Five days after an incident that left a security guard gunned down at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, and the suspect shot by police, names of the officers involved in the shooting have yet to be released.
That’s largely because of a major policy decision made last year by Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell. In December 2022, Lovell announced the bureau would no longer release names of officers involved in the use of deadly force within 24 hours. Instead, PPB now waits 15 days, if not longer, before releasing employee names to the public.
At the time, Lovell noted the bureau had already been doing that since July 2022. The chief said his policy of withholding information, “strikes the right balance between transparency and the security concerns of our PPB members.”
Lovell cited incidents from earlier that year that presented “credible security threats” to officers, who were subject to threats and doxing–the act of searching for and releasing private personal information about someone else–after their names were released following an officer-involved shooting. The bureau’s published policy directives still call for the release of names within 24 hours, but police and the mayor note that particular directive is "under review," and an executive order dictates standing policy, for now.
Police have yet to clarify what threats justified the delayed release of names back in 2022, and despite state legislation that already protects police from doxing, have instead moved to use the 15-day rule as blanket policy, rather than in cases where it's needed.
Late Wednesday, noting the “rarity and outsized impact” of the incident, Portland Police Bureau released a truncated timeline of events from Saturday, July 22, when several law enforcement agencies convened to try to find a suspect who shot 44-year-old Bobby Smallwood, a security guard at the Legacy hospital in Northwest Portland.
The suspect, later identified as PoniaX Kane Calles, 33, reportedly threatened staff at the hospital, causing a security guard to intervene and employees to call 911 shortly before 11 a.m. Within nine minutes of the call, officers arrived on scene. Six minutes later, dispatch logs show officers were notified that a security guard was down. By 11:13 a.m., police got a description of the suspect. Three minutes later, a citywide police presence was requested to help.
Police searched a nearby Fred Meyer store, after receiving a tip that a person matching Calles’ description entered the store, but security camera footage showed the suspect never went there.
The timeline ends at 12:29 p.m., when a sergeant visited previous known locations for Calles, who had an extensive criminal history, and found him hiding in bushes near Northeast 138th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard. Calles got into a friend’s van and was pursued by police into Gresham, though the details of exactly when Calles was shot, who fired at him, and whether police attempted to apprehend him first, is unclear.
This spring, PPB announced its new body camera pilot program for officers would begin this summer, to bring the bureau in compliance with a Department of Justice legal settlement. But the cameras weren’t in use during Saturday’s shooting. On-duty officers won’t begin using body cameras until August.
Earlier, PPB confirmed that three of the bureau’s officers fired at Calles. No other law enforcement agencies used deadly force. PPB Sgt. Kevin Allen confirmed the officers involved “are on standard administrative leave,” in accordance with PPB policy following all officer-involved shootings.
The Gresham Police Department is investigating the use of force. Initially, a spokesperson for Gresham said Portland police were investigating, while Portland directed media to Gresham.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office will conduct its own investigation into the officer-involved shooting, and present findings to a grand jury.
Police noted the timeline is “not a record of the event in its entirety.”
“Information related to the officer-involved shooting will be released when appropriate, following the investigation and Grand Jury Process. PPB will release the names of the officers involved within 15 days, per policy,” the announcement states.
PPB’s recent practice of waiting to release names is a red flag for law enforcement accountability advocates. Dan Handelman, of the group Portland Copwatch, said the delay in releasing names erodes transparency.
“Last summer, there were three shootings over the course of a week… and the chief said they wouldn’t release [officer names] at all because officers were getting threats and whatnot,” Handelman said, noting PPB’s settlement agreement with the DOJ includes a stipulation that all bureau policies will be posted for public review, prior to adoption, but that never happened in this case.
Under the new practice, Handelman notes, there is no way for the public to know whether an officer who just shot someone is back on duty, where the same thing could happen again.
PPB’s staffing shortage throws more doubt into the process. In 2022, PPB reported nine instances involving the use of deadly force by an officer. Of those incidents, five were fatal.
“It’s just an absolute outrage, in my opinion,” Handelman said of the delay in identifying police. “We don’t know of anybody else who has a specific policy like that.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, noted Portland's policy "isn't unique to officer-involved cases," and noted other instances where the names of crime suspects aren't released while investigations are ongoing.
"Balancing transparency with safety is challenging, particularly in the early stages of investigation in high-profile public safety incidents," Cody Bowman, Wheeler's communications director, said on behalf of the mayor's office. "We will continue striving to strike that balance and release information as quickly as possible."
Copwatch has raised concerns at every attempt from PPB to withhold names and frequently testifies before Portland City Council, including Wednesday, when the council voted to approve a $95,000 settlement for a bodily injury lawsuit against police, stemming from a 2020 protest. The payout was the latest in a string of legal complaints that have resulted in the city paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to people injured by police during protests that year.