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Family of man shot, killed by police sues city of Portland

The family of Michael Townsend believes mental health professionals should have responded to his 911 call instead of police.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The family of a man shot and killed by a Portland police officer while in the midst of a mental crisis has sued the city of Portland. 

In June 2021, police responded to a motel in Northeast Portland's Lloyd District after Michael Townsend called 911 on himself. 

"He was honest with the dispatcher," said Michael Fuller, the family's attorney. "He had bipolar and schizophrenia and he was asking for a simple welfare check."

Security camera footage captured the exchange that happened next: Townsend was sitting at the bottom of a set of stairs holding a sharp object in his hand. Townsend got up and began moving toward officers, and PPB officer Curtis Brown shot and killed him. Brown was cleared by a grand jury of any wrongdoing

"I don't think this killing was necessary," Fuller said. "I'm not going to stand in judgement of the officer. I feel the video speaks for itself. I think he got caught flat footed and he did what he was trained to do."

Fuller and Townsend's family blame the city and its policies. They say the police never should have been dispatched to Townsend's pleas for help — mental health professionals should have been sent instead. 

RELATED: Portland reaches tentative contract with police union

"There is behavioral health units," Fuller said. "There are mental health specialists. Unfortunately they were ignored, and the call was routed to an armed officer."

The lawsuit does not request a payout. Instead, Townsend's family requests a judgment that the city was responsible for Townsend's wrongful death, and an order requiring Portland to better train its police officers in how to respond to calls for mental health assistance, as well as a requirement that 911 dispatchers make "good faith efforts" to route calls for mental health care to those who have been trained in how to respond to mental health crises. 

"This case is not anti-police," Fuller said. "It's not anti-cop. It's pro-change in policy so these types of killings don't need to happen again."

Mayor Ted Wheeler's office and the Portland Police Bureau both declined to comment on pending litigation. 

Read the full complaint:

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