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Story by Aubra Salt - The Oregon Herald
Published on Thursday December 9, 2010 - 12:42 PM
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PORTLAND -- Local citizens are outraged that a Portland police officer who killed a young man by inadvertently or not ended up shooting him in the back, has been promoted to sergeant.

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.

At the time of his death, Ray Gwerder, 30, was completing his final courses needed to earn a bachelor's Degree in Biology.

"Ray was this wonderful, sensitive, bright, young man, who was just experiencing a moment in his life where he really needed some help," Molly Aleshire, a long time friend and roommate, said. "Ray had the kind of solid integrity where you could always trust him to do the right thing, no matter what. He was one of the most insightful, and intuitive people I've ever known."

Evidence from the scene of the shooting exposed an extremely flawed Portland Police operation. Besner claimed his fatal shot at Gwerder 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.

As Ray Gwerder was talking to a crisis negotiator on the phone, he was shot in the back by officer Besner. Besner later testified that he fired the shot to protect officers, children and adults in the area. And of course, he was cleared of all wrong doing, but the city still paid Gwerder's family a reported $500,000 settlement indicating they had no legal argument that their own had made a horrible mistake.

"We've gotten a lot of feedback from family and friends that through this situation they no longer feel safe with the Portland Police Bureau," said Molly Aleshire.

Aleshire knew Raymond Gwerder like a brother. When she and her husband recently heard that officer Bresner was receiving a promotion they immediately objected.

"It just doesn't feel good. It doesn't feel good that we're going to promote this behavior. It doesn't feel good that when we're choosing our officers, is it just that we don't' have anybody better to promote?" she asked.

Aleshire isn't alone. Dan Handleman of Portland Copwatch agrees. Handleman cited four Besner cases totaling $1,191,052 in settlement and legal fees paid by the city. "To have him supervising other officers is of great concern because if he's going to let them do the same thing we're going to have more problems in the future," said Handleman.

Besner ranked seventh on the bureau's sergeant promotion list. With six promotions already given, Besner was apparently next in line.

Besner was also among officers who responded to a report of a fight in downtown Portland in 2006 during a St. Patrick's Day celebration.

A man involved claimed Besner punched him in the groin and used a knife to cut the seat belts he was wearing while he sat in a vehicle.

The city settled with two people in that case for $175,000.