People's Police Report Updates September 2005 (Issue #36)

Portland Copwatch Notes Obstructive Eateries

On a recent Friday evening two Portland Copwatch members walking through downtown came upon numerous sidewalk cafés filled with people enjoying their meal and the weather. The question immediately came to mind as to whether or not these cafés were in compliance with the Sit-Lie Ordinance, which requires a minimum six feet of unobstructed passageway in the middle of all sidewalks (see PPR #35). A subsequent visit to check the measurements as they are specified in the Ordinance found a number of possible violations. Restaurants seeming not to be in compliance were Big Town Hero, Pazzeria, Daily Grill, Virginia Café, Starbucks (9th & Taylor), South Park and Greek Cusina. Copwatch will contact City agencies to determine if abatements have been issued or, if not, whether some cafés are in violation of the Sit-Lie Ordinance. We wonder if enforcement against these restaurants is the same as against the poor and homeless. If it appears there is selective enforcement of the Ordinance, then clearly business and profits have a higher place in the community than the right of homeless people to sit on these same sidewalks.

[Sit/Lie warning 
The Sit-Lie Warning Card handed out by the police amazingly is even more convoluted than the Ordinance itself. It would take various measuring devices and legal counsel to interpret it. One example, "It is OK to kneel or sit with legs drawn up (90 degree knee bend) and to put belongings on the ground within 2 feet of you at all times of the day ONLY along the curb and along buildings or the private property line EXCEPT: NOT within 18 feet of a corner, NOT when the person or belongings block access to an amenity or display window, NOT on the bus mall, and NOT on sidewalks where there is a MAX stop." It is doubtful restaurant owners and sidewalk café diners are making sure they fit within all these provisions.

A reliable source has reported that some of these cards were handed out by mounted police to anyone who seemed to fit their profile of homelessness and poverty. Of course, many of those selected were scared and intimidated which may well have been one of the purposes of using police on horses to hand out the cards. Cossacks, anyone?

Copwatch continues to collect statistics regarding the issuance of warnings and violations and to whom these are being issued; this information will appear in subsequent issues of the PPR.

Where's the Justice for Whistleblowers?
First Female SERT Officer Loses Lawsuit, Officers File for Whistleblower Protection

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."

[Jury clears elite police 
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 (PPR #26).

Perhaps the City can adapt state law specifically to protect its local employees from retaliation for speaking out.

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.

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