Wheeler: ‘Mental health system failed’ in Henriksen shooting

Civic Affairs

Koben Henriksen killed by PPB officers on December 8

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday he agreed with PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw “that the mental health system failed” Koben Henriksen, who was shot and killed by Portland police on December 8.

In a statement Thursday, Outlaw wondered where is the “level of accountability throughout the mental health system” that leaves police “in an impossible position.”

Henriksen, 51, had recent encounters with Portland police that ended without any use of force. Officers diffused those situations and got him to a mental health facility for treatment. In those encounters, he threatened police and “needed someone to kill him” and “thought police officers were the best option.”

Roughly 30 police units are at a taped-off crime scene in Southeast Portland Sunday afternoon. December 8, 2019 (KOIN)

“As police officers, we respond to these calls all the time,” said Daryl Turner, President of the Portland Police Association. “And we try to find resources for people and try to take them place [where] they can get help.”

However, Turner said it’s often that there aren’t enough resources to go around.

“Unfortunately, we have a vicious cycle right now where people are released and they are not getting the help they need,” said Turner. “We have to expand the mental health resources to get a successful off-ramp for people so they are not suicidal and they don’t end up like the situation on Sunday.”

Wheeler said no one has all the facts in this case yet and asked the public for patience.

“While I understand the need for the public to have information as quickly as possible, it’s critically important that this process be able to unfold in a thoughtful and thorough manner.”

The mayor said there is an obligation for a thorough and complete report that will be made public as soon as possible.

Multiple city blocks were closed to traffic as police investigated an officer-involved shooting that left one person dead in Southeast Portland. December 8, 2019 (KOIN)

“By the time, shots were fired on Sunday there were already multiple system failures, in my opinion,” Wheeler said. “I feel quite strongly that the mental health system failed Mr. Henriksen. I agree with Chief Outlaw on this point.”

While he said he doesn’t have direct control over the mental health system, he has a voice and will use it.

“I’ve already met with the Behavioral Health Director Steven Allen from the Oregon Health Authority and Ebony Clark, who is the interim director of the Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services to offer whatever I can offer to assist in their sincere efforts and strengthen our mental health system.”

Multnomah County said it is still working to provide other options for those in crisis. The county spokesperson released the following statement:

“It is a tragedy anytime anyone in crisis dies in our community. Every one of us has people we know who struggle with mental health challenges. Multnomah County will wait for the official review on the death of Koben Henriksen to bear out the facts. Ultimately, anyone experiencing a mental health crisis should not have to face a violent death at the hands of law enforcement. The County is actively working to provide other options locally for these situations because even if our mental health system were fully-funded, people are still going to experience crisis in public. We can, and we must, do better.”

On Friday, Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty released her own statement on the fatal shooting:

“Since entering office I’ve worked with my colleagues at city hall and the community around community policing. We’ve brought in experts, funded reports, and co-hosted one of two public forums to hear what the community wants to see when it comes to community policing. A second forum is taking place next Monday, December 16 between 6-8pm at PCC Southeast. Here are my thoughts on what unfolded with Koben Henriksen:

I’m disappointed that we’re myopically pointing fingers at one particular issue rather than taking a deep dive to meaningfully talk about all the systems that failed Mr. Henriksen this past week. This isn’t a question of which system is solely responsible. So yes, I agree that our mental health system could use improvement. But there are other systems that also need improving. Although we cannot draw conclusions about what occurred with Mr. Henriksen until there has been a full investigation, the OIR Group, who conducts annual outside reviews of officer involved shootings, has raised concerns that we have used deadly force too soon. These patterns of behavior have been identified by OIR year after year, and yet people in mental health crisis continue to die of deadly force.

So this is my hope: It’s my hope that we use this opportunity to work on ALL the systems that continue to fail our most vulnerable. Our communities deserve better.”

Currently, the shooting is still under investigation.

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