What a difference a few months can make.
Since our last issue ("PIIAC under scrutiny still can't get its act together," PPR # 22), Portland's Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC) has voted four times to change the findings of police misconduct cases investigated by the Internal Affairs Division (IAD). What's interesting is that the Citizen Advisors of PIIAC (the first step in the appeals process for citizens dissatisfied with IAD's findings) voted for only two of the four changes; two others were changed by majority votes of City Council (which is the final step in the appeals process). One of the advisors' findings has been upheld by Council; the other case is pending.
The most recent case appealed to Council (#00-15) concerned Dora McCrae, an African-American woman who alleged use of excessive force during a traffic stop (also see article on Dora McCrae and PPR #22). Unfortunately, because the evidence for use of force relied on a dead witness; because McCrae apparently fainted during the incident; because the white officer did not appear before Council; and because medical records showed nothing more serious than muscle "tenderness," the Council voted 3-2 for a finding of "Insufficient Evidence." What is noteworthy about this vote is that Commissioner Saltzman, usually the most timid member of Council, proposed a "Sustained" finding, and Commissioner Francesconi, who was elected as someone who could represent the African- American community, wanted to keep the original finding of "Unfounded," meaning McCrae's allegations were totally false. Commissioners Hales and Sten proposed the "Insufficient Evidence" outcome, meaning not enough evidence to prove or disprove the allegation, and Mayor Katz was forced to cast the third vote, her first ever controverting the police bureau. As soon as she stated her intention and her motivation, seventy people who had been rallied to the hearing by the NAACP of PSU walked out. (For more about the rally, see Racial Profiling article.)
A case heard three weeks earlier (#00-25) involved the traffic stop of an African-American man. The hearing raised questions about why the accused officer issued a traffic citation. Captain Bret Smith of IAD took his time before City Council to supply several potential rationales. For instance, the citation included driving 45 mph in a 35 mph zone, even though the incident happened primarily on a freeway. The officer couldn't recall the incident, perhaps because the IAD investigation took place two years later; as a result, the Bureau's finding on the allegation of "disparate treatment" (different treatment for race, gender, etc.) was "Insufficient Evidence." Commissioner Hales, disgusted with Smith's lack of preparedness and persistent attempts to defend the accused officer, made a motion to find the officer guilty based on the inconsistencies and the unrefuted testimony of the appellant. Sten and Francesconi voted with Hales, Saltzman was absent, and Mayor Katz predictably voted "nay." Surprisingly, she apologized to the appellant on behalf of the City, though it was unclear if she meant to apologize for what the officer did, or that the case took so long to resolve, or that she was unwilling to change the finding. Both of these cases have gone back to Chief Kroeker, who has sixty days to either accept or refuse the Council's findings.
Hales also led the charge in late November on a case (#00-10) in which a teenager was arrested after refusing to sit in his team's bleachers during a high school basketball game. Interestingly, the accused officer "lost" a lock pick he said he found on the boy, who denied ownership. The Bureau found the officer guilty of mishandling evidence, though the complaint was that he planted the "evidence" in the first place. Hales was outraged not only by the circumstances of the case, especially since the boy eventually did change seats as the officers requested, but also with Captain Smith's blundering presentation. Two findings of "Exoneration" (meaning the officer followed Bureau policy), were changed by Council to "Insufficient Evidence." This was the first opportunity for Chief Kroeker to refuse a changed finding from PIIAC as former Chief Moose did twice; Kroeker ultimately accepted the PIIAC decision.
PIIAC Citizen Advisors made the fourth changed finding in February (case #00-27). It involved an appellant who drove away after hitting his friend's car, ran briefly from the police on foot, and was then beaten and pepper sprayed after they caught up to him. Advisor Denise Stone found inconsistencies with the officers' testimonies. While the officers were exonerated for use of force, Stone noted that they stated different reasons for using pepper spray, including that the appellant wouldn't put his hands up when ordered to do so. The appellant stated that he didn't raise his hands because the officers were pushing him down onto the ground, trapping his hands under him.
Stone also found investigative deficiencies including repeated use of leading questions by the IAD investigator. IAD's second-in-command, Lt. Steven Bechard, first denied that the questions were leading and then, after being challenged, stated that leading questions are sometimes okay to use. Stone's report included a choice example of a leading question:
Sgt. Drum, IAD: Why did Officer B use the pepper spray? Was the guy still resisting?
Officer A: I suspect it was because the guy was still resisting.
Stone's report also indicated that the involved officers were allowed to read each others' reports prior to the IAD interview. Lt. Bechard claimed that the "Bill of Rights" of the Portland Police Association (PPA) contract with the City contains a section which allows such report swapping. (The contract actually states that "Prior to being interviewed regarding an IAD investigation...an officer shall be: Informed of the nature of the investigation and...other information necessary to reasonably apprise the officer of the nature of the allegations of the complaint" (section 18.104.22.168). Giving officers a run down of the allegations is not the same as allowing them to read each others' reports.)
Although PIIAC Bylaws state that the IAD Commander may give a statement only "subject to the Chairperson as to relevancy and competency and...time limitations" (2.2.2.[V][B]), Lt. Bechard launched into a lengthy prepared statement, criticizing Stone's report. He noted that this case was an example of why there needs to be more training‹not for Internal Affairs, but for the Citizen Advisors! He played segments of IAD interview tapes in an unsuccessful attempt to contradict Stone's statement that the officers never clearly explained why they used force. At the end of the meeting, Bechard suggested that IAD, the focus of PIIAC's scrutinywhich periodically conducts inadequate and biased investigationsprovide the training to the Advisors.
Stone proposed that the finding be changed from "Exonerated" to "Insufficient Evidence"; meaning that the officers may have used excessive force, but that there wasn't enough evidence to prove or disprove that. The advisors voted 5-3 in favor, with former cop Jose Martinez "chickening out" (his words, not ours) and abstaining.
On February 21, the Citizen Advisors presented their Third/Fourth Quarter 2000 Monitoring Report to City Council. Advisor Bob Ueland sat next to Chief Kroeker and read the Advisors' eight recommendations for improvements to police policy and the IAD complaint process. Some recommendations had been made repeatedly in prior years.
City Code gives the Chief 60 days to respond to the recommendations, but Kroeker responded to each one as Ueland read them, often smoothly evading acceptance by stating that the Bureau was "looking into it." The Chief (and Commissioner Francesconi) challenged the need for the proposals several times by asking, "Is that a trend or substantial pattern?" Ueland pointed out that the Advisors only see a handful of cases, and also, if a certain police action is wrong, once is enough.
One of the proposed changes was prompted by the investigation of one complaint that had been assigned to a sergeant who was at the scene of the alleged incident and worked with the accused officer. Ueland pointed out, and the Council and Kroeker seemed to agree, that this constituted a conflict of interest. They did not acknowledge the conflict of interest inherent in ANY police officer investigation of other police officers.
The Report cites 13 appeals heard by PIIAC from July to December, 2000, in which 11 IAD findings were affirmed, one finding was changed and one case was sent back to IAD for further investigation. The Report included IAD statistics for years 2000 and 1999. There appear to be many more complaints in 2000 because new categories were included, "Courtesy" and "Control Techniques," as well as two new categories of complaints resolved without full investigations ("Resolved Administratively" and "Service Complaints"). The reclassification also caused the "Use of Force" category to almost double, going from 118 in 1999 to 217 in 2000, an 84% increase. This is mostly because "Control Techniques" (handcuffing, control holds, and "hobbling"), formerly handled as "Procedure" complaints, were moved under "Use of Force."
For more information contact PIIAC at 503-823-4126 or go to www.ci.portland.or.us/auditor/piiac.
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