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Hillsboro deputies plant weapons at scene of police shooting; Oregonian suppresses report of witnesses

April 10, 2001

There have been three articles in The Oregonian's coverage of the Washington County Sheriff's deputies' shooting of Robert Lundy Smith on April 6, 2001. The wounded man, Robert L. Smith, 39, of Tualatin, was shot in the stomach after an auto chase in an Aloha neighborhood; the deputies were pursuing Smith in response to a call accusing him of harrassing a family living in the vicinity. According to the first account, on April 7, the victim was shot as he put his hand into his pocket. Sheriff's Dept spokeswoman Marlene Gaskins is quoted as saying, "a knife was found on or near Smith, whose last known address was an apartment on Southwest Boones Ferry Road, immediately after the shooting." (Who writes this stuff?)

In a subsequent story, on April 8, 2001, by Gillian Gaynair, FBI agent questions witnesses in deputies' shooting of man (page B11), , an eye witness described the victim's arm motion as slow and just begining to move when the officers fired. Additionally, an entirely straightforward report is given of a credible and detailed eye witness description of Washington County Sheriff's Deputies covertly moving knives around and placing them in various positions around the scene of this highly questionable police shooting.

On April 10, 2001, there appears another, third, Oregonian story on the Smith case by Ryan Frank, "Shooting victim had history of encounter" (p.C2), in which the Washington County Sheriff's spokesperson, Sgt. Marlene Gaskin (the same spokesperson who provided some information for the earlier report), is quoted as saying without qualification that "Smith had two knives when he was shot." In view of the April 8 report it would seem appropriate to put an "alleged" somewhere in that sentence, unless there is a press effort to support some kind of police coverup. The 4/10 story makes no mention whatever of the 4/8 story or the eyewitnesses' statements.

Further along, the Washington County Sheriff is quoted as saying, "The information that is coming forward gives every indication that the deputies were justified in every action they took." Quoting such statements without even a single mention of the earlier eyewitness report accusing the officers of tampering with the evidence of weapons possession by the victim makes it appear the paper is acting in collusion with the police to cover up a crime.

Pardon me for being suspicious of the police and of the newspaper's coverage, but I have read far too many accounts of police killing people (most recently Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot on April 1, 2002) followed by what to me smacks of police investigators and Grand Jury whitewashing of criminal homicide by police. The paper and the police may consider cops justified in shooting people who have "history of encounters" or who move their hand ever so slightly and make the police "feel" they are in danger. I don't find it justified at all. The paper should be pushing for hiring cops with courage - not a bunch of bullies and cowards.