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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Portland, Oregon 12/14/1996

Officer Scott Westerman was sent to help a paranoid woman, but she had other ideas.

December 21, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Still, some part of him didn't want to hurt her and he deviated from training, pulling the trigger just once to see if it would have an effect.

As he fired, Sweany spun toward him and he saw the gun in her hand. Ream regained his footing and headed toward the door as Sweany's revolver swept across his path.

Realizing that his round hadn't had any effect on her, Westerman released his grip and pushed her away.

As he retreated, Westerman rapidly squeezed off three more rounds. Just as Ream cleared the doorway, Sweany's body crashed against it and the door slammed shut.

Retreating to the corner of the living room, Westerman directed the informant to prone out near Sweany, but well short of Sweany's gun. In this manner, Westerman had put all three potential threats — Sweany, the informant, and the mysterious friend — within his direct field of vision.

He asked where the third person was, but the kid insisted that no one else was in the house.

Near the front door, Sweany lay gasping. Incredulous, Westerman looked to the informant.

"Was she crazy, or what?"

"She was just afraid somebody was going to kill her."

"Well, it looks like somebody just did. Damn it."

Outside, Ream sought medical attention for his wound. His Lucky Line retractable keychain had lived up to its name: The bullet smashed the front plate of the keychain, demolished its inner springs, and penetrated the back plate of the keychain where it fused with his leather belt. The bullet had not penetrated Ream's body, but he suffered lacerations from its blunt impact. Emerging from the ambulance, Ream re-approached the house to help. But Westerman-not knowing if Sweany would get back up-told him to get off of the front porch.

Looking Back

Sweany never got up.

A grand jury cleared the case and Westerman returned to work a month later. Finally able to review investigators' findings, he was surprised to find that Sweany had actually attempted to shoot him first.

The third party "friend" turned out to be one Sweany had been speaking with on the phone at the time of Westerman's door knock. Nobody else was in the house.

It was also determined that Sweany's boyfriend had set up the five-shot revolver with four rounds so that the first time she pulled the trigger the gun would not discharge. However, the day before the shooting, Sweany had shown the gun to her friend and closed the gun haphazardly so the gun discharged with her first pull of the trigger. As the gun's cylinder was found set on the sole empty chamber, Sweany had pulled the trigger a second time during the four-second altercation.

Looking back on the shooting, Westerman recalls that concurrent with the time distortion and visual slowing came a kind of hyperkinetic thought process.

"I remember consciously thinking: Do I continue to wrestle with her over the gun or do I shoot her? I decided to go for my gun. I just don't remember getting the gun out."

Nor did he at any time anticipate that Sweany might pull a gun in the first place. Having spent several minutes dealing with Sweany prior to the shooting, he'd in fact become optimistic at the success he'd had communicating with her.

"I watched her go hot and cold on her own," he says. "It wasn't anything I said, as I'd been able to calm her down three or four times and had been an effective communicator. It was what was happening in her mind."

Westerman still finds himself reviewing the incident in his mind. "Nobody — and I mean nobody — has scrutinized this case more than me when it comes to what I could have done differently," he says. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about that encounter.

"The actions that I took at the time were consistent with our training and policies. But in hindsight" — and here Westerman emphasizes the word hindsight — "I can identify at least 50 different things that could have been done differently. Nowadays, whenever an officer anticipates dealing with a mentally ill individual, they'll wait for a cover officer before initiating contact. Today, there would have been two officers on scene. We would have done two-on-one custody, taken control of her arms immediately, and found the gun during our search-and nobody would have died."

Westerman had long been agnostic on his training kicking in when he'd need it. He'd always anticipated that he'd make conscious decisions. But his training kicked in on multiple fronts such as in his ability to compensate when his sidearm went out of battery. A convert, Westerman has since gone out of his way to attend additional training of his own initiative. He hopes that other officers will prove less skeptical on such matters when it comes to tactical and range training.

Both Paramedic Ream and Scott Westerman received Meritorious Service Medals for Valor for their actions on that fateful day. Scott Westerman now serves as a sergeant with the Portland Police Bureau.


Contacting Mentally Ill Subjects

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Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

kevinobrien8527 @ 12/22/2010 5:59 PM

Well... All I can say is I don't like Scott's tactics and complacency that allowed the crazy lady to control too much of the situation. I don't know how big Scott or the wacko are but for the life of me I cannot figure out why he could not control her. There are a million things this story does not have in it tto fill in so many blanks, but the important thing is Scott Westerman went home afterward and lived to get out and do his duty again. There - but for the grace of God go every one of us. Thought provoking and I'm glad the specific discussion of "Out of Battery" was brought up. At a recent training event we practiced tactical contact shots and no one made any reference to my Glock being O-o-B. In fact I didn't even know it could happen. This article may actually save someone's life!


Orange County, CA

dscoville @ 12/23/2010 11:24 PM

Among the things I truly like and respect about Scott - and there are many - is his sincere desire to spare others the heartache he and others endured. Whatever else, the tragedy (which took place in a very different place and time) might well have been prevented had the policy changes since implemented been in place at the time of the shooting. If there are any particulars that you'd like to have clarified that I can answer, please ask (I will try to answer herein). Finally, please remember almost every officer that I have interviewed regarding their shooting has expressed a wish that they could go back and do something different with the advantage of hindsight. The difference is that they are bravely willing to say so for the record.

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