The death of David Downs on June 9th marked the third fatal shooting by Portland Police in 2019.
Downs, 38, was shot by an officer after holding a woman hostage in a Pearl District stairwell and threatening to hurt her with a knife. He was homeless and estranged from his family at the time of his death, factors that might explain the lack of public outcry following the shooting.
Since his death, the public has learned little about Downs or the incident that prompted a police officer to shoot a bullet into his head. On Monday, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) released files documenting their investigation into Downs’ shooting, which paint a more thorough picture of the events leading up to the June death.
Downs ended up in the stairwell of 1331 NW Lovejoy—a mixed-use building called “The Lovejoy”—after meeting Bethanie Johnson near Portland’s Greyhound bus station the morning of June 9. Johnson, who was also homeless at the time, told detectives that she had never seen or interacted with Downs before that morning. Johnson said she agreed to walk to Safeway, which occupies the first two floors of The Lovejoy, with Downs and “shoot up” methamphetamine in the store’s stairwell. Johnson said Downs was the only one who ended up smoking meth that morning. Afterwards, Downs and Johnson began “messing around” on the stair landing, and she took her pants off.
It didn’t take long, however, for the mood to change. According to Johnson, Downs suddenly grew angry and allegedly threw her against a wall four times.
“The guy got mad because he thought I took his dope so he punched me,” Johnson told PPB Officer Nathan Simmons. She also told Simmons that Downs had punched her three times, and then held a knife to her throat. Johnson said she had not touched his meth.
That’s when Edward Connors, a lawyer who works on the ninth floor of the building, heard the two scuffling. In an interview with another PPB officer, Connors said Downs yelled at him: “I have a knife! I have a bomb! And I have a hostage! Bring it! Do you know who I am?” Connors said he heard a woman’s voice yell “Help!” So he called 911.
The officers’ presence didn’t seem to intimidate Downs. Officer Cassandra Wells—one of the responding officers—offers the most detailed narration of the encounter in her follow-up interview. After entering the stairwell and locating Downs, Wells said she told him to drop his knife. He didn’t. Instead, Downs held up what appeared to be a small handheld clicker, and told Wells he had a bomb and was going to detonate it. Wells and other officers at the scene said Johnson was half-naked, bleeding from the head, and was cowering in a corner behind Downs.
Another officer, Jackson Oldham, fired so-called “less-lethal” munitions at Downs, in hopes of getting him to drop the knife and suspected detonator. (The reports don’t detail what type of less-lethal weapon was used by PPB).
“The guy’s behavior doesn’t change, he doesn’t flinch,” Wells, who had a gun trained on Downs at the time, observed.
Wells said that’s when Downs grabbed Johnson and pulled her in front of him, wrapping one arm around her waist. In his other hand, Downs held the item officers suspected was a detonator.
“He said, ‘Shoot me one more time,'” Wells recalled. Both Wells and PPB Officer Nathan Kirby-Glatkowski had their guns aimed at Downs. After a brief interchanged, Kirby-Glatkowski opted to pull the trigger.
“The guy collapses and blood starts pouring out of his head,” Wells said. Downs died instantly.
As other officers guided Johnson to an ambulance waiting outside, Wells said she gave Kirby-Glatkowski a long hug.
“He said ‘I never wanted to have to kill somebody,’ and I said, ‘I know but it needed [to be] done and it was either you or me,'” Wells explained in her interview.
When PPB Detective Eric Kammerer called Downs’ mother, she allegedly told him that she had “expected a call at some point in her life that her son had been killed.”
Kammerer said she told him that Downs had tried to kill her in the past, and she had a protective order against him. She had not spoken with her son for several years, and said he was “born bad.”
Per PPB policy, Kirby-Glatkowski’s interview by PPB Internal Affairs will not be made public.
On August 16, a Multnomah County grand jury determined that Kirby-Glatkowski was justified in his use of deadly force, and dismissed any criminal charges against the office. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office has yet to make the grand jury transcript—which includes Kirby-Glatkowski’s testimony—public.
It’s also likely the grand jury transcript will contain a toxicology report from Downs, which would show if he had any illegal substances in his body at the time of his death.