Where's the Justice for Whistleblowers?
Often at Portland Copwatch we are asked, "Why do you always write bad things about the police?
Don't you admit there are good cops?" And we usually reply, "The good cops are the ones who
speak out when they see other officers commit misconduct."
First Female SERT Officer Loses Lawsuit, Officers File for Whistleblower Protection
Two cases which were in the news this June reminded us of the importance of Oregon's
Whistleblower protection law (ORS 659A). One was the conclusion of a four-year effort by
Officer Liani Reyna to get justice for being subjected to humiliating, sexually-charged hazing rituals
after she joined Portland's Special Emergency Response Team (SERT--see PPRs #24-26).
The other is a new lawsuit, filed by two male officers alleging that when they complained about their
female supervisor engaging in "serious misconduct," they were threatened with retaliation
(Oregonian, June 14).
Rituals practiced by the SERT team included "strip club outings, simulated sex, masturbating,
[pretending to be a] supervisor having a bowel movement, [and] a form of discipline in which SERT
members would force an officer to the ground while another officer would sit naked on the officer's
face" (Oregonian, June 14). A jury of five women and three men inexplicably decided that
these activities did not create a "hostile work environment" for Reyna. Perhaps it was the photos the
other officers shared of her smiling, or the fact that she didn't file the complaint until four months
after the incidents occurred. Given that she was ultimately disciplined by then-Chief Kroeker (who
disbanded the SERT team for a short 7 weeks while an investigation was done, and who flew back
into Portland for the trial), it's hardly surprising she was reluctant to come forward.
Apparently, the Bureau is no longer allowing the hazing practices.
Meanwhile, Officers Mitchell Hergert and John Russell have filed suit against the City, Lt. Jeffrey
Kaer, Commander Stephen Bechard, Assistant Chief Jim Ferraris and former IAD Capt. Darrell
Schenck. The two claim that they tried to address procedural misconduct by their supervisor, Sgt.
Kimberly Adams, who urged them to take actions they should not (beginning a homicide
investigation before a Medical Examiner arrived) and not to take actions they should have (taking
note of drugs a homeowner admitted possessing after a break-in, interviewing witnesses, working
overtime on a homicide investigation). They claim Bechard threatened to transfer Hergert, who was
also threatened with discipline for asking for a lawyer, and that Russell was "reprimanded for going
outside the chain of command to file a complaint."
While we're not sure about the merits of these complaints (or whether the officers took the right
route by reporting them as misconduct rather than asking a Lieutenant or Captain to intervene), it's
interesting that they have cited the whistleblower statute in their claim.
After all, it wasn't only Reyna who's been punished for trying to speak out. Sgt. Dirk Anderson,
who reported on an off-duty beating by two officers, was disciplined in March, 2003 (PPR
#29). Damon Woodcock, who helped detectives investigate the overtime scandal in 1999, received
threats which were turned over to IAD--who then investigated Woodcock instead of the threats
Perhaps the City can adapt state law specifically to protect its local employees from retaliation for
Officer with Searched Trash Wins in Court
Gena Hoesly, the Portland officer suspected of using drugs and whose trash was searched in 2002
(see PPR #27), recently scored a victory as the Oregon Court of Appeals dismissed the case
against her in early April. While the City argued that your trash is no longer your property once it's
on the curb, the court disagreed, invalidating the search for lack of a warrant (Willamette
Week, April 6). The ruling upholds a Circuit Court decision from December, 2002.
Lawyer and Friend Win $50,000
Attorney Heather Bissell and her friend Christopher Babcox, who were roughed up by police (with
Babcox receiving 4-6 stictches, see PPR #35) were awarded $50,000 by City Council on
August 17. Although the Citizen Review Committee found Officer Jason Lile within Bureau policy,
apparently the risk of losing in court led the City to pay up.