PORTLAND — A Multnomah County grand jury has indicted a former Portland police officer on misdemeanor charges and accused him of driving into and striking a man seen running from a Northwest Portland skateboard shop that was vandalized during protests in mid-June.
The officer, Scott Groshong, faces charges of official misconduct, third-degree assault and failure to perform the duties of a driver, according to a source familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak about it.
Groshong, who retired in August after a 27-year career, was working undercover surveillance during the protests and driving an unmarked van.
No one from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office would discuss the indictment Wednesday afternoon. “I have no information to provide,” said spokesman Brent Weisberg.
But Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, issued a statement condemning the prosecution and suggesting that politics is playing a role in the case.
The indictment hasn’t been filed in court, but, according to the police union and the manager of the Portland Skate and Snowboard shop, the incident occurred just before midnight on June 15.
Groshong and Portland police Sgt. Chris Kenagy were doing surveillance in the area of Northwest Ninth Avenue and Davis Street and heard glass breaking, according to court records from arrests made that night. Groshong drove up to the skate shop and recorded one man reaching in and taking two skateboards and other snagging a third board before running off, the records indicate.
A short time later, another man walked up to the store, stole a helmet and darted across the street, said shop manager Kevin Nimick.
A video by an area resident caught an unmarked black van racing east on Davis Street up to the alleged helmet thief, who was running across the street near 9th Avenue, and shows the van strike him near the intersection, knocking him off his feet and onto the sidewalk.
Nimick reviewed the video and said it looks as if the black car “gassed it and kind of clipped the guy.” Nimick said he didn’t know the van belonged to the police.
The driver’s side door of the black van opened but no one appears to have stepped out of the vehicle, and the man who had been struck ran off, according to the video.
In the video, the alleged thief also appears to drop the stolen helmet and left it behind before he ran away, Nimick said.
The young man was arrested by other officers some blocks away but the charges have since been dropped.
The man, who wasn’t identified, later accused Groshong of driving into him and then driving off, Turner said.
Groshong contends the allegation is false, according to Turner.
The alleged thief ran in front of the vehicle of an independent witness near the scene and didn’t show any sign of injury, Turner said.
“Instead of the suspect facing consequences for looting, this veteran police officer finds himself the target of misplaced criminal charges,” Turner said in his statement. “Incredibly, this suspect now claims the police knowingly hit him with the undercover surveillance van when the officer drove towards him to document his criminal acts. That claim is false, self-serving, and runs completely counter to the independent eyewitness who observed the suspect running away from the scene of his crime.”
Turner said the grand jury didn’t hear from the independent witness when the case was presented by an outside prosecutor from Marion County.
“There is no justice when politics are injected into the criminal justice system,” he said in his statement. “We ask our community to be patient while the justice process unfolds. Wait for all the facts before passing judgment. We trust in our criminal justice system when the system fairly and objectively applies the rule of law. Once the full picture is revealed, we are confident that justice will prevail and the officer will be exonerated of all charges. We stand by our officer, truth, and justice.”
The skateboard shop manager said he wanted charges pursued against all those who broke into the store that night, the second time the shop was hit in about a week.
“We don’t want people thinking they can get away with it,” Nimick said. “We’re huge advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement, but I was looking at three white kids taking advantage of an opportunity. It’s too bad because it detracts from the movement.”
Nimick said he had been on the street protesting that night, and when he got home, he learned his shop had been vandalized.
He said he had no idea the driver of the black van he saw on video was with Portland police.
“It was a pretty aggressive use of the automobile,” he said. “I thought it was some vigilante bystander who was just frustrated with what’s going on in the city.”
That night, Groshong and Kenagy had radioed the description and path of travel of the men they witnessed initially smashing out the shop’s windows and taking the skateboards. Other officers arrested two men in their 20s on burglary allegations. One of the men acknowledged that he threw a rock that smashed the shop windows and he and his friend reached in and stole longboards. The burglary and criminal mischief charges were later dismissed.
A Salem police detective investigated the alleged police van strike of the pedestrian. A Marion County prosecutor is expected to handle the case against Groshong in Multnomah County Circuit Court to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Groshong’s lawyer Steven Myers did not return a call for comment Wednesday night.
Kenagy, who was riding with Groshong that night, apparently was trying to film the vandals on a videocamera from a back seat of the van and didn’t know someone had been hit by the van, a source said. Kenagy has not been charged.