Local police leaders condemn fatal police beating recorded in Tennessee

UPDATE: This story has been updated with additional statements from police leaders.

Leaders of Salem-area police agencies on Saturday joined the chorus of law enforcement officials in the state condemning the beating death of a 29-year-old Tennessee man recorded by police body cameras.

The joint statement from 11 agencies followed the release on Friday, Jan. 27, of video of the Jan. 7 police assault in Memphis, Tenn. The graphic footage shows five Black officers involved in kicking, beating and pepper spraying Tyre Nichols after he was removed from his car following a traffic stop.

The video shows Nichols, who was Black, was propped up against a police car without medical care. The New York Times reported that medics arrived soon after the beating stopped but didn’t appear to provide care for another 16 minutes. Nichols died three days later in a hospital.

The officers have since been fired and then charged with second-degree murder.

The Marion County police executives said they found the officers’ conduct “unconscionable.”

“Lack of dignity and respect toward those we serve simply run completely counter to who we are as individual officers and deputies.”

– Joint police statement

The statement was issued by Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast, Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack, Keizer Police Chief John Teague, Woodburn Police Chief Martin Pilcher, Stayton Police Chief Gwen Johns, Silverton Police Chief Jim Anglemeier, Turner Police Chief Don Taylor, Gervais Police Chief Mark Chase, Aumsville Police Chief Damien Flowers, Mount Angel Police Mark Daniel and Hubbard Police Chief David Rash.

 “Inhumane acts deeply impact all who understand and hold true to the responsibilities of the badge we wear,” the statement said.

“We affirm that excessive force is not tolerated by our agencies,” it continued. “Lack of dignity and respect toward those we serve simply run completely counter to who we are as individual officers and deputies.”

The statement started with the Salem chief and Marion County sheriff.

“Out of that conversation came the idea to write a joint message with the group of law enforcement leaders in Marion County who meet monthly on a regular basis,” according to an email from Angela Hedrick, Salem police public information officer. “The Salem Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office wrote the initial draft, then the group of leaders worked together on the final.”

As for the use of force data, we are putting a report together for 2022, but it is not yet completed. 

Such sentiments were echoed in statements issued by Portland and Eugene area police leaders.

On Sunday, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the League of Oregon Cities issued a joint statement to “unequivocally condemn the brutal attack and killing of Tyre Nichols.”

The statement continued, “Those who have dedicated their lives to our honorable police profession in Oregon are deeply disturbed and angered by the horrific acts committed by five members of the Memphis Police Department.”

The associations noted they worked with legislators on “20 police reform measures designed to enhance the way we screen, hire, train and hold accountable police officers in this state.”

In 2021, legislators required all law enforcement agencies to participate in the National Use-of-Force Data Collection managed by the FBI. According to the FBI, 143 of 166 police agencies in Oregon participated in 2022.

Of the 11 agencies represented in the local statement, the FBI website showed all but Aumsville were participating.

The FBI defines use of force as “any action that resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of a person, or the discharge of a firearm at or in the direction of a person.”

The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission was charged in the legislation – House Bill 2932 ­– to analyze the Oregon data and report to legislators. The agency was given $199,000 for that work, but no deadline in the legislation for the first report.

Among those supporting the legislation was a coalition of four state advocacy commissions, including Commissions on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Black Affairs, Hispanic Affairs, and Commission for Women.

They urged better reporting by police when they use force.

“Without this type of reporting, tracking, and analysis there can be no full understanding of the systemic violence that have blighted our communities, and harmed our citizens, too often to death where other means of de-escalation and other modalities lead to better outcomes for all,” they said in a joint statement to legislators in 2021. “Officers who routinely use force or are disciplined for over-use of force can be identified and tracked internally as they move from precinct to precinct or town to town, bringing their violence with them.”

The Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, representing front-line officers, opposed the new data requirement in written testimony to legislators.

“Frankly, the list of information to be collected about these incidents seems to be focused very much on vilifying the officer in question without providing adequate context about the subject (we hope unintentionally),” its statement said. “We are not clear as to what objective the publicly-searchable nature of the proposed database is serving…A poorly-thought out policy that links officers by name to out-of-context use of force incidents may very well physically endanger officers and their families.”

The Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association urged legislators to focus on getting agencies to participate in the national system rather than creating a state-managed one. In their joint statement to legislators, they noted that “the list of information required to be reported is exhaustive and would add a significant administrative burden to manage the reporting obligation.”

Instead of funding state review of the data, the associations said that “funding could be more effectively invested in more robust use of force/de-escalation training for officers throughout the state.”

The measure passed unanimously in the House and passed the Senate 20-7. Those voting against the measure in 2021 included Sen. Brian Boquist, I-Dallas, Lynn Findley, R-Vale, Fred Girod, R-Stayton, Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, and Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.

In Salem, the police department is involving the community in reviewing all of its policies.

“In late 2022, the Salem Police Department began the process of an independent evaluation of all its policies and procedures,” the agency says on its website. “The year-long review process will ensure department policies reflect current and best law enforcement standards and practices, as well as meet state and federal laws and regulations.”

The agency said “to ensure our commitment to promoting transparency, key policies related to officer-community interactions will be listed.”

Hedrick said the agency also was preparing a report on Salem police use of force in 2022.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email: [email protected].

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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.