Stalls Citizen Committee

"Oops! Errant e-mail shows city failed to keep all records on cop shootings: Officials go on 'weird' quest to retrieve printouts mailed out accidentally." "Police-review turmoil seeps into public view." "CRC at a 'make-or-break point' over Mejía case."

These headlines must be giving Richard Rosenthal, director of the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), a big headache. But as reported in the Portland Tribune (July 4 and 15) and the El Hispanic News (May 7), the former Los Angeles District Attorney brought these problems on himself by trying to minimize the impact when possible misconduct is discovered by the IPR and its Citizen Review Committee (CRC).

The "errant e-mail" in question was a set of correspondence between Rosenthal and Oren Root, a member of the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC), who is conducting a study of police shootings and deaths in custody in Portland, 1997-2000 (see PPR #28). What the emails revealed: the Portland Police Bureau, in apparent violation of state law, destroyed original records in the investigative files including interview tapes and officers' notes.

While this was a potential headline-maker for Rosenthal, whose job was created after years of community demands for a stronger police review board, and who learned this information shortly after the shooting death of Kendra James (see other article), he chose instead to try covering up the information. CRC members, public officials and others who regularly receive materials for CRC meetings were sent copies in late May (unfortunately, Portland Copwatch's copy is not mailed out so we did not get to see the memo). Rosenthal went to retrieve all of the packets--including all of those that went to the 9 members of the CRC--showing up unannounced at people's homes as late as midnight. He even asked one member to cut short a romantic evening to retrieve the email (the member refused).

The police apparently began to keep all the records sometime after Chief Kroeker arrived. The issue of missing records calls into question how the PARC study can possibly determine whether the questions asked in interviews regarding police shootings are leading in nature. Sometimes this can only be determined by the tone of a detective's voice--now impossible since the transcripts that are all that remain in most of the 34 cases being reviewed.

The "turmoil" that came into public view involved the question of who should nominate the new members of the CRC. The City Code calls for the CRC and the Director to nominate new members to Council. That is how the first committee was chosen. Last year, the Auditor convinced the CRC to give up its power and let him, one resigning member of the CRC, a county judge, and a county commissioner choose the nominees. Even though this process ended up bringing two independent thinkers to the CRC (Mia Butzbaugh and Doug Montgomery), it did not involve the populace at large or the communities who are affected by police misconduct.

On June 21, when the CRC voted to reclaim their right to make the nominations (acknowledging that no member seeking reappointment should sit on the nominating committee), Auditor Gary Blackmer, who oversees the IPR, and Rosenthal became incensed. By June 26th they had introduced proposed new language for the City Code allowing the Auditor to name anyone he wanted to the nominating committee (and cutting out the CRC altogether).

After a brief period of time in which Portland Copwatch, members of the CRC and members of the public expressed their concerns, Blackmer replaced the original proposal with one that allows him to name three former or non-renewing members of the CRC, two members of the public, and the IPR director to the committee. While that was an improvement, he also wrote in that the Auditor will forward the nominees to council--meaning he ultimately can overrule the nominations.

Finally, as reported in PPR #29, the CRC had decided to write their own preparatory case summary for the Mejía case after Rosenthal refused to support their hearing the appeal with staff time. However, the Police Bureau refused to allow the CRC access to the Internal Affairs file, leaving them with only publicly-available information on the case to work with. El Hispanic News reports Chair Hector López said members of the CRC were "threatened with lawsuits" for wanting to hear the case, which has to do with the police beating Mejía near a Tri-Met bus two days before he was shot and killed by other officers inside a psychiatric hospital.

[IPR 2002 annual report 
CRC member Doug Montgomery, who had, previous to the early May meeting, tended to support the police position on most cases, said "I'm being told 'don't do it'...it made me angry."

Meanwhile, the IPR released its first annual report on May 6 at a Council "informal" session. That meant that the Council could not take any official action on the report--and weren't required to take public testimony. As a result, Chief Kroeker, Auditor Blackmer and Director Rosenthal took the lion's share of the meeting to look at the somewhat rosy report. When CRC member TJ Browning came up to give a slightly different picture, including some of these tensions between the committee and the staff, she was cut off partway through to allow another CRC member to speak.

Portland Copwatch did a lengthy analysis of the report, highlighting a number of important concerns, including:

--Reviews of shootings and deaths in custody investigations should be done by the CRC and take place immediately upon the completion of the IAD (or IPR) investigation of the incident. Instead, the PARC report only covers cases through mid-2000 and has now been delayed not only by lack of paperwork but by an apparent illness that "struck" Mr. Bobb.

--The CRC's standard for attaching proper findings to allegations should be changed from a "reasonable person" standard to "preponderance of the evidence," which is the standard used by most review boards and by the Police Bureau itself in attaching the original findings;

--The CRC should be allowed to make policy recommendations based on common sense, rather than being compelled to do months of research which has prevented a single recommendation from going forward to Council in the first 19 months of its existence;

--and, to be truly independent, the IPR should be given authority under the "Garrity rule" to compel officer testimony as a condition of employment.

The analysis also highlights a number of areas identified in the IPR report which need further scrutiny. The full document is available on the Portland Copwatch website at http://www.portlandcopwatch.org/ipr2002reportanalysis.html. The IPR report is on line as a .pdf file at http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?&a=10116&c=27727.

For more information call Portland Copwatch at (503) 236-3065.

The IPR office is at 503-823-0146.


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