A police officer, whose shooting of a Portland man two years ago cost the city a half million dollars, was in court again Friday on claims he and several other officers used excessive force.
Officer Leo Besner was among the officers who responded to a report of a fight downtown two years ago during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Three men, Alex Clay, Richard Booth, and Harold Hammick, said the officers’ actions toward them were excessive and too aggressive. They are suing the city for $300,000.
Hammick said Besner punched him in the groin and used a knife to cut the seat belts he was wearing while he sat in a vehicle.
All three said they were detained too long and for no reason. None of the three was arrested.
A witness to the incident that took place in a parking garage, Adam Ganer, agreed with the plaintiffs.
“All of a sudden we see the police with all their guns drawn, you know, shouting. The three plaintiff’s were just shouting, ‘please just tell us what we did wrong,’” he said. There was “no resisting, no anger, no questioning. They were terrified.”
Greg Kafoury, the attorney for Hammick, said when his client told Besner he had a concealed weapon permit and was carrying a gun, the officers overreacted because of race.
“The officers’ story is built on the ugliest of stereotypes,” he said. “Young, black men, confrontational, belligerent, loud, pushy, aggressive, got a chip on their shoulder, looking for trouble.”
City attorney Bill Manlove argued the police were just doing their job.
“Officer Besner had to do that investigation to find out if in fact the gun was lawfully possessed by Mr. Hammick,” he said.
Besner’s history includes shooting 30-year-old Raymond Gwerder two years ago.
Gwerder was suicidal and had threatened to shoot police if they came inside his house.
He was shot outside the house while on the phone with a police negotiator, ending a 90-minute standoff.
In that case, Besner said he saw Gwerder appear to aim his gun as if he was “hunting” for something to shoot.
Ultimately, the city of Portland agreed to pay a $500,000 settlement to Gwerder’s family.
The jury is currently deliberating the current suit against Besner.