People's Police Report Updates May, 2007 (Issue #41)

Woman with Diabetes Tasered by Police
Vigil held for Tasered Teen; Family Files Suit

Tasers continue to be used by police against people with medical issues. Like the 50,000 volt shocks applied last December to Sir Millage, a 15-year-old suffering from autism (PPR #40), a woman with diabetes was zapped twice on March 10.

Late that night, as Brandi Hess, 26, was at her NE Portland home watching TV with roommate Dena Hinson, she began to feel a familiar uncomfortable feeling. Her blood sugar levels were crashing. Hinson called 911 for help. Upon arrival, police and firefighters found Hess sitting cross-legged in the center of her living room rocking back and forth with her arms crossed. When Officer Michael Hastings (#42381) approached Hess from behind and tapped her on the shoulder, she jumped up and became combative, allegedly kicking the officer. Hastings reportedly threw Hess against the fireplace before he tasered her twice--once in the left shoulder and once in the right thigh--when she was unable to obey his commands to put her hands behind her back.

Hess has lived with diabetes her entire life. Her friends and family understand that when her blood sugar levels drop past a certain point she can, like anyone in this common medical state, become confused and frightened which can lead to aggression. Hinson explained this to 911 dispatchers, and to the police and medical personnel as they entered the room. The police should also have known--authorities had been dispatched to Hess' address six times in the last two years.

Portland police later said they had no choice but to shock Hess in order to help her. The Portland medical community has expressed disappointment and outrage at the police tactics. The Hess family, including father Dan Hess who is a retired police chief, is demanding the PPB be better trained to handle medical crises "before they kill someone." Mayor Potter's office responded to the incident by saying, "we don't see any red flags." As for Hess, who appeared in news spots to be traumatized both physically and mentally, her statement to the community is simply, "I'm a diabetic, not a criminal" (Oregonian March 12, 13 and 15).

On January 20, members of the African American, Latino and white communities stood together in support of Millage, who was tasered at least 14 times and beaten by Portland Police. Speakers denounced violence of all kinds, including the police violence against James Chasse, Jr. (see article) and Millage, who was on hand as his great-grandmother, Pastor Mary Smith, sang, prayed, and exclaimed that "now is the time to make a change."

A few weeks after the 100-person-strong vigil, Smith filed a lawsuit seeking $3 million in damages. Her lawyer, Ernest Warren, Jr., told the Portland Mercury, "I think Frankenstein could have been reinvigorated by being Tasered that often" (March 15).

The vigil led to a meeting among members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance and other community groups with Mayor Tom Potter. One main issue was to review a Portland City Council "community policing" resolution passed in 2004 (PPR #33). Potter pledged that Chief Sizer was working on ways to make a kinder, gentler force such as handing out business cards at every contact (something Portland Copwatch has been seeking for 15 years!) and having an officer identify him/herself and explain the reason for a traffic stop. He also said he thinks officers use Tasers too frequently and the threshold for their use should be increased from failure to comply up to the presence of an imminent threat.

Street Youth Hold Protest at City Hall

A new Sit/Lie ordinance proposed in the "Street Access for Everyone" (SAFE) report was supposed to replace the Obstruction as Nuisance Ordinance, which expired January 15 (see PPRs #39-40). However, Portland City Council delayed voting on the new Ordinance because all five required elements in SAFE were not in place. Those elements are: A day access/resource center (location not finalized); public seating (a few benches added); more public restrooms (money set aside); an oversight committee (created by Council January 24); and a "High Pedestrian Traffic Area" ordinance.

On March 14, about 50 young people, mostly homeless, rallied against the still-pending SAFE Ordinance. The protest began at the waterfront and proceeded to City Hall where they sat down, demanding to meet with the Mayor or the Commissioners. Eventually, Mayor's aide Jared Spencer addressed the crowd, telling them the new law was "not targeting the homeless, but he conceded it would definitely affect them" (street roots, March 16).

Meanwhile, the February 9 Portland Tribune reported that the city has promised to provide $250,000 through June to help upgrade and reopen currently closed restrooms.

The article made at least three references to "vagrants." It also says that an aide to Mayor Potter made the startling admission that perhaps there are others than "just homeless people" who occasionally have need of a restroom.

The March 8 Oregonian also featured an article full of derogatory remarks against the homeless. "Reported crimes are down from a year ago, but an annual survey of downtown businesses lists panhandling as top among 'factors that need improvement.'" The article contrasted malls, which can "use trespassing laws to remove unwanted visitors," with downtown, where the issues of free speech and assembly limit "stores or police from regulating behavior."

It is not clear when the ordinance will be ready for a Council vote. The ACLU of Oregon, who helped craft the SAFE report, testified against the proposed language as it went beyond the limited scope of sitting and lying on the sidewalk, adding a prohibition on chairs and stools. The ACLU, the Oregon Law Center and the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) are all sitting on the SAFE oversight committee, which will determine when the appropriate services are in place. In the meantime, PBA vice president Mike Kuykendall is "fuming" because he and other business people worked hard on the ordinance and promised money to open the day center, yet sitting and lying on the sidewalk are currently not prohibited by law (Oregonian, January 25).

The proposed ordinance does not mention the other four elements which must be in place in order to make it enforceable; Deputy City Attorney Dave Woboril complains that doing so will require the City to prove all the elements exist every time they press for a conviction. If the point is to clear the sidewalks, not to secure convictions (particularly as these cases will be heard in community court), it is hard to understand why the Council deferred to Woboril's advice.

For more information contact the Oregon Law Center at 503-295-2760.


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