Is This Accountability?

jake dockter
4 min readMar 31, 2021


Image of headlines from newspapers showing Leo Besner, and with text like “Jury clears two officers in fatal shooting” and “Details emerge on police sniper’s fatal shooting.”

In 2010, then Portland police chief Mike Reese promoted Ofc. Leo Besner to sergeant. Besner continued to rise though the ranks of PPB. Promoted to lieutenant in 2016, he then retired in January of 2021.

Who is Besner? Why should we care?

“On November 4, 2005, officer Leo Besner was working as a SERT sniper when he shot and killed Raymond Gwerder. Family members and friends say Gwerder was simply upset and needed to talk but ended up being shot in the back by Besner (1).”

“Evidence from the scene of the shooting exposed an extremely flawed PPB operation. Besner claimed his fatal shot was justified by potential danger to Gwerder’s neighbors.

These were the same neighbors the police failed to evacuate over the 90-minute period prior to the shooting(2).”

“Besner later testified that he fired the shot to protect officers, children & adults in the area. Of course, he was cleared of all wrong doing, but the city still paid Gwerder’s family a reported $500,000 settlement…(3)”

Regardless of this murder, and other concerns, Chief Reese saw fit to promote. At Besner’s promotion to Sgt. Chief Reese quoted Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Opposing the promotion, Gwerder’s sister sent letters to Chief Reese and then mayor Sam Adams, asking for Besner to not be promoted. Rev. Chuck Currie joined her and responded to Chief Reese’s maligning of critics,

“Chief Reese, in a democracy, critics count. The PPB does not stand apart or above the citizens of this great city. We value the service of those who risk much as members of the Bureau, but many Portlanders have deep concerns about the leadership.”

Besner was promoted and continued to rise though the ranks, retiring in January of 2021 as a Lieutenant. The murder of Raymond Gwerder was not his only controversy.

“He has cost the city more than $852,000 from tort claims and jury awards in the past seven years (2010).”

According to Portland Copwatch: “Leo Besner (#27981) has earned the nickname of the “million dollar man.”

The Oregonian reported on Besner’s assault of Black men in PDX. “Fortunately for the men, two PSU students in a nearby car ducked down to observe the action without being seen by the officers. Their testimony led the jury to side with the men and order the city to pay $175,000. The jury considered that this might be racial profiling.”

You can see some reporting here.

“Besner roughed up the three men with Sgt. Chris Davis (#32024), who was involved in the fatal shooting of José Santos Victor Mejía Poot in a psychiatric hospital in 2001 (PPR #24).” Then Sgt. Chris Davis is now an assistant chief of PPB.

Besner also:

  • Attacked a “15 year old, Maria-Janeth Rodriguez-Sanchez who was roughed up by Besner while she waiting at a bus stop.” The city paid $177,000 in a settlement.
  • “Bill Ellis an anti-war protestor was targeted and punished with a beat down by Besner for his perceived leadership role in a protest.” $338,891.58 settlement and legal fees.
  • Regarding his attack of Ellis, “Besner may have lied on his police report as well according to a Citizen Review Committee hearing.”
  • “Besner also tasered 71-year-old Charles Lincoln in 2002 when he mistook Lincoln’s efforts to restrain a woman holding a knife for criminal activity.”

The Oregonian reported on Besner in 2009 and said,“Portland Officer Leo Besner could be the poster child for the city’s high payouts when police are accused of using excessive force.”

Again, Besner was promoted repeatedly. He posed a danger to our community but the leaders a PPB saw him as one of them. The mayor overlooked community demands and a grieving sister. The chief patted him on the back and mocked critics.

But please tell me how PPB wants to lead in accountability and regaining trust?



jake dockter

Fighting for liberation of all people, usually against people like me.