People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Sheriff-Elect Skipper Shares His Views with Portland Copwatch
On November 4, Bob Skipper won the election to fill the remaining two years of former Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto's term. Skipper had a leg up, having been appointed to hold the office from July until the election (PPR #45). Skipper was opposed by Deputy Muhammad Ra'oof, a corrections sergeant for 17 years.
Members of Portland Copwatch (PCW) met on October 10 with Sheriff Skipper, his Under Sheriff and Internal Affairs Captain. Our goal was to assess Sheriff Skipper's interest in and commitment to a civilian oversight board dealing with possible misconduct by deputies and staff at County correctional facilities. Being a non-partisan group, we asked Ra'oof about the same issues a few weeks prior to meeting with Skipper.
The Sheriff and his staff advised us that there is a review board of sorts, an advisory body of 6 people which meets when an Internal Affairs investigation arises to a certain level of controversy. While former Sheriff Noelle set up this board, Giusto never used it, and Skipper had not at that point. Skipper didn't seem interested in our questions and concerns regarding independent complaint intake for inmates and arrestees, independent investigations, or having civilians decide whether misconduct occurred. He seemed to believe that chaplains and counselors inside the jail system were sufficient to listen to and pass on concerns, while giving no credence to the point that these people are still part of the corrections system with power and control over inmates. He strongly expressed that criminal investigations should take precedence and feared that compelling officers to testify would contaminate prosecutions.
We also raised the issue of brutality, giving the example of corrections officer David Thompson, who bragged on line about punching an inmate in the eye (PPR #43). Skipper indicated Thompson's Internal Affairs investigation was coming to a close and there could still be ramifications. Beyond that he said his philosophy was to treat inmates the way he would want to be treated.
Skipper attributed the disparity in the population of African Americans and Latinos to the types of charges leveled against them.
In the "news to us" department, Sheriff Skipper stated that Giusto had pulled the two Multnomah County deputies from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) because of funding concerns (whereas Portland pulled out on principle in 2005--PPR #36). Skipper indicated he would not have done so and was not concerned about the lack of oversight of deputies on the JTTF, saying he would pick people he trusts to serve on it.
PCW will continue to pursue these issues with the Sheriff's Office and the Multnomah County Commissioners.
Check out the Sheriff's website at: www.mcso.us
Jail Deaths, Sick Leave Keep Sheriff's Office in Headlines
Throughout the fall, articles appearing in the press continued to relate problems concerning Multnomah County Deputies and jail staff. On August 28, a jury found former jail nurse William James guilty of forging a drug prescription for an inmate who died soon after (PPR #44). James indicated that he had received authorization from a jail doctor to give an anti-anxiety sedative to inmate Jody Norman. Norman had been complaining of chest pains and died in his cell. During the trial, the deputy district attorney argued that if James had followed protocol and called the doctor, Norman would likely have been taken to an emergency room. James testified that the physician, Dr. Todd Engstrom, told him not to call in the middle of the night to administer the drug, so James indicated this prescription was approved by telephone. Several staff testified that this was common practice, although Engstrom and other staff members testified James' actions were not common or acceptable.
Subsequent to the verdict, the judge sentenced James to 18 months' formal probation and 320 hours of community service (Oregonian, August 29).
In September, the Multnomah County Commissioners approved using $2.2 million in reserve funds to restore the Close Street supervision program which had been taken away from the Sheriff's Office in 2005. This settles a legal dispute with the union representing jail deputies, who will receive $750,000 in lost overtime. The Close Street supervision program had been transferred to the Department of Community Justice during the time the Commission and Sheriff Bernie Giusto were not working well together. The union had argued that the County did not give them notice or negotiate the transfer and the State Employee Relations Board agreed. The Commission approved $40,000 to hire a consultant to study the entire pretrial supervision system and to recommend improvements. The County also decided not to eliminate the jobs of the Community Justice employees who were staffing the program (Oregonian, September 12).
Shortly after the win by the deputies, Multnomah County clamped down on the abuses of excessive sick leave use by jail deputies. According to an arbitration ruling, the County can change contract language regarding the use of sick and compensatory time off. Sick leave had increased markedly in recent years. Now, deputies are required to provide a doctor's note if they have called in sick more than five times in six months, have fewer than 24 hours of sick leave left, or have received a warning about past use of sick leave. Changes have also been made to the use of compensatory time, which has now been capped at 96 hours per year (Oregonian, September 18).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.