Review Board Allows Police Threats of Deadly Force in Second Case
Professional Review Due; Member Resigns; Community Council Fizzles; "Guest Speakers" Have City Ties
The Citizen Review Committee (CRC), ostensibly Portland's "police review board," has continued to fall down on some of its main functions, having held only two full hearings in the past two years, missing the second opportunity in a few months to hold an officer accountable for threatening to kill a citizen, and being unable to coordinate an effort to create its own community advisory board.
Meanwhile, the "professional audit" of the CRC's parent organization, the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), continues to languish. The project has been on hold for over a year, with $60,000 set aside by City Council, presumably to hire an expert to review whether the system fulfills the needs of the community. Such a review was promised "in a year" when the IPR was adopted in June, 2001. The Mayor's office, which also oversees the Police Bureau, currently is in charge of the review.
Further hampering the CRC's abilities to move forward, a second member resigned (this time due to family issues), leaving just seven members on a board that normally has nine. Teresa Keeney had only been on the board for five months, lending a needed perspective on low income and indigenous people who get approached by police. Portland Copwatch has recommended from the beginning that the CRC be made up of 11 or 13 members, which would ensure more diversity and could offset such a high turnover on the Committee.
Case 2006-x-0002: Officer guilty of profanity for saying she would "put eighteen bullets in [a man's] fucking head."In an incident following a fight among civilians outside the Vue nightclub downtown, Internal Affairs Division [IAD] investigators identified a female officer as telling a man at the site (not the appellant) she would "put eighteen bullets in [his] fucking head." This case (#2006-x-0002) is the second in just a few months where the Bureau has sustained an allegation of profanity against an officer who threatened deadly force in the same sentence, the first being the case of Marsha Anderson (#2005-x-0003, PPR #38). When holding a pre-hearing on this new case at their June meeting, the CRC did not request that the Bureau discipline the officer for the threat.
More precisely, no mention was made of the threat because the IPR staff now claims the CRC has no jurisdiction to review "Sustained" complaints. This case is a prime example of why the IPR's new policy is flawed--the allegation was miscategorized by IAD, and CRC did nothing to correct their mistake.
In the original complaint, the appellant alleged that a male officer grabbed him, knocked his camcorder to the ground, and confiscated the footage he had taken--ostensibly of other misconduct by this officer against a different civilian at the scene.
The Committee had no discussion about any of these allegations, simply voting 4-1 to decline a full hearing on the case. The appellant had flown in from Las Vegas, and arrived a few minutes after the hearing was over, yet the CRC did not offer to re-hear the case with him present.
After the pre-hearing, the CRC asked the Internal Affairs Captain, John Tellis, what he thought about the officer threatening to shoot the man in the crowd. His response was that "you can threaten whatever you have the lawful authority to do," saying such a threat can be used as a "warning" or an "attention-getter." The CRC saw no issue with the fact that there was a crowd of people who were presumably not creating the threat of imminent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or anyone else, or that to fire 18 bullets at a single person could easily constitute excessive force even if deadly force was legally justifiable. In other words, even by IAD's definition, the officer should be disciplined (if not criminally charged) for making this particular "warning."
Beyond that, the CRC took it on the word of two attorneys--including Wayne Pearson in the DA's office--that the male officer had the right to take the camcorder away as "evidence" because the man was not a member of the media.
Failing to discuss these issues as part of the hearings process further erodes public confidence in the CRC as an independent body looking to determine whether police have committed acts of misconduct.
Case 2006-x- 0001: Man says he was stopped and searched without cause and that officers used excessive force in arresting him.We briefly reported on this case in our last issue, noting that although the appellant said he was slammed against a fence and down on the sidewalk, the officers claim they all "fell" or "leaned" against the fence. At the April meeting, a witness appeared who said he could testify that the appellant was not the suspect the police were searching for when they grabbed him. The CRC had sent this case back for more investigation, specifically for the witness to be interviewed and to obtain medical records.
Although it was suggested that perhaps the two citizens did not want to speak to police, but rather a civilian investigator, the CRC rejected this appeal 5-0. The claim is that since the witness and the appellant never expressed discomfort in talking with police, the CRC had no reason to ask for civilian investigators from the IPR to call them. The CRC needs to recognize that many people who file complaints feel uncomfortable being interviewed by police.
These are the only two cases which have made it to the CRC in all of 2006; both were "pre- hearings" which were not allowed to proceed to full hearings.
"Guest Speakers" Continue to Have City TiesAs mentioned in PPR #38, the IPR has been calling in "guest speakers" every other month for public outreach meetings. The trend has continued that the speakers all have ties to the City infrastructure. The May meeting, held in SW Portland's Multnomah Village, featured the City's Towing Coordinator, Marian Gaylord; the July meeting at the SE Sellwood Community Center, featured Jay Ausland of Project Respond (an agency which assists civilians with psychological problems, and whose second largest number of referrals come from Portland Police) and Officer Paul Ware of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).
Regular readers may recognize the name of Officer Ware. The CRC found in June, 2004 that he may have violated Bureau policy when he Tasered a half-naked teenager (PPR #33), and he made a presentation on de-escalation and CIT to the CRC later that year (PPR #34).
On the bright side, Ware was given the Nathan Thomas Memorial Award this year for talking down a man who held himself at knife-point in the Oregon State Capitol. No one was harmed in the incident. Ware also reported to the CRC that the state is now increasing its basic training of officers from 10 to 16 weeks, upping CIT training from 3 hours to 8, plus 12 hours in the advanced academy.
On the other hand, Officer Ware (and members of the IPR staff) made broad, demeaning comments about people with psychological problems. Ware showed his own ignorance in not knowing the difference between Oregon Health and Science University and the Veterans Administration Hospital, where he made a presentation, and did not understand a CRC member's reference to the closing of the Pacific Gateway Hospital after the police shot and killed José Mejía Poot there (in 2001--PPR #24).
Ware also avoided answering questions about the safety of Tasers, instead repeatedly referring to the electroshock weapon's "effectiveness" and asking the CRC "Would you rather that we shoot [the citizens in crisis]?" He noted that Tasers were devices used to "solve the problem and get the person to the hospital," asserting that after talking for 30 minutes or more, it's time to use the Taser. This assertion runs contrary to Bureau policy, which restricts Taser use to situations with aggressive physical resistance or suicidal behavior.
Ware also stated in his presentation that of 2000 contacts a year, 1/3 of people voluntarily go to the hospital; another 1/3 are brought in on the assessment of police, and the final 1/3 go "involuntarily." He said that doctors agree with police "97-98% of the time." Our math says this means that between 13-40 people a year, or 1-3 per month, are brought in when they are not actually "a danger to themselves or others." This implies that more people are improperly detained on psychological holds than are brought to Detox when they are not drunk (reported as 5 in a one year period-- PPR #30).
The IPR is now aware of their bias in choosing presenters. They may actually be inviting the ACLU to speak at a meeting this fall. However, the staff suggested that an upcoming presentation be made on "Meth"--which has never been the subject of a an appeal to the CRC.
Advisory Council Falters After First MeetingThe highly anticipated Community Advisory Council (CAC), which was going to be a conduit for the CRC to hear from community groups about police accountability issues, and as a means for them to get the word out about the IPR process, short-circuited after its first meeting. Much of the problem stemmed from the approach taken by the CRC: They anticipated one of the community groups taking leadership of the CAC and organizing future meetings.
Instead, members of Portland Impact, Portland Women's Crisis Line, Cascadia Mental Health, Multnomah County Domestic Violence, Better People, and the ACLU meshed with "CRC regulars" from the League of Women Voters, the NW Constitutional Rights Center, and Portland Copwatch. IPR staff, the Auditor and the CRC spent considerable time explaining how the complaint system works. Then, in discussion, a few interesting facts came out: members of the Latino community who are clients of Catholic Charities do not file complaints to the IPR because they feel it is "police policing the police," and homeless individuals who communicate with Transition Projects were having problems with police taking their identification and not returning it.
At the same time, more direct concerns were raised about the lack of independence of the IPR process itself. This led to a defensive retort from Auditor Gary Blackmer ("If you want to lose someone with experience, then go ahead and change the system" was the basic premise) and the concern from some of the newer groups (who haven't had time yet to experience the problems with the system) who said they were not interested in discussing reforming the IPR.
As a result, the CRC is currently in a holding pattern, deciding on a few possible ways to further the CAC concept, but likely not as a semi-independent advisory board as they had sought. CAC will probably become organizational representatives coming to the CRC meetings by invitation, or maybe gathering at special community meetings on certain topics.
If you think you or your group would like to plug in, you should contact IPR Outreach coordinator Lauri Stewart at 503-823-0146, also the main number for getting in touch with the IPR with complaints, commendations, or other concerns.
In Other IPR/CRC News:--The Tow Policy work group is coming nearer to recommending improvements to the Portland Police's procedures for towing cars. We have brought to their attention that the new system, in which the Drugs and Vice Division's Asset Forfeiture Unit handles many cars towed for traffic infractions (such as driving without a license or driving uninsured), may be unconstitutional. Though the City is towing cars presumably for "community caretaking" purposes, the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling on towing (see PPR #38) indicates that such tows cannot also be considered seizures of property for fear of violating the 4th amendment. We've also noted that the new flat fees of $325-375 are outrageously high for many of the people who will be subjected to such tows.
--The "Appeals Process Advisor" (APA) role, assisting appellants in understanding how the CRC functions as they head to hearings, has been formalized. Only two former CRC members volunteered to act as Advisors; the CRC needs to figure out how to set criteria for other members of the public to act in this role. Portland Copwatch members are not willing to do so as long as the APA is restricted from commenting on the substance of the appellant's case or addressing the Committee.
--A new subcommittee is reviewing the CRC's Protocols, meaning that it is possible the "pre- hearings" will be eliminated (or at least revised so that they cannot result in a person losing their right to a hearing), the CRC's role at cases that go to City Council (if that ever happens again) might be expanded, and other items may be implemented to make the process more fair and open.
--The CRC put out their Summer Quarterly report (#2.3). It included a column on comments made by Deputy Director Pete Sandrock to Internal Affairs, such as finding an investigator "inaccurately described Oregon law and PPB policy," and a case in which the investigator did not allow the complainant to access her written notes about an incident. The report also featured a list of sample complaints which, once again, did not address the outcome of those cases.
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