Former Review Board Members Hold Hearing on Mejía BeatingOn January 22, six former members of the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) held a public hearing on the 2001 beating of José Santos Victor Mejía Poot. Mejía was a Mexican national who was shot in April, 2001 in a psychiatric hospital two days after the beating (see PPR #24).
The police were called when Mejía would not respond after the driver told him he was 20 cents short on bus fare. (Mejía suffered from epilepsy and spoke very little English.) Numerous witnesses told investigators they felt police used excessive force, including striking Mejía in the face and using pepper spray after he was handcuffed.
The two allegations filed with the Independent Police Review Division (IPR) in early 2002 were: 1) Officer James Ferner (#24817) used excessive force taking Mejía off the bus (which the Bureau found to be "Exonerated," meaning the force was within Bureau guidelines), and 2) Officer Cristin Bolles (#36265) used excessive force when she hit Mejía on the head with her flashlight (on which the Bureau finding was "Unfounded," which means the incident did not occur as alleged).
Five of the six hearing the case (Hector López, Denise Stone, Mia Butzbaugh, TJ Browning and Doug Montgomery) resigned from the CRC last August in frustration because the city refused to allow them access to the files they needed to hold an official hearing on this case (see PPR #30). Alice Shannon, who quit the CRC in November 2002 when her term expired, also participated.
The former CRC members held the hearing at the St. Andrew Community Center. Dozens of people from the community sat patiently as the panel of six reviewed the documents they had been able to cobble together without the help of the IPR. When time came for public testimony, people used their time at the microphone to discuss all matters related to police accountability, a process which lasted nearly an hour.
The former CRC members finally reconvened to deliberate on the findings and determined by two separate 4-2 votes that: 1) Officer Ferner used excessive force ("Sustained," as opposed to the original "Exonerated" finding), and 2) there was "Insufficient Evidence" to prove or disprove whether Officer Bolles struck Mejía with her flashlight (but still refuting the Bureau's finding of "Unfounded"). In a separate third motion, they voted 6-0 to request that IAD or IPR identify other allegations against the other officers present based on the investigation.
While this was an extremely important event for the community to get some closure on this case, and showed that the 6 members are truly committed to resolve police accountability issues in Portland, their findings ultimately have no power.
Unsurprisingly, IPR Director Richard Rosenthal called the proceedings "irrelevant" and pushed ahead to be sure the new members of the CRC would not do anything so proactive so long as he remains in his office (see IPR/CRC article).
Two months later, on April 1, the third anniversary of Mejía's death, the Latino Network and the Committee for Justice for José Santos Victor Mejía Poot held a community forum at Ockley Green school. The audience of about 100 people was treated to an exercise in which a "police officer" went up to a few individuals and "killed" them...and hardly anyone noticed. Event coordinators showed a video recapping much of the organizing done in the months following Mejía's death. Ex-CRC Chairs López and Stone presented their findings to a receptive crowd. The turnout included leaders of the African-American community and various social justice advocates who became re-activated with the shooting of Jahar Perez just four days earlier (see shootings article).
The former CRC members have not announced future plans but we hope they will continue to hear cases from citizens who have been turned away by the "official" CRC.
For more information contact Martín Gonzalez of the Latino Network via the American Friends Service Committee at 503-230-9427.
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