Police sergeant tells other officers to ‘just shoot them’ if they encounter homeless Black people
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 2/4/2019, 10:04 a.m.
Sgt. Gregg Lewis was fired last year for reportedly making several racist comments to his precinct in Portland, Ore. Lewis’ comments were not publicly shared until this week when his termination letter was released by the Portland mayor’s office.
According to the Huffington Post, Lewis told about 20 other cops during a roll call meeting on Feb. 12, 2017, that if they come across a Black homeless person to “just shoot them,” according to many meeting participants who were quoted in the letter obtained by Oregon Live. Lewis made the remarks during a meeting with fellow officers in which he was leading a presentation about an officer’s authority to handle an intoxicated citizen who is in a private parking garage.
Multiple officers who were in the room reported Lewis the next day, and many of their accounts are cited in the termination letter. According to one account, the room went silent after Lewis’ comment. There was some nervous laughter in the room and another officer said “Oh my god!” Lewis reportedly “laughed, threw his hands in the air and said, ‘Fuck it. What do I care?’” The reports made by several officers were all slightly different. One officer recalled Lewis saying, “Go out and shoot Black people,” while another remembered him saying the remark with slight variations: “If they’re Black and homeless, shoot them or kill them.”
Earlier in the presentation, Lewis reportedly told officers to “be smart” about whom they chose to “detox” in parking garages. “If you come across a guy in a suit and tie that came downtown and had a little too much to drink … he’s probably not the guy you want to detox straight out of the garage. He will most likely sue you,” Lewis said, according to the accounts cited in his termination letter, which is dated Jan. 12, 2018. “If it’s a homeless guy, you will probably be safe. I doubt he’s going to sue you.”
Lewis made the comments just days after an unarmed Black teenager named Quanice Hayes was shot and killed in Portland by fellow police officer Andrew Hearst. Police mistook Hayes for a suspect in an armed robbery and Hearst shot him three times. Hearst told a grand jury that he saw Hayes had a gun and he was protecting himself. It was later revealed that Hayes had a toy gun, which the cops only found after Hayes was shot dead. Hearst was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In response to the complaints against him, Lewis told investigators that he has a “habit of sometimes being a little sarcastic,” according to the letter, and he does not discriminate against people based on their race. He also apologized and admitted that he now realizes his comments are inappropriate. City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said in a statement last week, “This person sworn to protect us made clear that he views certain types of people expendable in our society. I thank his fellow officers for reporting this heinous comment and elevating it as a punishable offense,” she said. “What Mr. Lewis said makes my stomach turn.”
Lewis, who has been with the Portland Police since 1991 and briefly retired for a month in 2016, was fired in early February 2018, a year after his initial comments. His remarks are only being made public now because the police union filed a grievance that could possibly overturn Lewis’ firing, discussion of which spurred the mayor to comply with an open records request. Since city officials believe there is a good chance Lewis’ firing could be overturned, they have proposed a settlement that would give Lewis back pay of about $100,000 and consider him to be retired. Under this settlement, he would also receive pension throughout retirement.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz said that she felt “personally ill” with the terms of the settlement, but her highest priority is to ensure Lewis never serves as a police officer again. “The most important thing is to get rid of this person on the police force, and to make absolutely certain he can never wear the officers, the police officer’s uniform, never carry a Portland police gun, never be out in our community, and this settlement is the only way we can make sure this happens,” she said.