People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Rapping Back #49:
Cops Continue to Coddle Killer Colleagues
Police "Union" on Chasse Death: Trying to Look Good Only Makes Them Look Worse
The Portland Police Association (PPA) hired a public relations firm, presumably in the lead-up to their contract negotiations, but not coincidentally at the same time the findings were released about the 2006 death of James Chasse, Jr. (see this issue's article: Three Years Later, Chasse Case Stirs More Controversy). Perhaps the public relations firm should have warned the Rap Sheet that the choice of headlines for PPA President Scott Westerman's October column sends the wrong message. "In defense of police in the death of James Chasse" fully shows where the "Union" is coming from, despite Westerman's repeated efforts to call Chasse's death a "tragedy," and assertion that "No one thinks [Chasse] deserved to die." So, why not use a term like "A few words about" or "reflecting on the tragic death of..."?
Westerman's public stance has been that "Our members acted in accordance with Bureau policy that we have been trained to carry out." Despite Chasse's 16 broken ribs and the multiple kicks to his head, Westerman insists that the PPA will defend Sgt. Nice and Officers Humphreys and Burton "without question." He calls the brutal violence an "unfortunate string of events that occurred without malice and without intent." In his view, officers are allowed to beat a man to death because they face potential injury and harm every day, putting themselves in "perilous positions" to serve and protect.
Again, Westerman deflects responsibility from the officers: "It is easy to blame the police when facts are obscured, and now the realization that there is indeed, nobody to blame doesn't bring James Chasse back."
The only apology Westerman manages to squeeze out is that after talking to Chief Sizer about the proposed 40-hour suspension for Sgt. Nice, he failed to call Nice to inform him of the finding. Apparently, Sizer herself did not contact Nice either before speaking to the press.
Sizer also takes heat from Westerman for coming to the defense of Nazi-loving cop Capt. Mark Kruger after one Willamette Week story (see article in this issue: Nazi -Loving Cop Back in Headlines), while the three officers involved in Chasse's death "have been attacked and slandered in the media in... countless dozens" of articles (Rap Sheet November 2009).
Insisting management imposes too much scrutiny, Westerman claims that officers no longer write reports about suspects' behavior, only about their own actions.
PPA Vice President and Rap Sheet editor Peter Simpson chimes in as well, claiming that the Use of Force Board's finding that officers were within policy is the final word (Rap Sheet, October 2009). He expresses disappointment that Sgt. Nice is being punished for not demanding an ambulance when "on scene medical personnel reportedly stated that Chasse didn't need to go to the hospital." If the police are the only ones "reporting" what the EMT said, that proves nothing.
Simpson adds that Sizer apologized to Nice for not telling him about the finding directly, but the damage was done. PPA members expressed everything from "disappointment to rage," grumbling that Nice has been "hung out to dry."
Simpson praises Sizer for addressing the timeliness issue in a case that took three years: "Speed cannot trump thoroughness and fairness." This is odd, since Simpson also says that the long process has made the officers' lives a "living hell." Whenever I see the video of James Chasse being carried like a sack of potatoes through the jail booking center, I sense that is what a "living hell" feels like; the officers are getting off easy.
Recovering Alcoholic Cop Seeks Help
Sgt Larry Graham of the Police Alcohol Recovery Team (PART) wrote a piece in the October Rap Sheet calling for more people to get involved in guidance for Portland officers struggling with alcoholism. Only three people are listed on the team (Graham, Officer Rob Hawkins of Tri-met and Det. Lori Drew) and two of them are about to retire. Assuring the officers they don't have to have their names published, Graham repeats a fact we've known for a long time but is refreshing in its honesty: more officers die from suicide and alcohol than die in the line of duty.
Unfortunately, Graham still has a bit of a rose-colored view on what police do: "We step into other people's chaos and bring calm." Oh, really--were the beating death of James Chasse, the shooting of José Mejía Poot in a mental hospital, or the attacks on protestors on May Day 2000 or the Iraq war protests in 2003 means of bringing calm? Graham also says that the officers' role is to provide "wisdom, solutions and resources." Bring it on!
Strange and scary tidbits #1: Killing Animals for Fun
In a piece reminiscing about being scared by a house cat during a burglary call, retired Det. Dave Schlegel writes: "In the old days, cops on the night shift would sometimes shoot rats and opossums with guns and pepper spray for target practice" (November Rap Sheet).
Everything You Wanted to Know About OOPS But Were Afraid to Ask
Lt. Pat Walsh describes the functions of the Office of Accountability and Professional Standards (OAPS) in the September Rap Sheet. This is the office that Independent Police Review Division Director Leslie Stevens jumped to inside the Bureau after heat started coming down on the IPR in early 2008 (PPR #44). Walsh says the OAPS (originally, just Office of Professional Standards, or OOPS) was created to assess "how and why we do what we do."
Walsh says that his research shows that discipline of past actions is not as effective as changing future behavior. While that may be, so long as the police are enforcing laws against the citizenry using violence, it is clear that the "don't discipline" philosophy does not extend outside the Bureau. Furthermore, when the public hears about officers committing egregious acts of misconduct far worse than what any citizen might do in the course of their jobs and receiving nothing but training, it does not build confidence in accountability. Walsh says officers should be "pleasantly surprised" by his findings.
Perhaps as a joke, Walsh tells the PPA members reading the Rap Sheet that they're probably familiar with the Collision Review Board, which handles claims around officer-involved traffic accidents, having been there "a time or two... or three." Walsh also "humorously" suggests that the OAPS Program Specialist's job is handling "obscure or crazy public records requests from the media or lawyers thinking about suing you."
To reassure officers that being in the office that oversees Internal Affairs and Tort Claims (lawsuits) does not mean he has had a drink of "the Kool Aid," he suggests that they "ask Tony Passadore and Mike Geiger about their experiences." We can only speculate what this means; Passadore shot and wounded a suspect after a car chase in 2006 (PPR #40), and Geiger was in charge of investigating pervo-cops including John Wood (also PPR #40).
More Good Advice About the Internet
In our last issue, we reprinted some information the PPA offered up to officers cautioning them about the use of social networking sites. In the October Rap Sheet, more tips were offered including this salient simile for social sites: "Any tool--such as a firearm or a Taser--can be abused." The author, Dr. Richard Weinblatt at Policeone.com, warns officers not to ignore department policies or common sense, thereby sacrificing their careers "for a few moments of posting euphoria." Among his ten tips are: Avoid gun glorification, aiming a gun at the camera, or being too "warrior oriented"; don't show yourself partying; and avoid comments that will look bad in court. For example, "comments that imply the officer enjoys using force on people, especially certain groups of people, are being seized on by criminal defense and civil plaintiffs attorneys." Ya think?
Strange and Scary Tidbit #2: Cops Want to Hide Their Whereabouts
The Rap Sheet used to carry ads and articles praising the use of "Lojack," equipment civilians could use to allow law enforcement to locate their cars. So, it is interesting that an article in October's issue shows that GPS technology embedded in handheld devices being given to Baltimore officers "concerns police union leaders, who suspect that officers might face undue scrutiny." The AP article quotes FOP president Detective Robert F Cherry Jr.: "Let's use it... to enhance their job performance--not to track where they're going to be so you can scold them."
More Support for Killer Cops, This One in Arizona
Everybody's favorite think tank for police apologists, the Force Science Research Center (FSRC), wrote a lengthy piece about an Arizona officer who shot and killed a woman driving while her young son was in the car. The article, reprinted in the September Rap Sheet, labels the woman a "prescription drug abuser," condemning the press for sympathizing with an "attractive young housewife with her infant in the back seat [who] had tried to pass a forged prescription for painkillers."
The officer, Dan Lovelace of Chandler, AZ, was fired and put on trial for murder by a "zealous prosecutor." "Spurned like a leper," Lovelace couldn't get work even after he was acquitted for the 2002 shooting, but in July, the Sheriff of nearby Pinal County, AZ hired him.
The city of Chandler paid $1.94 million to the family despite pleas from FSRC's Dr. Bill Lewinsky that "It should have been cleared as a righteous shooting." News articles about the incident state that Lovelace felt the woman was going to run him over with her car, yet she was shot in the back.
FSRC uses the case to show how Chandler authorities allegedly framed the facts of the case to fit their theory. Not unlike cops' criticism of the Chasse case in Portland, Lewinsky declared the case "a classic example of...hanging an officer out to dry in a politically charged atmosphere fueled by media hysteria."
Strange and Scary Tidbit #3: Our Media is Government Controlled!
Lt. Pat Walsh, reporting on a Central Precinct officer who's now on active duty in Iraq, complained that "You will rarely see or read good stories about our soldiers' quiet sacrifice anywhere in the government-run media" (November Rap Sheet). Much like Pravda in the Soviet Union and press under dictatorships, it's clear that the media in the US must be run by the government, which is why the Washington Post exposed the Watergate scandal and the New York Times revealed many of the Bush administration's violations of the law.
The Portland Police Association does not set policy. However, some PPA leadership and officers express negative attitudes toward citizens and civilian oversight in their newspaper, so these ideas may spread throughout Portland's rank-and-file. The PPA's website is www.ppavigil.org.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.