People's Police Report Updates Setpember 2006 (Issue #39)

Stunning New Directive Calls for Tasers in Psych Wards; Amnesty Expert Visits Portland
...While U. of Oregon Considers Arming Campus Safety

The Portland Police recently revised their directive on handling situations in psychiatric hospitals by citing the 50,000-volt Taser as the "most effective control option" in such facilities. The Bureau was supposed to be making changes to prevent further incidents like the killing of José Mejía Poot in Pacific Gateway Hospital in 2001 (PPR #24), and the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) did recommend adding "less lethal" weaponry to the directive (#850.25). However, this seems like an inappropriate policy, since Amnesty International (AI) reported 25 of the first 74 people who died following Taser use had a history of mental illness (Forth Worth Weekly, 6/22/05). The formal adoption of the directive was announced at a Citizen Review Committee meeting in June, though the review board's input was never sought.

About a month after Tim Grant became Portland's first Taser-related death (PPR #38), a national expert on the electroshock weapons visited Portland. In late April, Mona Cadena of AI's San Francisco office (accompanied by Portland Copwatch) met with Chief Sizer and Taser training officers Tom Forsyth and Robert Day. Sizer generally deferred to the officers, who claimed that the Taser is safe to use. They noted that they follow AI's advice by creating their own training classes and materials, not relying on information provided by manufacturer Taser International. While some safeguards are in place, it is still not clear how the Bureau acts to prohibit the weapon from being used for compliance or intimidation purposes, rather than as an alternative to lethal force. It is also not clear that safety claims are accurate, with Taser-related deaths now totalling over 160 since 2001.

Dr. John Webster, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, found that Tasers may stop the heart from beating. He noted that previous research done on Tasers by applying them to pigs did not adequately replicate how humans are affected by electricity. (Unfortunately, to correct the error he cut away at pigs' heart muscles.) "Pigs suffered ventricular fibrillation when a Taser barb was placed within 0.7 inches of their heart; in humans, the heart is situated 0.4 to 2 inches under the skin" (NY Times, May 25).

Elsewhere, the campus safety officers at the University of Oregon in Eugene may soon be carrying the stun guns. Apparently, they are concerned about "a rising number of potentially violent confrontations on campus" (Associated Press, June 4). Note that the "potential" for these situations to turn violent will increase if officers simply have to squeeze a trigger to administer a a paralyzing shock and immobilize students.

On May 19, the UN Committee Against Torture issued a report calling for strict regulation of Taser use by law enforcement in the U.S, requesting that use be limited to incidents that would otherwise justify lethal force, and that use on those already in custody be banned.

The Orlando Sentinel released a report on May 7 studying 1243 police Taserings from 2003 to 2005, finding that "more than half the people were not violent or suspected of committing felonies." We hope to see a Portland-area paper conduct the same kind of analysis.

Giusto ReElected Two Weeks After Inmate Sneaks Sex in Separate Cell
Grand Jury Convenes Early

Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto managed to keep bad news out of the headlines long enough to win back his seat with 61% of the vote (his official opponent took 28% and write-in candidate Paul Van Orden received about 11%). Would the outcome have changed if news had broken earlier that on May 1, inmate Deray Willis created a fake body in his bunk, snuck out of his cell and gained access to a female inmate's cell, where they had sex? (While the woman said it was consensual, the act may constitute rape since she was in confinement.) Willis was caught when he pushed the call button in the woman's cell to summon a guard to bring him back to his quarters (Portland Tribune, June 6).

On June 22, Multnomah County Commissioners paid out $200,000 to the family of Dennis Saban, who was killed by his cellmate in June, 2005 while under Giusto's Deputies' care (Willamette Week, June 21). These incidents, along with the mistaken release of an inmate who later stabbed a man to death, were enough to prompt District Attorney Mike Schrunk to empanel the annual grand jury which reviews the jails several months early. Giusto said he will cooperate with the grand jury but hopes they will not focus on these specific cases, instead looking at the "big, large things that we do, like our funding levels" (Portland Tribune, July 21).

When asked why he didn't release the information about the sex incident earlier, Giusto claimed it was to avoid jeopardizing the rape investigation. Referring to the County Commissioners who grilled him about the incident, Giusto said, "They're entitled to their opinions, but I have nothing to hide" (Oregonian, June 9).

Police Officer Arrests Fur Patron for Attacking Protestor

In a rare moment of clarity, an officer from the Portland Police Bureau arrested a customer at Schumacher Furs. The man had knocked down a member of the Radical Cheerleaders who was protesting the store. Animal rights protestors have been picketing the furrier for months, with the business owners begging police to make arrests (see PPR #38). Presumably they wanted the protestors arrested. "Police are there every weekend to keep an eye on the fur shop and the demonstration--at a cost of $600 a week" (Portland Mercury/Blogtown, PDX, June 19).

Cops Target ZooBombers Again

The Portland Police have turned their attention back to the daredevil bicycle riders who race down Route 26 each Sunday night from the Zoo to downtown. About three years ago, Tri-Met had been ticketing the "Zoobombers" for failing to stow their bikes properly on the Max trains, and police confiscated the pile of bikes chained together at SW 10th and Oak and began handing out tickets (PPR #31). On June 25 this year, officers threatened to arrest riders if they rode through the children's playground in Washington Park. Apparently former Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson also asked Tri-Met to close down the Max stop early, but they refused, saying "the Zoobombers have been cooperative over the last four years." The increased attention may be due to a Zoobomber who ended up in the hospital on June 4 ( Mercury , June 29).

"I Ain't Got No Home": Sit/Lie Reconsidered

More than 70 years ago, Woody Guthrie, the famous folk musician, sang "I Ain't Got No Home in This World Anymore." The song related the terrible hardships of Dust Bowl refugees who left the devastation of their lives, traveling west in hopes of finding homes and work. What many got instead were illegal border closings in California and Oregon and police rousting them from the cardboard shacks they found themselves living in. It seems not much has changed in 70 years for today's homeless.

In December, 2004 the Portland City Council enacted the Obstruction as Nuisance Ordinance, (aka "Sit/Lie"), a sanitized name for dealing with those in our city who don't have a home anymore (see PPR #35). As was the case seventy years ago, the Ordinance gives the police the power to roust the homeless from our sidewalks. The Ordinance was slated to expire in June, but Council voted to extend it until November. In the prior 18 months it appeared the main use of the Ordinance was to move the homeless along. According to former Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson, only eleven citations were issued. Citations can only be issued after an individual has received a warning within the past seven days (Oregonian, May 24). Previous efforts by Portland Copwatch to obtain specific statistics regarding those warnings revealed that no such information seems to exist.

In May, Mayor Potter introduced a resolution before the City Council called the "Street Access for Everyone" Initiative. The acronym, SAFE, implies a predetermined mind set­that our streets are not safe. The initiative passed on May 24. A work group of representatives from law enforcement, businesses and social service agencies has met several times with the goal of presenting recommendations to Council by November 1.

Mayor Potter is encouraging the work group to focus on the roots of "street disorder" (Skanner, May 31). While various newspapers, including the Skanner and the Oregonian continue to refer to "disorder," the June 1st Portland Mercury states that "The premise of the mayor's ordinance--that downtown streets are unsafe because they are flooded with 'aggressive panhandlers' and public drunkards--is belied by a report released by the police bureau three weeks ago stating that crime in the downtown area has actually dropped by 19 percent." In recent People's Police Reports, we have stressed that perceptions and reality of downtown crime are at odds and that laws already exist which can be utilized when criminal acts are being committed.

To lump all people who find themselves living on the streets with the generic phrase "street disorder" only serves to dehumanize and criminalize them. The work group should give weight to developing and utilizing resources to meet the many needs of those on the street. Perhaps then these individuals will have a home in this world and won't be subject to citations, warnings and roustings by the police just because of their circumstances.


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