Officer's suspension lifted by arbitrator

PORTLAND — An arbitrator has lifted the suspension of a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black motorist during a traffic stop, ruling that the department never conducted a full investigation into the shooting.

Officer Scott McCollister was suspended for 5 ½ months following the shooting of 21-year-old Kendra James in May 2003. The shooting created an outcry among many Portland residents.

"My finding is based on my conclusions that the failure to conduct an IAD [Internal Affairs] investigation led to a fatal gap in the information available to the Chief on which to base his decision," wrote arbitrator John C. Truesdale in a 44-page opinion released Thursday.

Truesdale ordered the city to pay McCollister's lost wages and expunge the suspension from his record.

Chief Derrick Foxworth, who was an assistant chief when McCollister was disciplined and had recommended firing him, said he would abide by the arbitrator's decision.

The Portland Police Association challenged the suspension. McCollister returned to work in February 2004.

"It was our point from the start that not only did the discipline process move too quickly, but had they looked carefully at the facts, they would have decided McCollister acted in good faith and did what was necessary to defend himself," said Robert King, president of the police union.

McCollister fatally shot James on May 5, 2003, as she tried to drive away from a traffic stop.

McCollister told investigators that most of his body was in the car when he tried to remove James from the driver's seat. When she put the car into drive, he instinctively fired to save his life, he maintained.

Police Chief Mark Kroeker and former Mayor Vera Katz, then police commissioner, disciplined McCollister for unsatisfactory performance, effective Sept. 2, 2003.

Kroeker was forced to resign and Foxworth replaced him.

"One cannot doubt that Chief Kroeker was striving to make a conscientious decision while swept up in a maelstrom of swirling public opinion," the arbitrator wrote. "But the fact remains that he did not have the 'full realm of every conceivable shred of information and investigative summaries that are out there' that he asserted he thought he had."

Kroeker testified during the arbitration hearings that he did not think there was a need for a full internal-affairs investigation because the shooting had been investigated thoroughly.