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Shortly After First Appeal Goes to City Council

In a surprise move, five members of the nine-member Citizen Review Committee (CRC), which hears appeals of cases of alleged police misconduct, resigned to protest what they called a "mockery" and a "sham" system. Chair Hector López, Vice Chair Denise Stone, longtime activist TJ Browning and new members Mia Butbaugh and Doug Montgomery all read prepared statements at the August 19 meeting, denouncing the lack of support for their efforts to fulfill what they believed the City had asked them to do.

The members emphasized, as they had at their June 21 retreat, that the Independent Police Review Division (IPR), which is the parent bureau to the CRC, does not provide them enough staff support, especially in instances when the Director disagees with the decisons they make.

The resignataions came shortly after the first CRC appeal went to City Council. The case of Merrick Bonneau (2002-x-017), in which he was mistaken for his larger, white half-brother and roughed up while being arrested, was heard on August 13. Under a protocol written by IPR Director Richard Rosenthal (who claims it was written by City Council, even though the hearing is, by the ordinance, to be conducted by the CRC), the IPR, CRC and Internal Affairs sent three-page summaries to the Council for review. On the two allegations of unreasonable arrest and incomplete reports (see PPR #29), the Bureau offered to move the findings from "Exonerated" to "Insufficient Evidence" (rather than "Sustained" as recommended by the CRC). These findings were changed prior to the Council hearing as a conciliatory gesture, rather than a result of applying the facts of the investigation to the Bureau's directives. This is a particularly odd finding (that maybe the officers did commit misconduct), considering that the Chief claims the officers acted entirely within Bureau policy. Since Rosenthal made it clear he did not agree with the CRC's decision, he used his allegedly "neutral" summary to make his opinion clear to Council. And, since Council made it clear they do not want to hear these cases now that they have final say over the Chief, they upheld the Bureau's findings. (Commissioner Erik Sten voted "no" on the second finding, stating he believes the officers were required to write the full reports.)

[Officer Clifton and Sgt King at 
Bonneau Hearing]
Portland Police Association President Robert King stated that the CRC was violating the City Code because they had decided to hear Bonneau's appeal after initially rejecting it and because "no majority" had voted to send the appeal to Council. Nothing in the code bars reconsideration, though the City Attorney has cited case law implying public bodies only have 60 days to reverse decisions (this was used as a means to squash hearing the Mejía beating case, and was brought up in Bonneau's case for the first time by Mayor Katz and Rosenthal at the Council Hearing). As for the "no majority" claim, five CRC members voted to change both findings in question and all eight members present voted to send the case to Council.

King also blatantly exposed the City's desire to keep the CRC toothless when he stated: "The CRC promised to us by the Auditor was an objective committee that would fairly consider facts and make recommendations to the Bureau or to you, the Council, but instead we have in this case, citizen advisors ignoring the ordinance to affirm a reasonable decision from the Police Bureau and instead substituting their own judgment." We guess that means the citizens are expected to go along with whatever the Bureau says.

In May, the CRC decided to hold a full hearing in case 2003-x-011, involving a man who was thrown to the ground by police after stepping off a Tri-Met bus. Even though the bus driver and other witnesses stated they did not think the man posed a threat to officers, the Bureau exonerated the police. One reason may be that the complaint was categorized based only on the allegation that the officer roughed up the appellant because he recognized him from previous encounters, instead of the possible excessive use of force. The hearing was postponed indefinitely in July.

The CRC then declined a full hearing for a man who claimed he was falsely arrested after a domestic violence report made at a gas station (2003-x-012). Even though there were contested facts in the case (whether a witness assaulted the appellant and whether the police laughed at him), the CRC seemed so distracted by the issue of whether the appellant had hit his wife that they did not examine the behavior of the police, the purpose of a police review board.

In June, the CRC held a full hearing for a young man who said the police had failed to cite the driver and conduct a complete investigation when a car hit him while he was holding a stop sign to flag traffic (case 2003-x-008). Because he was not a state employee, and because current protocols do not require police to cite someone (even if there is a death), the officers who came to the scene and let the driver go were not disciplined. Traffic commander Mike Garvey reported that there was no point in pursuing the complaint that the other officer failed to follow up to see how badly the young man had been injured, because that officer retired.

The CRC affirmed the Bureau's findings despite an eloquent plea from the young man's minister father, who complained that there would have been more investigation if his son had been a police officer or had been killed (his son was thrown 40 feet down the street and suffered a brain injury, two broken legs and a broken hand). They apologized to the young man, saying they were unable to do anything else given their limited powers. The only slightly hopeful outcome was that Garvey agreed the protocols were bad and needed rewriting.

The other CRC meetings were mostly taken up with discussions of policies and protocols. The June 21 retreat ended with the CRC deciding that they would nominate the new members of their Committee and eliminate "pre-hearings" (in which they decide whether to hold a full hearing). The first vote provoked the Auditor and the Director to change City Code (see other article). The latter vote resulted in a clunky, dangerously private system to review cases to decide whether to hold hearings on them.

Under the new system, Director Rosenthal prepares a case file for the CRC to review. The nine members are all expected to visit the office and mark "yes" or "no" to a hearing. If just three say "yes," a hearing will be held. The problems with this system include that many appellants will never get the opportunity to address the committee, there will be no public discussion of their cases, and, as far as we can tell, there is no set criteria for rejecting appeals. In other words, a person's appeal can be rejected just because seven people don't read the case or don't feel like hearing it (or, for that matter, if the case file is misleading or incomplete).

One of the CRC's two public forums was co-sponsored by the Portland State U. Latino activist group MEChA. On June 2, a ten-member panel discussed police shooting policies in light of the José Mejía Poot and the more recent Kendra James cases (see article). Roughly 70 people turned out and, despite a lively discussion, it is unclear whether this forum will do anything to affect policy. As with the CRC's two hearings last September (see PPR #28), the public's input has not resulted in any proposals from the CRC to the Bureau.

The second forum was held two days before the retreat to hear concerns about the structure of the IPR. A major theme was that the IPR is not doing what citizens want in terms of holding police accountable, being open and transparent, and improving police policy.

The dispute about choosing new members of the CRC was the subject of an article in Willamette Week (July 23). The article exposed Rosenthal and Blackmer as biased and uninterested in promoting change. Rosenthal told WW that when considering nominees, Blackmer "will be looking at whether or not the applicants will be willing to work within the law, within the confines of what City Council determined they wanted the CRC to be." This ignores both the huge community outcry that led to the CRC replacing the old system, PIIAC, in 2000-2001, and the fact that the "confines" of the ordinance are a matter of narrow interpretation by the Auditor's office, not clear legal restrictions.

Blackmer criticized member Browning, claiming her "main achievement" has been "drawing attention to herself and her ideology." Blackmer seemed to imply that Browning is "anti-police," but her history as a community activist, her speeches and her voting record demonstrate otherwise.

The highlight of the article is a quote from Sam Walker, a national expert on review boards, who expressed concern that people would not be allowed to continue as a volunteer if they worked to improve the CRC by gaining more independence. "They have the right to do that, I mean, that's their job," Walker told WW.

The new members will be announced sometime in September and sworn in this October. Now that the Committee (which already agrees with the police in about 80% of all cases) has been stripped of its more vocal members, the City will probably be facing the same major mobilization that led to the creation of the IPR, and maybe even a new ballot measure within months.

Many people suspect that the City created the IPR as a way to quiet critics of the old system. Even though the City helped organize the five-hour community forum on Kendra James, the CRC was not mentioned until the community panel spoke near the end. Similarly, the City's new team reviewing police policies invited Director Rosenthal to participate, but no members of the CRC. With police misconduct in the news so much, the City should have supported the CRC when they had the chance.

For more information call the IPR at 503-823-0146 or the Auditor at 503-823-4078.


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