Two police officers and the City of Hillsboro are on course to defend themselves in a jury trial over their choice to Taser a man who they’d stopped for biking illegally beside Tualatin Valley Highway.
The man who was tackled and Tasered in the 2012 incident, Jermaine Robinson, had been riding after dark without a front light on his bike, and the officer who stopped him says Robinson had been crossing the Southeast 13th Avenue crosswalk against a “don’t walk” light.
After the officer, William Blood, pulled his car over to confront Robinson, Robinson refused to give his name and (according to Blood, but not Robinson) seemed to be preparing to pedal away. Blood’s colleague Brian Wilber then shot him with a Taser twice.
From traffic stop to full submission, the incident lasted about three minutes. It took place about one mile from Robinson’s house.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart ruled Oct. 7 that the case should not be dismissed without trial because it would be possible for a reasonable person to conclude that Blood and Wilber used excessive force during the stop.
“By any stretch of the imagination, these are minor, nonviolent offenses,” Stewart wrote of Robinson’s choices. “The record reveals no obvious need for haste in taking Robinson into custody. Instead, the police dispatch log reveals that Wilber was on the scene by 22:18:22 p.m., within one minute after Blood stopped Robinson. … Given that Robinson’s method of resistance was simply to refuse to answer questions and resist being pulled off his bicycle, Blood and Wilber could easily have awaited the arrival of additional officers to assist.”
The judge’s ruling (posted by Willamette Week) includes a significant detail that we missed: Robinson, who is black, had a cousin who was Tasered and killed in a police encounter.
lawyer, Edie Rogoway. Also pictured is his wife Vivian.
Rogoway said the couple received matching bicycles
as wedding gifts from her sister’s family.
Stewart also concluded that because Blood and Wilber may have failed to receive training on appropriate uses of force, the City of Hillsboro must also stand judgment over claims of assault and battery.
The 2012 incident is heading toward trial amid a conversation in the national street-safety movement about the possibility that calls for increased traffic-law enforcement as part of Vision Zero could result in excessive policing over traffic infractions, especially of poor people and people of color. Former League of American Bicyclists Equity Program Manager Adonia Lugo wrote last month that while at the League she had been “alarmed that a pillar of Vision Zero was increased police enforcement of traffic violations.”
Locally, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks have included notes of caution about racial profiling in their advocacy for more enforcement of Oregon traffic laws. The need to avoid excessive or racially unjust policing, though, wasn’t discussed in their June whitepaper about Vision Zero, except as part of the argument for using automated safety cameras to nab people speeding.
This Hillsboro case also has some elements of a 2008 case in Portland that saw Phil Sano tackled and Tasered by Portland police officers after he failed to follow their orders to stop. Sano, too, had been biking without lights.
The process of setting a trial date will begin after any objections from the ruling are resolved. The two-week objection period closes Oct. 25.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.