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Fake Gun, Real Death

Police Kill Man Holding BB Gun

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THE FOURTH FATAL police shooting this year of a Portlander battling mental health issues came in the early hours of Friday, December 17, when 45-year-old Darryel Dwayne Ferguson allegedly brandished a fake gun at officers responding to a 911 call in his apartment complex.

Court records reveal Ferguson, a registered sex offender, had been suffering from depression and anxiety, at times taking medicine for his illnesses, and that he was a medical marijuana patient who had also battled substance abuse. Neighbors tell the Mercury he had cancer and was HIV positive—conditions his sister confirmed to the Oregonian.

His death continues a troubling trend this year for a police bureau that sees a large portion of its calls each day involving someone dealing with, in some fashion, mental illness.

"We as a community have decided that [providing adequate treatment] would be an imprudent financial decision on our part," says Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland. "As a result, the police get to do the dirty work. It doesn't matter whether they're equipped. We have dumped the responsibility on them."

According to police accounts, the fatal incident began about 3 am, when a resident of the Ventura Park Plaza apartments at East Burnside and 122nd reported being harassed by a drunken man. Police spoke with a man in the building but left after deciding tensions had eased. Soon after, the same resident called again, saying the same man had a 9mm gun and had threatened to shoot him. Officers then knocked on Ferguson's door. He opened it, allegedly while holding a gun, and within seconds was fatally wounded by the officers. The weapon was later found to be a BB gun.

Officers evacuated a toddler and three adults from the apartment. Surrounding neighbors, also evacuated, waited for hours on a TriMet bus as shelter from the cold night.

The police bureau did not release the exact number of wounds Ferguson suffered, but according to autopsy results, Ferguson "died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen." One neighbor told the Mercury he heard police say afterward that 20 shots were fired.

The two officers in the shooting, Jonathan Kizzar and Kelly Jenson, are on administrative leave. Ferguson's sister told the Oregonian her brother may not have realized it was police knocking when he opened the door holding the BB gun. Police are releasing no more details pending a grand jury investigation.

By Friday afternoon, the bullet-riddled door frame of Ferguson's unit had been removed and was briefly propped up in the hallway.

Neighbors described Ferguson as both quarrelsome and generous. His next-door neighbors say he picked fights with other residents, but also once stopped by just to give them a typewriter and a computer table.

Ferguson's court file shows a troubled history: He was required to register as a sex offender and undergo treatment for substance abuse after a felony rape conviction in 1988. He was charged with assault and harassment in 2003, though the charges were dropped. He was put on probation two years ago for failing to register as a sex offender. He had been living in the Ventura Park complex with his girlfriend for at least a year, neighbors say, but records in 2008 state he had no solid address and had "no regular, verifiable contact with family or significant others in local community." A 2007 record listed Ferguson's address as the Unicorn Hotel. He has been unemployed, living on disability checks and food stamps.

Overall, there were five officer-involved shootings this year (four of them fatal)—the most since 2006—reversing a recent trend in which shootings had plunged in comparison to the rest of the past 18 years. Officials have attributed that drop to things like giving cops Tasers, improved crisis training, and stronger civilian oversight. But Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch says that's "all been thrown out the window at this point."

Coincidentally the shooting came the same day the Portland Police Association (PPA) submitted a letter to the city asking that the two sides jointly declare an impasse and move the contract bargaining to mediation. The city has agreed, for now, that could mean key issues—like drug testing and civilian oversight—will be hashed out behind closed doors.

At a news conference Monday, December 20, members of the Fire Frashour campaign, a group of activists who had loudly demanded the firing of the officer who shot and killed Aaron Campbell in January, linked the union's decision with the most recent shooting.

"Despite the recent shooting, the city is still closing the police association negotiations to the public," Kathryn Cates said on the steps of the Justice Center. "By agreeing to remove the negotiations from public scrutiny, the city negotiators are colluding with the PPA to preserve the cops' impunity."

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