People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
PIIAC'S LAST STAND: Chief Kroeker Disrespects Portland's Old "Police Review Board"...as it makes room for the new
Police Chief Mark Kroeker, in a remarkable gesture, refused to sustain a complaint of "disparate treatment" against a Portland Police Officer despite a 3-1 vote of City Council urging him to do so. Kroeker's memo to Council announcing his decision, dated April 9, was not released until May 4, the same day that statistics proving Portland Police engage in racial profiling were released (see article). Adding to that monumental hypocrisy, this was Kroeker's first time refusing a Council finding (former Chief Charles Moose rejected two sustained findings sent to him by Council). Also, given a statutory 60- day deadline, his response to Council was nearly two weeks late.
Council's vote in this case, which involved an African-American man who was followed onto the freeway and ticketed for going "45 in a 35 zone" (see PPR #23), sent a stronger message than was recommended by their Citizen Advisors. The Advisors to the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC) had recommended to keep the original finding of "insufficient evidence" proposed by the Bureau.
In the case of Dora McCrae, the African-American grandmother who was yanked from her van by Officer Timothy Musgrave in 1998 (see PPRs #21&23), the PIIAC Advisors and City Council voted to change that finding of excessive force from "unfounded" to "insufficient evidence" on March 14. Again missing his deadline, Kroeker finally agreed to uphold PIIAC and Council on his 119th day. It remains to be seen if there will be consequences for Kroeker's disdain for the law.
Kroeker was also required to file a written response to PIIAC's third/fourth quarter "Monitoring Report" within 60 days of its presentation on January 26. He did give elusive, non-specific answers to the recommendations at the City Council hearing where they were presented (see PPR #23), but City Code clearly directs him to respond in writing.
The first/second quarter 2001 monitoring report takes Kroeker to task for his tardiness. It also lists all 59 of PIIAC's recommendations which have been adopted since it was formed in 1982. Proving our point that an "Audit Model" of police review focuses too much on Internal Affairs (IAD) and not enough on general police policies, only eight changes (13.6%) had to do with police interactions with civilians. The rest were suggestions about IAD categorizing complaints, filing paperwork, tape recording interviews, and other no-brainer ideas which a board using non-police investigators would do on its own.
In a move which is a blessing for IAD, but a disaster for the St. John's and other peninsular neighborhoods, Kroeker transferred Captain Bret "Maverick" Smith out of IAD to be commander of Portland's North Precinct. Smith is being replaced by Captain Darrell Schenck, who has been in charge of Western Community Policing Center in Monmouth for several years.
It is unclear what will become of Captain Smith's sidekick, Lieutenant Steve Bechard, but we would think he might be transferred to the coldest outpost of the Bering Straits after his performance at PIIAC's May meeting. Bechard made more of his infamously dubious comments (see PPR #23) during an appeal by an African American woman whose complaint involved two incidents with a female Police Bureau sergeant (case #00-32). The first incident revolved around three answering machine messages left by the sergeant from a cell phone while knocking on the appellant's door (the appellant was not home). The calls included threats that if the appellant did not answer the phone, the sergeant would have her subpoenaed to a grand jury, stating that would be "an ugly way to do it." The mesages were left on the Friday before a three-day weekend. The second incident occurred when the appellant called on the next business day; the sergeant told her the case, in which the appellant was a witness, had been dropped. (The case involved the passing of a bad check, which would probably not have resulted in a grand jury hearing.) When the appellant asked for an apology, the sergeant refused.
The Citizen Advisors first voted overwhelmingly to request that the sergeant apologize. Then, as a Citizen Advisor made a motion to "sustain" the two-part complaint as violations of the "Courtesy" General Order, Lt. Bechard spoke up. Bechard acknowledged that the statements made were threatening, but argued that officers are allowed to make threats. He stated that if this case were sustained, then "any time an officer directs a person to 'give me your driver's license or I'm gonna take you to jail' or 'drop the gun or I'm gonna shoot you' would also be a violation of courtesy."
At April's meeting, a man who had witnessed police roughing up a street youth in Pioneer Courthouse Square appealed his case, citing the fact that officers had used profanity against bystanders (case #00-30). One officer admitted to rubbing a food tray on the head of the young person in retaliation for the youth splashing the food on him in the first place. The witness noted that the spill was caused by the other officer grabbing the teen's arms from behind. The "use of force" by the officer with the food tray was the only part of the complaint that was sustained.
When asked why no other witnesses, nor the victim, had been located in this case, Bechard suggested that he could have tried asking "everyone in the City" if they had been at the Square and witnessed this lunchtime altercation. Bechard's sarcasm pacified enough of the Citizen Advisors to uphold the Bureau's findings; the witness thinks more can be done and is appealing to City Council.
Perhaps as an indication of change, PIIAC's Advisors moved their final official meeting from a traditional Thursday to Monday, June 18. At this meeting, they devised a method to appoint Citizens to the new review board, the "Independent Police Review Division" (IPR--see article). Advisors made clear commitments to not be elitist or racist in finding new appointees. When Auditor Gary Blackmer, who is now in charge of PIIAC/IPR, refused to change the "Race/ethnicity" part of the application from "optional" to "required," normally subdued Chair Charles Ford said, "OK, Mr. White Man." (Blackmer since removed the "optional" language.)
Other highlights from this meeting to determine conflicts of interest and other rules for the new board: Robert Wells, an openly gay man, wanted to exclude anyone who had a dishonorable discharge from the military; Leora Mahoney, who has sat on the board for at least three years and, to our knowledge, never reviewed a single case, made comments about who should be excluded, unaware that her "foot patrol" T-shirt was singling her out as a friend of police; and Bob Ueland, who makes some tough recommendations as the head of the Monitoring Committee but usually defends police actions in specific cases, noted that IAD's refusal to adopt many of PIIAC's recommendations would probably lead to their losing the right to investigate themselves.
It is our opinion that PIIAC was able to have an open and honest discussion at this meeting in the absence of Internal Affairs officers. We look forward to IPR meetings also devoid of police officials until they are specifically invited to the table.
(Author's note: As the person holding the world's record for attending PIIAC meetings, I must express some sadness at the passing of this body, whose mediocre work was more than partly due to the constraints placed on them by City Code. Sadly, even if the most diligent, unbiased members continue on to the IPR, the new board will have no more power, except the right to select its own new members. I encourage readers to attend the IPR meetings, and to get to know the people involved, so you know who is making decisions about police accountability for everyone in Portland. Now is also a good time to help the citizens formulate how the new meetings will be run. Peace out. And Rest In Peace, PIIAC--Dan Handelman)
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.