An event in Portland this past week serves as a cautionary tale for all of us who carry firearms. The headline from The Oregonian says it all:
“Man killed by Portland State police was Navy vet trying to break up fight, friends say”
Jason Erik Washington, the man killed by armed Portland State University officers in the early morning on June 29, reportedly had a valid concealed carry permit at the time of his death. By all accounts, Washington did not at all fit the image of a troublemaker.
According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Washington was a Navy veteran and an employee with the United States Postal Service since 1998. He worked as a letter carrier at the main office in downtown Portland, where he also served as the union shop steward. He was also married and had three kids and one grandchild.
So, what happened?
The same news source said that one witness named Keyaira Smith took video of the moments leading up to Washington’s death. She told reporters that Washington was “trying to be a good Samaritan.”
As is often the case, eyewitnesses differed somewhat in the details of their accounts of what happened. But when all of the stories are combined, what appears to have happened is that Washington was trying to break up a fight just outside of the Cheerful Tortoise Bar at around 1:30 a.m. Officer Shawn McKenzie and Officer James Dewey, two campus police officers, observed the fight as they were patrolling near the bar.
This is where it gets messy. Apparently, while attempting to separate the two men who were fighting, Washington’s gun slipped out of its holster and fell to the ground. Unfortunately, he bent to retrieve it just as the two officers came onto the scene and told him, “Drop the gun!”
Witnesses differ slightly in their perceptions regarding how much time elapsed between the officers’ warning to Washington and when they opened fire. Some said there was “no apparent hesitation” before the officer (or officers) fired.
But Donald Dietz, an employee at the Cheerful Tortoise, witnessed the shooting and said that police “warned [Washington] multiple times not to reach for it, but he did,” according to Fox.
It was also not clear whether Washington did actually touch the gun on the ground or whether the arriving officers mistook Washington’s black leather holster on his belt for a gun. But regardless, it was at this point that at least one of the officers fired.
Sadly, this case illustrates what can happen even with the best of intentions. It is a reminder that we should always think before getting involved in any potentially violent situation. Attempting to help someone who is clearly being attacked is one thing; getting between two people involved in a drunken brawl is another.
It also illustrates how important having a good holster could be. Had Washington’s gun stayed where it belonged, this entire tragedy might have been avoided.
Finally, no matter how chaotic the scene, when police tell you stop what you are doing, do exactly what they tell you to do. Above all, stop moving.
Being a good Samaritan can be a charitable, perhaps even noble, act. Just make sure it isn’t your last.
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