At approximately 1:30 a.m. on Friday, June 29, Portland State campus police officers responded to reports of an altercation nearby the Cheerful Tortoise sports bar on the corner of SW 6th Ave. and SW College St.
Shortly after arriving to the scene of the conflict, the officers fired shots and one man—identified by family members as Jason Washington—was pronounced dead on the scene by emergency medical personnel.
On July 1, PSU Student Union held a rally in Pioneer Courthouse Square to protest the officers’ use of deadly force and demand campus police officers be disarmed.
“[CPSO] consists of an armed and deputized police force trained through the same systems which train the horrifically violent Portland Police Bureau,” PSUSU organizers wrote in a press release. They also referred to CPSO as “an all-powerful armed force that shoots to kill,” and called for PSU students not to “let PSU get away with murder.”
“All witness accounts say that [Washington] was trying to de-escalate the fight and that his gun fell out and it was an accident,” said PSUSU member Olivia Pace, quoted by KATU. “There’s nothing to indicate he did anything wrong.”
In a statement released a few hours before the rally began, PSU Director of Media and Public Relations Ken Ma expressed PSU’s support for students to organize and participate in peaceful protests while at the same time defending the Board of Trustees’ 2014 decision to hire armed campus police officers, citing it was done to “address safety concerns and improve university security.”
Donald Dietz—a Cheerful Tortoise employee who was present for the deadly altercation and stood feet away from Washington when he was shot—described the incident as “a really unfortunate situation.”
“I’ve seen police overstep their bounds a lot,” Dietz said. “I’ve seen it happen; there is a problem. I don’t think that this was one of those situations.”
According to Dietz, the altercation began when a man threw a racial slur at another man in the bar.
“At that point, we [Cheerful Tortoise employees] got the group that included the person that said the racial slur out the side door and tried to keep everybody else that was mad and trying to pursue him inside, but we couldn’t.”
Dietz said the group pursued the man outside. “Someone said that someone had fired a warning shot in the air, so I told them [Dietz’s fellow employees] to call [the police],” Dietz said. “[After that], I went outside to try and make sure that it didn’t get to where it did.”
When he stepped outside, Dietz said he only then noticed Washington was wearing a sidearm. “[Washington] was trying to break it up…[But] they were drunk and stubborn, so they kept going.”
The fight eventually moved toward the nearby Chipotle on SW Broadway and SW College St. Dietz said, “The moment that people started swinging is when [the police] pulled up and identified themselves as police officers.”
By this point, Dietz said, the man who had yelled the racial slur had been knocked unconscious. Washington—who Dietz says had come to the bar with the man who used the slur—went in to try and break up the altercation.
“[Washington] tried to push them off and his gun—since he already had it out and had fired warning shots—wasn’t all the way in his pocket,” Dietz recounted. “It fell out of his pocket. [The officers] told him not to reach for it. Once he did have it, they told him to put it down, and he just kind of scooped it up. I’m not sure if he was trying to get away or secure it so no one else could get it, but his gun was on the ground, and he reached for it. They told him not to, and then they fired on him.”
Immediately after the shooting, Dietz said he tried to get people back inside the bar and told patrons if they had no business being there, they should go home.
“I’m of the opinion that [it was] a very unfortunate and terrible situation to have been put in, but [the police] didn’t have options, I don’t think,” Dietz said.
Those who knew Washington—a Navy veteran, father and grandfather—have described him lovingly. David Norton, a former coworker of Washington, described Washington as a guy who was “friends with everyone.” On a cement pillar near the site of his shooting, messages of love have been written in his remembrance by friends and family.