Next Steps in PSU Shooting

Campus opens probes; board open to disarming

Danny Peterson | 9/19/2018, 9:23 a.m.
After a grand jury cleared two Portland State University police officers of criminal charges in the shooting death of a ...
Police stand outside the Cheerful Tortoise bar following the June 29 shooting of a Jason Washington, a 45 year-old black Navy veteran and postal worker who was shot and killed by Portland State University police while trying to stop a bar fight across from the campus. Photo by Shane Dixon/Oregonian via AP

After a grand jury cleared two Portland State University police officers of criminal charges in the shooting death of a lawfully armed black man and evidence from the case is before the public for the first time, the university will begin its own public investigations into the circumstances of the case which will include an examination of PSU’s policing policies and may result in a decision to disarm campus police entirely, PSU officials said.

On Thursday, a Multnomah County Grand Jury determined that PSU police acted either in self defense or to protect other lives when Jason Washington, a 45-year-old Navy veteran, father, grandfather, and U.S. Postal Service employee, was shot on June 29. The deadly confrontation marked the university’s first officer-involved shooting since arming its security force three years ago in a controversial decision.

Evidence released to the public for the first time shows Washington was carrying his friend’s firearm and had his own conceal carry permit at the time. Body cam video from campus police show he was shot after trying to stop a bar fight outside the Cheerful Tortoise, a popular bar in the vicinity of the campus.

The two officers involved, Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey, fired 17 shots at Washington, after warning him to drop the gun.

Portland State University President Rahmat Shoureshi released a statement following the grand jury’s decision. He said PSU has hired two independent firms, one to examine the school’s policy of arming campus police and another to conduct its own investigation into the shooting. The consulting firms were chosen based on an oversight committee’s recommendations, an effort to make the review process more transparent.

“Mr. Washington’s death has deeply shaken all those involved as well as the greater campus community, and we are determined to learn from it,” Shoureshi said. “My hope is that our actions following this tragedy will help make our campus and community a safer place for years to come.”

The PSU Board also released a statement that signaled they will carefully consider the findings of the policy review, calling Jason Washington’s death a “tragedy”.

“The Board of Trustees has been and continues to be deeply affected by the June 29th death of Mr. Jason Washington,” the statement read. “The Board wrestled with the decision to arm campus police in 2014, and we are prepared to wrestle with it again—with open minds—to determine whether the current policy should be continued or changed.”

Dewey and McKenzie will be placed on desk duty—still with firearms -- while the university’s independent investigation gets underway, officials said. The officers had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. A re-evaluation of their status will be conducted after the independent study is completed, the university said.

Body camera videos from the two officers involved, and 70 freeze frame photos from the police investigation that were released through a public records request show different angles of the shooting. In addition, cell-phone video shot by a witness and released shortly after the shooting shows Washington repeatedly trying to restrain a friend before he was shot.