People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Portland's "Civilian Review Board" Holds One Hearing, Hosts
Considering that the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), Portland's "civilian police review board," has been functioning with fewer than seven of its full nine member roster at many meetings, they have been fairly busy. The question is, how much of a difference are they making?
Despite having five subcommittees, and members who also are participating in at least three other kinds of police oversight work, the board itself held only one full hearing in all of 2006just the third such hearing by the group since July, 2004.
Meanwhile, their subcommittee work is moving at a snail's pace, with much of it directed inward at their protocols.
The appointment of two new members brought their numbers back up, while a third controversial appointment could be bumping off Marcella Red Thunder, a member of the CRC who did not want to leave.
The Independent Police Review Division (IPR), which oversees the CRC, continues to defend the system in which police are reviewing the work of other police despite its as-yet-unused five-year- old power to conduct its own investigations.
Untimely Investigations Should Trigger Independent Fact Finding
Numerous cases before the CRC have taken 18 months or more for the Bureau to complete. The case heard in October was filed in June, 2004 and completed in August, 2006. Due to staffing cuts, workloads from shooting investigations, or just plain apathy, the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) is clearly not conducting their investigations of alleged police misconduct in a timely manner.
IPR ordinance Section 3.21.120[D] states, "If the Director concludes that IAD has not completed its investigations in a timely manner, the Director may determine that IPR should investigate some complaints." The other two criteria for the Director to conduct her own investigations have to do with IAD inadequately investigating particular officers or specific kinds of allegations.
Despite the legal authority to do something the public expects them to do, the IPR is looking at other possible solutions such as farming out investigations to Sergeants and other precinct-level supervisors.
Case #2006-x-0003: "If someone says 'stop resisting arrest' it should be obvious you're under arrest."
Two interesting facts about the case heard by the CRC on October 17th: It was the first case since 2002 to be heard without the extra hurdle of a "pre-hearing" (a step created when the CRC was holding over 20 hearings in a year), and the appellant was guided through the hearing by an Appeals Process Advisor (APA) who was among the five CRC members that resigned in 2003 (TJ Browning).
Process-wise, there was some improvement. Thanks to the APA, the appellant seemed well prepared and able to follow the process.
There were nine allegations in the case, #2006-x-0003. The man was asked by police at the 82nd Ave. MAX station to show proof of fare. He held up his wallet to show his bus pass to an officer. At some point the officer took the wallet to examine the pass and the man yelled "get your hands off my shit." The officer says that some spit hit him at this time. The officer then took the man to the ground, and other officers assisted in taking him into custody, resulting in injuries to the appellant. The appellant said the force used was excessive and included harming his wrist (#2), "kicking and stomping" him when he was on the ground (#3), and standing on his neck to pin him down (#4). The appellant noted that the incident left him bleeding.
The appellant also claims that the search of his wallet was unlawful (#7), and the officers never told him that he was being arrested (#1).
The Bureau found "Insufficient Evidence" as to whether officers told the appellant, who was from Salem, that they had a reputation for being brutal (#8), a finding the CRC ultimately appropriately upheld in a unanimous 6-0 vote.
The appellant correctly pointed out that the case was not fully investigated because the IAD did not interview "Officer C," one of those accused of stomping and kicking him. IAD gave various excuses including that the officer was working with another agency. However, they were able to interview a Deputy from another agency, so this is clearly a smokescreen. IAD also admitted that they did not make attempts to contact several "juvenile" witnesses.
The CRC initially considered sending the case back for further investigation, but in a split 3-3 vote were unable to do so. Members articulated the length of time since the incident as a main factor. However, if the officers were out of policy, they needed to be disciplined regardless of how long ago the incident occurred. At the least, an incomplete investigation should have led to more findings of "Insufficient Evidence." In the worst case scenario, police could be dragging out investigations knowing the CRC will be unable or unwilling to pursue a full probe.
In considering whether officers failed to tell the appellant he was under arrest (#1), the CRC voted 4-2 to affirm the Bureau's finding of "Unfounded." The officers allegedly said "stop resisting," but the appellant says they never told him he was under arrest until he was in the police car. In a rather Orwellian bit of logic, the IAD's position on this allegation was "If someone says 'stop resisting arrest' it should be obvious you're under arrest."
The question of an illegal search of the man's wallet (#7) should have hinged on whether the officer looked through the wallet before taking the man into custody. Although this question was not answered definitively, the CRC voted 6-0 to affirm the finding of "Exonerated."
On the question of excessive force, the CRC made inconsistent findings on the three allegations. On #2, whether Officer A "twisted and bent the appellant's right wrist...even though the appellant said his wrist had a prior injury," the CRC voted 5-1 to recommend changing the finding to "Insufficient Evidence." On #3, whether the officers kicked and stomped the appellant, the CRC voted 6-0 to add a "debriefing" to the original "Unfounded" finding. They suggested a variety of topics to cover at the debriefing, including that officers should "use other options" than force-- which is strange as the finding of "Unfounded" means the officers did not kick and stomp the appellant. Ultimately, the IPR Director's letter to the Bureau articulates what she believes the CRC had in mind, even though the CRC does not have a hand in writing that letter.
Allegation #4, whether an officer held the appellant down by putting a foot on his neck, led to a CRC vote of 5-1 to affirm the finding of "Unfounded." The CRC seemed to focus on the appellant's confusion about what body part was on him, rather than whether pressing down on his neck in any fashion was against training, policy, and common sense.
As it turns out, this violence was truly unnecessary. By searching the wallet, the officer found the appellant's bus pass was, in fact, valid. The appellant had an "honored citizen" pass, meaning the entire incident involving injury to a citizen was over an 85 cent fare.
IPR Director Leslie Stevens placed off-limits 3 allegations which the IPR declined to investigate (#s 5, 6 & 9), regarding officers asking the appellant inappropriate questions (such as "if he likes police officers"), snapping rubber gloves on in an intimidating manner, and lying about whether they saw his arrest (#9). Since the CRC is charged with auditing the work of the IPR, denying them the ability to review these allegations is contrary to the purpose of having a review board. This exclusion from review is a recurring problem.
At the November meeting, it was announced that the Bureau accepted the CRC's two changes ("Exonerated" to "Insufficient Evidence" and adding a debriefing), which is not surprising since they were relatively minor.
Side note: CRC member Llewellyn Robison explained that the appellant's behavior in this case may not have constituted resisting arrest. Civilians' natural reactions to being placed in control holds by police, she said, will seem to be resisting because they are in pain, and a "fight or flight" instinct kicks in. We agree with Robison that beginning the encounter with a more civil approach--including explaining the reason for a stop--could go a long way to prevent such situations from escalating.
New Members: One Fills a Non-Vacant Seat?
In early October, City Council appointed three new members to the CRC, reappointing Robison and vice chair Michael Bigham. Two of the new members were seated at the November CRC meeting, replacing Gwenn Baldwin (who resigned in March) and Theresa Keeney (who was appointed in February but resigned in July). The third, Robert Milesnick, is slated to take over for Marcella Red Thunder. Appointed by Commissioner Sam Adams in 2005, Red Thunder is a Native American woman with strong ties to her com-munity, which is under siege by both police and drug dealers. Unfortunately for Milesnick, Ms. Red Thunder never said she wanted to give up her seat.
Red Thunder was absent from at least five of the seven meetings between April and October, due to a conflict of interest regarding an appellant, and family and health issues. She said at the November meeting that she was never informed that she needed to formally re-apply, and had previously let the IPR know not to try contacting her through email, which she can't regularly check. At the December meeting, Auditor Gary Blackmer admitted that he "figured" Red Thunder didn't want to continue on. She indicated that Sam Adams' office had been given incorrect information. So it seems like the Auditor should take responsibility and ask Milesnick, a trained mediator who works with DUII suspects for the State and was once rejected from the FBI's citizens academy, to step aside for the good of the community. Unfortunately, Blackmer was adamant at the meeting that Red Thunder would have to go through "some kind of comparative process" to keep her seat, even though his actions led to her exclusion from the original pool of applicants.
If Milesnick is seated, it will leave Adams, Mayor Potter, and Commissioner Erik Sten all without nominees to the CRC.
The newly seated members are: Josey Cooper, a mediator who passed the tests to be an officer but decided not to join the Portland Police due to her age, and Sherrelle Owens, an African American woman and a social worker, who described both having family members within law enforcement-- and being racially profiled herself.
Reading the biographies of CRC nominees does not always show what kind of perspective they will bring to the group. However, from an objective point of view, the backgrounds of a majority of members of the CRC now have law enforcement ties.
CRC Finally Has Guest Speakers from the Community
After almost a year of city-related "guest speakers," the CRC's invited presenters in September, November and December actually came from community-based groups.
For September's meeting in East Portland, Monica Goracke of the Oregon Law Center spoke about many of the legal issues faced by people who are homeless/have low income. Unlike the presenter from the Access Street Intervention Program in March (PPR #38), Goracke acknowledged that people experiencing homelessness and poverty are sometimes the victims of police misconduct. Without an address or phone, she noted, it is difficult to file formal complaints. Goracke also explained that sometimes police are simply enforcing bad laws or policies, relating the story of a man who lived in his motor home being confronted with police threatening to tow his residence.
At the Albina Youth Opportunity School in November, Jason Dahl and Shauna Curphey of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center (NWCRC) spoke about their history and purpose, outlined their work on racial profiling (p.1), and pointed out weaknesses in the IPR/CRC system. These included the IPR's lack of independence, the length of time and number of steps it takes to get from a complaint to an appeal, and complainants' lack of faith in the system and fear of retaliation.
Cooper raked them over the coals, demanding data to support their assertions. One statistic, an IPR user dissatisfaction rate of over 50%, came from the IPR's own 2004 annual report. (The 2005 annual report still has not been published. The departure of management analyst Scott Warner may have something to do with that.)
An interesting contrast in staff and civilian response to the NWCRC's critique: Lauri Stewart, IPR outreach coordinator, dismissed criticism as people who were just out for "an ounce of blood," while CRC Chair Hank Miggins asked whether more citizens were put off by knowing that police investigate complaints against police, or by "the ineffectiveness of IPR."
Director Stevens brushed off the concern about being interviewed by the police, since many times the only interview done is with either Stewart or IPR Deputy Director Mike Hess. Interesting, since one criticism of the IPR is that after an intake interview, complainants say that they do not hear back from anyone until the complaint is resolved.
NWCRC explained that despite their concerns, they encourage people to use the system so a record of the incident will exist.
In December, Executive Director David Fidanque of the ACLU of Oregon spoke about racial profiling and the importance of reviewing police policies.
Other Activities of the IPR/CRC:
--When the Tow Policy Work Group was coming close to making recommendations, IPR Director Stevens steered them to give up their fast track plan and go back to the IPR's protocol, giving Stevens more influence in the shape of the final report.
--The Protocols Work Group has offered minor changes to a few of the CRC's guidelines, but got hung up on the City Attorney's advice for their existing protocol about reconsidering their own decisions.
--The Appeals Work Group is still, after 18 months, trying to proscribe a procedure for CRC members to present the facts of a case before a hearing begins.
--A new Work Group was created to look at "Bias Based Policing," chaired by new member Owens.
--Loren Ericksson and other CRC members are participating in: reviewing the Early Intervention System, sitting on Use of Force and Performance Review Boards, and reviewing Use of Force data from officers' reports. A "project consultant" is looking at the discipline process.
--Chair Miggins met with City Council members, and they agreed the CRC should make presentations to Council once or twice annually.
--The $60,000 review of the IPR, budgeted since June, 2005, is still on hold.
--The new PARC report on shootings and deaths in custody has not come out as of PPR press time.
--The CRC's retreat will be held Saturday, January 13, 9 AM to 4 PM at the Water Bureau Facility in N Portland.
To contact the IPR or file a complaint call 503-823-0146. For more info or assistance filing a complaint call the NW Constitutional Rights Center at [defunct by 2012]. For more info on the Oregon Law Center call 503-295-2760.
Eugene Police End-Run Personnel Division; Conduct Background Check on Police MonitorThe Eugene Police Employees Association (police "union") showed a lack of trust in the Eugene police review board when it decided to perform its own background check on Christina Beamud of Massachusetts, a finalist for the position of Police Auditor. The City's Personnel Division is charged with completing criminal background checks on new employees, yet the "union" conducted its own investigation (Rap Sheet, September 2006/Euguene Register- Guard). Despite officers' fears, the Eugene police review board will be an even more staff-driven system than Portland's.
• James Chasse Dies After
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