In early May, history was made as City Council, sitting as the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC), decided to send a case back to Internal Affairs for more investigation after the Citizen Advisors recommended to accept the Police Bureau's findings. The case itself (#00-03) is not earth-shattering; a man says a police officer tailgated him in the center lane of the freeway. After the appellant moved to the right to let the officer pass, he flipped his brights on and off. The officer pulled him over and gave him a ticket. In question is the tailgating, not the ticket.
With this decision, the Council signalled to the Citizen Advisors that sending cases back to Internal Affairs for more investigation (one of PIIAC's only powers) is something that can be done, even when the stakes are not as high as in a brutality case.
At the June meeting, the Advisors did choose to send back the only case they heard, but only for the production of missing pieces of the file that led IAD to decline investigation. In this case (#00-09), a man was stopped outside the home of his ex-wife and delayed long enough to miss visitation with his daughter. The officer came with the man to explain why he was late, and appeared to be friends with the ex-wife and her boyfriend. When the boyfriend and the complainant got into a physical fight, the officer took the man into custody. So now IAD will either begin an investigation (not likely) or come back with more pieces of the file. (Of course, if the review board had its own staff investigators, this step would be unnecessary.)
In another move toward strength, for the first time, PIIAC allowed public comment before coming to a decision on each case at their April meeting. While several comments were made that had not been part of the committee's previous discussion, it is unclear whether the public had any influence over the votes that night. (One case, #00-06 was sent back to be attached to a separate complaint involving the same officer and complainants.) Nonetheless, it was refreshing for the "Citizen Review Board" to actually allow participation from members of the general public.
Three weeks later, PIIAC held a meeting to discuss their ground rules, at which they decided to relegate public input to the end of the meetings, where it had been traditionally. Apparently, many of the 13 Advisors did not like the public input, and Internal Affairs Captain Bret Smith had declared his strong dislike of the process. PAC-2000 Chief Petitioner Dave Mazza criticized this decision, saying, "PIIAC is supposed to be a window into Internal Affairs. It is not up to Internal Affairs to close that window."
Smith also interfered in two PIIAC appeals. In #00-06, an officer allegedly treated a woman, her father, and a tow truck driver rudely at an accident scene; when the daughter went to court, the same officer made intimidating remarks to her, upset that she'd filed the first complaint. Smith "smoothed things over" with the complainants rather than take the case back for more investigation as requested by PIIAC. Mike Hess, staff person for PIIAC, thinks Smith's action was a great help; we find it disturbing that Smith would circumvent the will of the review board.
Case #00-02 involved Nena Williams, a woman who police dragged up a gravel driveway in 1996. Though PIIAC found misconduct in her original complaint, Chief Moose rejected that decision in 1997 (see PPRs #12 & 19). Williams returned to PIIAC in May with evidence that surfaced in her civil suit against the officer, Jason Francis. It seems that although he swore he never talked to anyone about the case, Francis did make a phone call to an ex-girlfriend about 9 months after the incident. During the call he referred to Williams as "fat," saying "nobody should look like that" and "she got what she deserved."
PIIAC initially voted against sending the case back, and Capt. Smith told Williams that he wouldn't find in her favor even if he did a full investigation. When PIIAC came back from a break, one advisor changed his vote, forcing Smith to make good on this promise. On July 11, Smith informed Williams that IAD was refusing PIIAC's request for further investigation. Surprisingly, it was Gene Bales, a normally reserved Citizen Advisor, who reacted at the July meeting by blurting out, "Why should we bother meeting at all if they [IAD] aren't going to do what we ask them to?" Williams has scheduled an appeal at City Council in August.
Also during that May hearing, the ex-girlfriend's testimony indicated that Francis had used the Oregon Criminal database (known as LEDS) to check up on her. When the advisors asked Smith if he would look into that allegation, he said it was too much work for something he didn't find terribly important. The May 31 Willamette Week reported that Smith could have verified the information in about 10 minutes' time. The head of LEDS is quoted, saying "I would think that if he is a captain of Internal Affairs, he might know that."
At PIIAC's July meeting, the advisors heard three cases involving alleged excessive use of force. In each case, it was clear that the appellant had failed the officers' "attitude test" and the result was physical assault. Though one of the three began and ended his appeal with a finding of insufficient evidence with debriefing" (it's the cop's word versus the citizen's, but the cop had a talking-to), the other twoa teenager and a senior citizeneach had their officer's use of force charges exonerated.
For more information call Dr. Mike Hess, PIIAC Examiner, at (503) 823-4126.
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