'They approach the situation like they're trained to'

'They approach the situation like they're trained to'

PORTLAND, Ore. - A driver was shot by police Saturday afternoon in a deadly officer-involved shooting.

The incident began in Southeast Portland and ended in North Portland, where a car crashed into an apartment building after an officer fired at the driver.

The driver was killed but until police could confirm that, they waited with guns drawn and activated their Special Emergency Response Team (SERT).

Police believed the man, and the car he was in, were involved in a shooting in Southeast Portland a couple of hours earlier.

"You basically have like innocent citizens in their car driving at 122nd and Stark and they're shot at," said Lt. Robert King, spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau.

The investigation led police to the suspect vehicle parked in front of a 7-Eleven store in North Portland.

"They approach the situation like they're trained to," said King. "To conduct these high risk stops where they call people out and they have them at gunpoint. And one person did get out of the car and cooperate but it was the driver who backed out and pulled away."

Witnesses said they then heard between four and eight shots. Police have not confirmed how many shots there were, but they did say that just one officer fired a weapon.

"They just unleashed on him," said witness Robbie Mills. "Never seen anything like it in my life."

The car ended up crashing into an unoccupied apartment. Right next door, in the same building, Meka Curry and her children felt the impact.

"It sounded like an earthquake," Curry said. "That's what we thought - that it sounded like an earthquake."

Here's the Portland Police Bureau's account of what happened, including a correction that was later sent out:

Correction: Officers confronted two men who had been in the suspect car as they exited the Seven Eleven.  One suspect complied and was taken into custody and one man got in the car, started it and drove out of the lot. In the course of the encounter, one officer fired his weapon.

On Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 12:28 p.m. Portland Police officers assigned to East Precinct responded to a call of a shooting at Southeast Division and 122nd Avenue. Initial information was that the driver of a dark colored car shot a handgun at another car that contained three people as they traveled south on 122nd Avenue. The suspect car was believed to be occupied with three white males in their twenties.  

Officers learned through their investigation that the suspect car was in the area of Columbia and North Fessenden. Officers arrived in the area and saw the suspect car in the 7-Eleven parking lot. Because this car and its occupants had just shot at another car officers conducted a high risk traffic stop.  

One passenger got out and cooperated with officers but the driver of the car pulled out of the lot and drove onto Fessenden. In the course of the stop one Portland Police Officer fired his weapon. Following the shot the car drove across Fessenden and through an exterior wall and into an apartment. The apartment was unoccupied and no one was injured.  

After the car came to a stop in the apartment Officers called the SERT Team (Special Emergency Reaction Team) to the scene to assist in taking the suspect into custody.  Once SERT made contact with the driver they had Portland Fire paramedics check the drivers condition and they learned he was deceased. The driver is a white adult male.   

Supervisors on scene called the Police Bureau Homicide Detectives to the scene to conduct the officer-involved shooting investigation.  

The Multnomah County District Attorneys Office and the Director on the Independent Police Review Division were on scene as well along with Police Chief Mike Reese and Mayor Sam Adams.

The suspect who was shot dead was later identified as 28-year-old Billy Wayne Simms.

The incident was the second officer-involved shooting in the last week and a half. On July 17, police shot a 17-year-old boy in Southeast Portland. The teenager survived.

It was also the second shooting in the neighborhood in recent weeks. Back on July 4, a woman was hurt when gunfire erupted near North Fessenden Street and Fiske Avenue.

Police Training in These Types of Situations

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to Oregon law enforcement shooting at people in vehicles. Officers are trained to consider the back stop (who and what is around them) as they open fire and who might be injured by a stray bullet.

They are also trained to consider the big picture of the situation, which can include the type of person who is fleeing and whether that person would pose an imminent threat to the life of the officer or others in the area.

Firing at someone in a vehicle can be a sticky situation for police. For example, the 2003 shooting death of Kendra James prompted her family to sue the city for $10 million.

James was a passenger in a car that was pulled over for a traffic violation in Northeast Portland near Interstate 5.

Officer Scott McCollister said he shot and killed her when she jumped in the driver's seat and tried to get away. He said he feared he or another officer would be killed, although James was not armed.

Both a Multnomah County grand jury and a federal jury found that the officer's actions were justified and her family lost the lawsuit.

McCollister returned to the force and received $18,000 in back pay for the six months that he was suspended without pay.

In 2004, Officer Jason Sery shot James Jahar Perez three times during a traffic stop in North Portland.

According to court testimony, Perez ignored police commands and reached into his pants pocket. Sery thought he was reaching for a gun. It turned out he wasn't.

"I remember seeing him glance over, shift in his seat to move his leg and get better access to his pocket," Sery testified at the time. "I remember his hand going deep in his pocket. I remember starting to scream 'I'm going to shoot, I'm going to shoot - get your hand out, I'm going to shoot.' "

Sery was cleared of wrongdoing three times and four years later he joined the Beaverton Police Department as one of its police officers.

The City of Portland settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Perez' family for $350,000.

Of course, those cases were different from this one. In this instance, the suspects were armed.