Portland, OR – A community is outraged after a father and U.S. Navy veteran was shot and killed by police while witnesses claim he was trying to break up a fight, but when his handgun fell out of its holster and he reached to pick it up, police did not hesitate to open fire on him.
Jason E. Washington, 45, will be remembered as a beloved father of three daughters who married his high school sweetheart, served in the Navy, and was working as a U.S. postal worker. He was also the only one who attempted to break up a fight that broke out on a street corner in downtown Portland while nearby police did nothing to help.
Witness Keyaira Smith began filming the encounter, and she told Oregon Public Broadcasting that she believes Washington was just “trying to be a good Samaritan” by attempting to break up the fight, and when two Portland State University Police officers approached the scene, they “did not appear to try to stop the fight.”
The video shows Washington attempting to corral a man in a blue shirt, who Smith said was responsible for starting the conflict because he was using racial slurs against a Black man nearby.
“The guy in blue had used some racial slurs earlier when they were in the street kiddy corner to where they were in this video and that’s what brought it to this point, and started the whole thing,” Smith said.
At one point, the handgun Washington was carrying in a holster on his right hip becomes visible, and then Washington tripped.
“The gun slipped out of the holster when he had fallen, and I think he may have tried to retrieve it,” Smith said. “Then they said ‘gun.’”
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As is the case with numerous officer-involved shootings across the country, when an officer yells the word “GUN,” it is used as a warning sign to let other officers know that a suspect is armed and in many cases it serves as justification for the officers who open fire seconds later, before they can accurately ascertain whether they saw an actual gun or the person with the gun was attempting to harm them or anyone else.
The officer opened fire immediately and struck Washington—the good Samaritan whose only participation in the fight was his attempt to stop it from happening.
“There was absolutely no hesitation at all. [The officer] went straight for his gun,” Smith said, noting that at the time he was shot, Washington had his back turned to police.
The officers responsible for the shooting have been identified as Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey. In response to the incident, Portland State University President Rahmat Shoureshi released a statement promising that the campus public safety chief would conduct an internal review of the shooting, and action would be taken accordingly.
“I want to express my concern about the fatal officer-involved shooting early this morning,” Shoureshi said. “I know there are many questions about the incident, and we want to keep you informed as best we can … I have asked our Campus Public Safety Chief to conduct a thorough internal assessment and evaluation of this incident as well as our policies and procedures.”
Washington’s death has left his family heartbroken. His friend, Alyssa LeCesne, told Oregon Live that Washington will be remembered as “an upstanding man who was proud to have helped raise a household full of women,” and he is leaving behind his wife, three daughters and a 5-year-old granddaughter who "worshipped the ground he walked on."
"There are a lot of people in Portland grieving right now," LeCesne said.