Portland Police Officer Zachary Delong has been identified as the officer that shot an unarmed man in Lents Park yesterday. This shooting was captured on camera and we have embedded that video below. We have also reviewed stories from the mainstream media and are considering those as well as statements made by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) in this analysis. Our conclusion is that there is a high likelihood of this being an unjustified shooting, but that we would like to see more evidence before making a final decision on that.
According to a press release issued by the PPB today (see PDF icon above this article), officers responded to a report of a mentally ill individual pointing a gun in Lents Park, two officers fired 40mm rubber bullets in an effort to subdue him, and an 8 year veteran named Zachary Delong used lethal force. The press release does not say if the victim did in fact have a gun or any other weapon. According to media reports (see link labeled "More Info" above article and https://katu.com/news/local/witness-describes-police-shooting-interaction-with-man-shot-in-lents-park), an independent witness reported that the victim bent over to pick up an unidentified object that was not a gun, but that he had seen him with a gun earlier. The video below includes similar statements, that the victim bent over to pick up an unidentified object before being shot. According to The Oregonian (https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2021/04/portland-police-identify-officer-who-fatally-shot-man-in-lents-park.html) investigators recovered an replica firearm with an orange tip on it. It is common knowledge that replica firearms typically have an orange tip so that anyone, including trained police officers, can easily identify them as replicas. We think someone likely noticed the replica, failed to notice the orange tip, and unknowingly made a false 911 call reporting a man with a gun. Judging by the grainy video, we don't think that Office Delong was close enough to tell if the gun had an orange tip if that was in fact what the man was picking up. We hope that the PPB will release dash camera, surveillance, or other footage so that this can be investigated further, but absent an orange tip being visible on the replica, the object being something else, or an inability to tell what the object was from the perspective of officers involved we cannot say for certain if this was an unjustified shooting. Unfortunately, Portland is the only major city in the United States that does not require police to wear body cameras (https://www.kgw.com/article/news/investigations/portland-city-council-reluctant-to-move-forward-on-police-body-worn-cameras/283-19872e31-8110-4e0d-8936-144c5edc7dc7) and as a result the PPB gets away with countless civil rights violations.
We feel the last criteria mentioned above needs further explanation. Police officers are not justified shooting someone just for picking up an object that could be a weapon. Officers, police departments, and prosecutors alike often cite the potential for an unidentified object to be a weapon as an excuse to justify shooting someone. This has led to countless unjustified deaths in cases where people have reached for benign objects. Police defend such deaths on the grounds that they ordered the victim to put their hands up, but instead they reached for something. Our position is that unless the officer can clearly identify the object as a weapon that lethal force is not justified. Their job is to protect the safety of the public, hence the phrase "public safety officer" and not to execute members of the public just to neutralize what might be a threat to them. Doing otherwise creates situations where people have been executed by police simply because someone else called in a bogus 911 call accusing them of being armed, police responded in force, and the victim being justly offended by their presence was not compliant. See the case of Andrew Finch who was wrongfully shot by police who responded to a swatting call and though they saw him reach for a weapon (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/03/29/prankster-sentenced-years-fake-call-that-led-police-kill-an-innocent-man/). The man responsible for that false 911 call received a 20 year sentence, but the officer involved has yet to be brought to justice. Like the case of Andrew Finch, if the PPB cannot prove that the victim in this case was reaching for what clearly appeared to be a gun (ex: a replica the orange tip of which was not visible) we will categorize this shooting as unjustified, but we are holding off on that until we see more footage.
Zachary Delong is a former U.S. Army Ranger. He was featured in an episode of the History Channel documentary series The Warfighters in a 2016 episode titled "Task Force Merrill" (see Season 1, Episode 4, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT4R9QsXeMc). Delong fell into a creek full of sewage as his unit approached a Taliban stronghold and Brian Mast came to Delong's aid in an effort pull him out of the creek, but an IED exploded and Mast's legs were blown off. They held their position for some time until a medivac helicopter arrived, Mast was extracted, and they continued on their mission. Delong has lived with the guilt of that ever since. Mast told the History Channel that Delong shouldn't feel guilty, but the fact of the matter is that if Delong had not screwed up by falling into the creek that Mast would not have felt compelled to pull him out of the creek and he would not have stepped on that IED.
Delong is one of the main characters in the Warfighters episode, so we learned quite a bit about him from watching it. He revealed that he is the son of a Portland Police officer, was obsessed with war movies as a kid, and watched Black Hawk Down over 75 times. That sounds to us like someone that has always wanted to shoot people. Somebody who would have been predisposed to shoot first and ask questions later before joining the Army. Going through traumatic experiences in Afghanistan surely did not help. We would not be surprised if Delong has some form of PTSD that makes him more predisposed to shoot first and ask questions later than his preexisting personality issues already did. Delong certainly does not seem like the right type of person to sick on someone experiencing a mental health crisis in need of being talked down. We think a better response would be to send in a mental health professional, but keep officers nearby in case that person is attacked.
In 2014 "Zack" Delong liked a Facebook post that said "I am Darren Wilson" and featured the badges of three Portland Police officers (https://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-32511-19-portland-police-bureau-employees-liked-the-i-am-darren-wilson-facebook-posts.html). The post received 32 likes before Chief Mike Reese ordered it removed and suspended the three officers responsible for it. Darren Wilson is the Ferguson Police officer that shot and killed Michael Brown. Brown was an unarmed black man, a grand jury refused to indict Wilson, and massive demonstrations followed that Black Lives Matter a household name.
Rarely are the police justified shooting an unarmed person, but this might be one of those cases due to multiple eyewitnesses saying he had what the PPB calls a replica firearm. If the orange tip on that replica was not visible to the officer at any point before the shooting then they had the right to shoot him if that is what he picked up, but if he picked up something else or if Officer Delong opened fire before anyone could tell what he was reaching for this shooting was not justified.
Personal Note: This author used to play football and baseball in Lents Park as a kid. When I was part of Franklin Youth Football in 7th and 8th grade in the mid-90s we played most of our home games there because for whatever reason we were only allowed to play on our home field a couple times a year. They would convert the outfield of the baseball stadium into a football field in the fall for that purpose. I also remember playing baseball there when I was on the Franklin Babe Ruth 13 year old Allstar Team. To think that one of my games could have been the scene of an execution such as this is beyond disturbing.
UPDATE: The victim has been identified as Robert Delgado
UPDATE: This witness https://twitter.com/Shzcp/status/1383197322440429570 claims that police "walked him to the sidewalk" after they arrived. If that is true and he had the replica with him they should have been able to tell that it was a replica based on the orange tip. Unfortunately, he does not say if the replica was with Delgado when he was speaking to the cops. He also is silent as to whether or not Delgado tried to pick anything up. He makes it sound like he was shot while running, but that would conflict with at least two other witnesses. We do not rely on eyewitnesses to make conclusions in such cases because they are notoriously unreliable. Rarely is there a case where multiple eyewitnesses do not tell different versions of events despite their best efforts to remember things accurately, so we still can't say for sure if Delgado was reaching for something, what he was reaching for, or if Officer Delong had cause to believe that the object was a gun.
That claim has us thinking that even if the shooting turns out to be justified due to Delgado trying to pick up a fake gun, that his family might have recourse anyway. That is because we do not believe that a reasonably competent officer would have allowed Delgado to run away from him the way that he may have. That witness described the police walking with him. If that is the case then why didn't they tackle him? If they tried to tackle him, but he was too quick, why didn't they tase him in the back as he was running away? If PPB policy directs officers to let suspects run away instead of tackling or tasing them under such circumstances one could argue that the policy of the city was a driving force behind Delgado's death and therefore the city is liable for depriving him of his civil rights under color of state law (see 42 U.S.C. 1983 https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/1983). If the policy was not the driving force then his estate could try suing the individual officer, but that would be much more difficult due to qualified immunity. One typically needs to show malice or deliberate indifference to prevail in such a case when the defendant is a law enforcement officer. Negligence, defined as "A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances." (https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligence) is not sufficient. If the officer's conduct was not malicious then his inaction must rise to the level of deliberate indifference, "the conscious or reckless disregard of the consequences of one's acts or omissions" (https://definitions.uslegal.com/d/deliberate-indifference/). Deliberate indifference is also referred to as "subjective recklessness" and is used to describe situations in which an officer knows of a risk, but fails to act. One could argue that because officers responded to a report of a mentally ill armed man and the man was not armed when initially contacted, that officers knew of the substantial danger that allowing him to run away would create for him should he run towards the gun that they believed to be in the park somewhere, so they consciously disregarded that risk by not securing him at first contact while they searched the park for the gun, that they recklessly allowed him to escape without attempting to tackle or tase him, and that he would never have been in a position to pick up anything had it not been for the deliberate indifference of Officer Delong and others.
UPDATE: We have added a paragraph documenting our discovery that Delong liked a Facebook post written by fellow officers in support of the Ferguson police officer that murdered Michael Brown in 2014. We think that makes Delong more likely to use excessive force, especially on black people, but the victim in this case was not black.