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José Santos Victor Mejía Poot, 29
Portland, Oregon
April 01, 2001

Agencies: Portland Police Bureau Oregon

Last updated: 7 months ago

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On April 1, Portland Police shot and killed José Santos Victor Mejía Poot inside a psychiatric hospital. Three officers, who had been called by hospital staff, apparently could not overpower the 29-year-old indigenous Mexican laborer. Officer Jeffrey Bell, 25-year-old rookie cop, fired the fatal shots after the police had tried pepper spray and "beanbag" guns. Mejía was hit with one shot to the head and one to the chest. Police say he was "armed" with an aluminum rod.

Mejía's death was the result of a string of mistakes beginning two days earlier. Mejía suffered from epilepsy, a neurological disease which can cause seizures. Boarding a Tri-Met bus early on Friday, March 30, he apparently suffered a mild seizure and did not respond when the bus driver alerted him that he was 20 cents short of bus fare. When Mejía would not move to the back of the bus, the driver flagged down a nearby police car. (Tri-Met has since made adamant statements that their policy is to let people on, even if they are short of fare, and not to call for police in cases where people cannot pay full fare.)

The police, also unable to communicate with Mejía, dragged him off the bus and, according to witness statements printed in the April 10Portland Tribune, severely beat him. One witness claims a female officer hit Mejía in the head with a flashlight.

Mejía was transported to the Justice Center jail, charged with harassment and resisting arrest. Reports indicate that Mejía was beaten again in the jail, but suffered no injuries (Oregonian, May 1). He was released and was later found outside the jail, crying. Rather than show compassion and bring him home, the police then transported Mejía to the Providence Crisis Triage Center for evaluation of mental illness.

Although it turns out that Mejía had been to Providence days before on issues relating to his epilepsy, the Crisis Center diagnosed him with mental illness and assigned him to the bottom- of-the-barrel, privately-run Pacific Gateway Hospital in Sellwood. Gateway was privatized a few years ago and, to cut back expenses, relied on police rather than hiring their own security force. The sheer volume of 911 calls from that hospital--72 just in the year 2000--illustrates the inability of Gateway to handle its charge.