While IPR Director Continues to Weaken the System

Since their first meeting in December, 2003, Portland's "new" Citizen Review Committee (CRC) has held three meetings, in which its nine members reviewed seven appeals regarding police misconduct and voted to hold full hearings only on the last two. Meanwhile, the Director of the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), which oversees the functioning of the CRC, has been busy rewriting the rules of the committee to ensure it will remain weak and meaningless.

The first five appeals the CRC reviewed included two in which people of color alleged that the police treated them with disrespect because of their race. However, the multi-racial CRC declined to hear both of these cases. They never voted to move a case on to a full hearing until the first officer ever to appeal a "sustained" finding came before them. This pattern of apparent bias supports the concerns raised by Portland Copwatch that five of the six new members of the CRC are former government employees, with the sixth (Tracy Smith) being the sister of a police officer.

Cases 2003-x-0014 and 2004-x-001: "This is not your country, there are laws here."

In both cases 2003-x-0014 and 2004-x-001, the appellants alleged that officers made assumptions about their countries of origin and told them, essentially, that unlike in those countries, "there are laws here."

The first case involved an immigrant from Africa, who says that an officer who came to his apartment investigating loud noises told him, "This is not Africa, and you don't have a right to the Constitution." The IAD claimed that other witnesses did not hear this statement, and the Bureau concluded the incident did not happen ("Unfounded"). This is an odd conclusion to make, since a person making up a story about Disparate Treatment would probably say an officer called them a derogatory name.

In the second case, the officer allegedly told the appellant "I'm towing your vehicle...and if you don't like the laws, you can go back to Mexico" and "You come here and there are laws. This is not Mexico." (The appellant's heritage is Puerto Rican, although the comments are inappropriate whether or not the officer knew that.) Oddly, the officer was told to attend cultural sensitivity workshops, despite the fact that the Bureau determined three allegations of his possible racially biased behaviors to be "Unfounded."

Both appellants appeared at the pre-hearings, yet no CRC member asked either man to repeat what they heard the officer say. The findings in both cases should probably have been changed to "Insufficient Evidence," since there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove either allegation. However, the Committee voted unanimously both times that the Bureau's findings were "reasonable."

Even more distressing, before the second case was heard, Portland Copwatch was able to relay information to CRC members and the IPR staff of a nearly identical case in Houston, TX that ended with an officer being fired for making similar remarks. An Ethiopian cab driver used his cell phone to capture an officer telling him "I don't know what it's like in your country, but in the United States of America, in the state of Texas, we abide by all the laws" (Houston Chronicle, February 21).

As a side note, the police in case 2004-x-001 had the appellant's car towed because he had a Washington state driver's license with a car registered in Oregon. The man was able to have the car released to him immediately when he presented his paperwork. IPR Director Richard Rosenthal removed from the appeal the allegation that the stop itself was inappropriate, yet it seems that overall the officer acted inappropriately. To his credit, Rosenthal had both the officer and his sergeant "debriefed" about the tow even though the officer's action was "Exonerated."

Case 2004-x-002: "Quit being a fucking idiot"

After five unanimous votes to decline hearings, the CRC finally agreed to hear a case at their March 16 meeting. What is unusual, though, is that it was a case involving the first officer ever to appeal a "Sustained" finding (#2004- x-002). What makes it even more unusual is that the allegation, that the officer used profanity, is not in question. Director Rosenthal read the transcript of what the officer admitted telling the appellant, who refused to leave a restaurant: "Quit being a fucking idiot and leave. Get your situation squared away but if you keep standing here like a fucking idiot you're going to be arrested."

The officer, who identified herself as Officer Bridget Sickon (#41497), a 16-year veteran (but a recent Portland transfer), tried to justify her actions by saying she needed to employ a "high level of verbal control." Since the man eventually left the restaurant without physical confrontation, she says it was effective and thus justified.

CRC member Bob Ueland, who has been on the review board in all its incarnations since September 1995, jumped in before the pre-hearing even began to try making a motion to hear the case. Ueland fairly consistently defends police actions and questions citizens' behavior. Fortunately, newly elected chair Hank Miggins (a carryover from the old CRC) directed the CRC to go ahead with the entire pre-hearing process, with support from IPR Director Rosenthal. Ultimately, Ueland made the motion for a hearing anyway.

Former Assistant District Attorney Donna Oden-Orr noted that although profanity may be allowed in extreme circumstances as a control mechanism, there is a difference between name calling, as in this case, and using profanity in giving orders (example used by Oden-Orr: "get your ass on the ground"). Oden-Orr cast the lone dissenting vote (8-1), so the case went to a full hearing on April 20th. At that meeting, Sickon managed to convince most of the CRC members that being disciplined in this case caused her "confusion" in a later incident, where rather than use profanity she cracked a man's skull with her baton. Sickon told the CRC the man needed six staples. Instead of expressing shock at this violence (and the twisted logic that swearing was the only alternative), the board voted 6-2 to change the Bureau's finding to "Exonerated with a debriefing." If the Bureau disagrees (and Assistant Chief Grubbs made it clear that he felt the profanity was unnecessary), this case may end up at City Council.

Case 2004-x-003: Pepper-Sprayed Protestor is First Citizen to Get Hearing

After the officer's case was heard at the March CRC meeting, National Lawyers Guild attorney Steve Sherlag presented case #2004-x-003, regarding his client Bill Ellis' arrest at a protest in March, 2003. Ellis claims police used excessive force when they threw him to the ground and hit him in the head with a pepper spray can, and when they held him by the hair and pepper sprayed him in the face at close range.

Sherlag projected video clips that were taped on three different camcorders. He raised enough doubts about the "unfounded" findings that the CRC voted--in a very tight 5-4 decision--to hear the case. It will be heard as part of a public outreach meeting somewhere outside of City Hall in May.

IPR Director Messes Around With Process

Throughout these early meetings, the IPR Director hastily issued proposed revisions to the "protocols," the rules that govern the CRC. By rushing the new items through with a group where two thirds of the members are new, he was able to insert himself further into the process. While the Ordinance creating the IPR is clear that the CRC should be independent and hold its own hearings on the allegations of police misconduct, Rosenthal inserted the words "and IPR staff" into the part of the pre-hearings protocol designating who may ask questions to Internal Affairs (IAD), the police and the appellant. This is a significant conflict of interest since the IPR at the very least signs off on the IAD investigation being reviewed by the Committee, and sometimes is directly involved in it.

Rosenthal's comments generally discouraged the CRC from taking action to challenge any decisions of the Bureau, the Internal Affairs Division or the IPR, including changing findings, holding hearings or setting more meetings. The Director has also attached "no CRC jurisdiction" notes to many of the allegations in the cases appealed to the Committee, leaving the CRC no recourse if they wish to review those allegations.

Additionally, Rosenthal removed the procedure calling for two members of the CRC to review a case ahead of time, which previously allowed for at least some expertise and the ability to formulate a meaningful motion. Now all nine members are expected to review every case, leaving the Committee open to Rosenthal's suggestions... which he has not been shy to make. The CRC also no longer has to use specific criteria when declining a case, whereas previously they had to give a reason why a person was being denied a hearing as authorized by the IPR Ordinance.

The Director also convinced the CRC to re-instate the "Conference Committee," which the former CRC voted out of existence. This is an extra step between a hearing where the CRC asks the Bureau to change their findings and a final hearing before City Council. The "Conference Committee" and the pre-hearing requirements force citizens to go through seven steps before a final outcome is reached, as opposed to the five steps outlined in the Ordinance.

The Auditor's office, which oversees the IPR, arranged for professional mediators to facilitate the first three meetings of the new group, during which they drew up internal working guidelines. One of these urges the CRC to "accept its advisory role." The CRC, as defined by the ordinance, does much more than act in an "advisory role." Their powers include: Gather community concerns, outreach to the public, hear appeals, conduct meetings, and create other committees (all in Section 3.21.090 [A]). Only one committee (Outreach) created in official protocols by the first CRC, has been re-instituted. Another Committee will be helping Rosenthal's new assistant, former Corvallis District Attorney Pete Sandrock, develop criteria to review declined complaints. While this auditing is important, the case review should be one of the functions of the Policy workgroup, while creating the procedures should be done by the Internal Processes group (both of which are defined by existing protocols). However, Rosenthal seems intent on having as much control over the process as possible and these work groups may have had too much autonomy for his taste.

We will continue to monitor the IPR and the CRC. Meetings are generally the third Tuesday of the month at 5:30 PM. For more information call the IPR at 503-823-0146.


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