CLACKAMAS, Ore. (CLACKAMAS REVIEW) — The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office released video Wednesday, July 1, of the events described in a lawsuit filed June 19 by the mother of Ka’Mar Benbo alleging a sheriff’s deputy knelt on the 12-year-old’s neck while subduing him during a call to the Clackamas Town Center mall last August.
The video — compiled from mall and TriMet security footage — shows the events leading up to the arrest and alleged use of force by sheriff’s deputies Aug. 5, 2019. But TriMet footage of the actual arrest doesn’t conclusively show whether or not a deputy’s use of force included a knee on Benbo’s neck.
Sheriff Craig Roberts issued a statement in conjunction with the release of the video and other documents Wednesday, stating that he was glad Clackamas County attorneys approved the release of the video which was requested under Oregon Public Records law by Pamplin Media Group and other local news organizations.
“I’m glad County Counsel has decided to honor my request to release all the records in this case,” Roberts said in the statement. “Transparency is needed to build trust with our communities. I’m proud of my deputies and the professionalism they show on a daily basis. I stand by our internal investigation and the facts on this matter.”
On June 18, Roberts released a statement saying that the agency’s Performance Standards Unit had investigated the complaint filed by Jarena McDavid, Benbo’s mother, and “exonerated” deputies of the allegations within her complaint.
“‘Exonerated’ means the member’s conduct was lawful and proper,” the response to McDavid’s complaint said.
According to the lawsuit, Benbo was at the mall with a group of female friends when deputies responded to a call regarding a fight between two groups of girls at the Clackamas Town Center. As he and the girls exited the mall, Benbo was told by deputies to stop walking and talk to them, but he proceeded to walk away. The lawsuit alleges he was grabbed, thrown to the ground and pinned down by the neck. Benbo was subsequently released to his guardian.
Photos provided by Benbo’s attorneys, Kafoury & McDougal law firm, show bruising on his face allegedly caused by the arrest.
Video shows two groups of teenage girls and one boy — Benbo — walking through the mall. At one point, two of the girls got into a fight that lasted about two minutes which involved punching, hair pulling and shoving. Bystanders intervened and the fight was broken up near the southeast exit of the mall. The groups then parted ways, with the Benbo’s group exiting toward the MAX station on the southeast side of the mall. Shortly after, several law enforcement agents arrived on the scene.
The police report of the incident filed by CCSO Deputy Brian Wright was also released Wednesday. In his report, Wright said that the incident began when he informed the girls and Benbo that they were being detained and were not free to leave.
“Mr. Venbo (sic) sped up his pace and continued walking eastbound. I placed a hold on Mr. Venbo’s (sic) arm,” Wright wrote. “Mr. Venbo (sic) said he had nothing to do with the fight and began pulling his arms away, reaching into his pockets and actively resisting. I instructed Mr. Venbo (sic) to take his hands out of his pockets. Based on my training and experience, I know that suspects may reach into their pockets to access weapons to avoid being taken into custody.”
Audio from the 911 call of the incident was also released Tuesday. In the call, one deputy describes the situation as “harassment at best.” Another says the incident was a “non event.”
The incident and subsequent lawsuit has sparked scrutiny of the sheriff’s office’s handling of the situation from both the public and local elected leaders. The allegations have been amplified by mass protests that have popped up throughout the nation over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
Oregon state Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, said in June that she was angered by Sheriff Roberts and his agency’s lack of concern over the incident back in August 2019 and following the lawsuit. On Oct. 8, 2019, Bynum and Kim Ybarra — an attorney and policy adviser for the sheriff’s office — co-hosted a conversation between local mothers and representatives of the sheriff’s office, including Chief Deputy Jenna Morrison. The purpose, Bynum said, was to create an inroad to the sheriff’s office and advocate for change within the department.
“What I was trying to do was help the office see that the optics were really bad,” Bynum told Pamplin Media Group. “I was very concerned that he (Sheriff Craig Roberts) didn’t get it.”
Bynum recently helped to pass a bill during the legislature’s one-day special session last week that aims to increase accountability for Oregon’s law enforcement agencies. Those measures were endorsed by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
In his statement, Wednesday, Roberts acknowledged ongoing concerns about police use of force against people of color.
“I can only imagine the fear a parent has for their child of color engaging with police. I know that there is nothing I can say to make their worry go away,” Roberts said. “What I can say is: I will do my part to make sure that we use appropriate force and that every use of force continues to be reviewed by my agency.”
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