact that he normally works without a partner and so, in essence, forgot that Sery was even present.
Each of these points the finger directly at the quality of training for officers of the Portland Police Bureau, especially the latter of the two.
There should not be a single officer on the streets of Portland who does not know how to adjust his responses and his internal knowledge of possible decisions based upon whether he is out on his own or whether he has a partner.
That in his testimony Macomber in essence said that he forgot Sery was with him at the time is unequivocably unacceptable. If this particular issue is not raised during any considerations of Police Bureau training procedures, it will be completely inexcusable.
And then we have the testimony of expert witness Lewinski. Permitted to take the court thorugh a fairly length description of research into the matter of "action and reaction" as it pertains to law enforcement officers in potentially-deadly situations, he was eventually pressed by Distict Attorney Schrunk -- who, actually, was reading a question from Senators Avel Gordly and Margaret Carter -- to discuss whether or not research indicates that white officers react differently to African-American subjects.
Lewinski testified that he did not know of any research specifically addressing that question, but did say that some research on that issue had been done with civilians, who did demonstrate a slightly higher tendency to view people of color with more suspicion in such situations.
He went out of his way to stress that this research involved civilians -- and his tone suggested not only that we simply didn't have the data when it came to police, but that it woud surely be a different matter.
We make that last statement about tone because it happens to be backed up by his later testimony that what officers are truly concerned with, and what causes their fear in such circumstances, is the possibility of losing control of the situation.
But he was pressed, more than once, to offer a sense as to whether or not a white officer's views of people of color could influence his perception of losing such control, or his perception of danger.
Lewinski steadfastly persisted in dodging this question, despite it being a critically important matter to consider, and an entirely reasonable issue to raise.
Rather he simply kept focusing on an officer's fear of losing control over a situation, and pushed ahead with his refusal to even consider that racial bias could have an effect on that officer's perception of danger.
It's become extraordinarily clear to us, having had some hours to process today's portion of the inquest, that we need to get the focus off of Officer Jason Sery. While he is the one who fired the shots that killed James Jahar Perez, up until that point the situation was all about Officer Sean Macomber and Perez.
Macomber is the absolute key to this incident, and we need to switch our focus to him, his actions, and his training.
OregonLive has archived the various segments of today's testimony in audio form, should anyone want to compare my characterizations of Macomber's and Lewinski's testimony to what they said and thereby discover that I am correct.