Officer: 'The only thing I could think of... is that I was going to die'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Two Portland police officers were holding a routine meeting on the top of parking garage when they came under fire from a suspect armed with a shotgun, according to investigators who reviewed the incident.

The officers were not hit but returned fire and killed Santiago Cisneros, III.

On Thursday, Chief Mike Reese explained in detail what happened on the evening of March 4 and released dramatic audio recordings of the officers' calls for help.

Reese said Officers Michele Boer and Brad Kula had just left another call and rendezvoused at the a parking garage at 7th Avenue and Lloyd Blvd to have a "door-to-door" meeting and discuss the rest of the shift. Officers routinely use the garage in the evenings as a place to chat, write reports or eat a snack.

Boer and Kula were parked next to each other talking when Cisneros drove up the ramp towards them. He parked is black BMW sedan near their patrol cars and walked around to his trunk, Reese said.

By that point, the two officers had driven apart to get a better view of Cisneros. Boer was watching Cisneros as he pulled a shotgun out of the trunk, pointed it at her and fired.

She hid behind her door as shotgun pellets hit the front passenger side of the patrol car.

"He racks the shotgun and he fires it," Boer told a grand jury investigating the shooting. "He's holding it up at his shoulder and he's looking at me. We're making eye contact."

She was about 20 feet away from Cisneros.

Boer and Kula used their cars for cover and shots could be heard in the background as they frantically radioed for help.

"Somebody is shooting at us!" Kula yelled.

Listen to the radio recordings:

As other officers began racing to the garage, Kula said Cisneros then pointed the shotgun at him, so Kula jumped behind his car for cover.

"As I'm jumping or as I'm getting behind the car I hear the gun go off and it's very loud," Kula told the grand jury. "I'm like 'he just shot at me.'"

On the radio recordings Kula can be heard yelling "Shots fired! Shots fired!" to dispatchers.

Boer lost sight of Cisneros for a brief time and was looking under the car to find him when he came up behind her, Reese said.

"When I turned around on my hands and knees, he was right like two or three feet from me, the gun was pointing at my face," Boer told the grand jury. "The only thing I could think of when I was on my knees is that I was going to die."

But for some reason Cisneros didn't fire. It's not clear if the shotgun jammed or if he was hit by Kula, who fired 18 rounds at Cisneros during the melee.

After that, both officers managed to fire more at Cisneros, Reese said. Cisneros went down to the ground and dropped the shotgun, although he was still alive at the moment with the gun laying a few feet away.

Reese said the entire incident only lasted about 30 to 45 seconds.

"The officers acted instinctively and they reacted as we train them to do," Reese said.

Cisneros was an Iraq war veteran who struggled with posttraumatic stress disorder after returning home.

In a 2009 interview with KOMO, Cisneros said he had tried to kill himself just eight months after leaving Iraq. He said the military didn't give him the help he needed after returning home.

Cisneros's father said his son struggled to adjust to civilian life and had some minor run-ins with the law. Despite that, he said before his death that Cisneros had been working and generally doing better.

A grand jury determined the officers were justified in shooting Cisneros. (Read the grand jury transcripts: Part 1 | Part 2)


KATU reporter Bob Heye and producer John Tierney contributed to this report.