People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
UPDATES: People's Police Report #47 Help or Coercion for Prostitution Suspects?
In PPR # 46 we reported on the concerns raised by police, neighbors and the Oregonian's editorial board about the expiration of the Prostitution Free Zones. In a move that seems to resemble "The Secret List" (left), a program has been instituted that is being praised by police and the District Attorney's office but may be just another form of coercion for women who may have few other choices but prostitution. In February, the city established the 82nd Avenue Prostitution Advisory Council. Prior to the establishment of this Council, prostitutes who were arrested were tried in community courts and were usually sentenced to community service or short term jail sentences. There is no longer the option of community court, and if there has been a previous prostitution- related conviction a woman is offered a plea bargain in which she either enters counseling or faces a trial. According to the District Attorney's office this new program "encourages" arrested prostitutes to undergo counseling. As is too often the case, these "solutions" were discussed with no input from the women themselves.
In perhaps a more realistic view of the program, Public Defender Chris O'Connor asked why these women couldn't just be helped and pointed out that a conviction with probation was "just another barrier." Crystal Tenty, an outreach worker for Portland Women's Crisis Line, stated "I am a really huge advocate of choice and letting someone choose whatever is right for their healing process, so I really don't like the idea that someone can be mandated to attend counseling." She further pointed out that it is a shame a woman needs to get arrested to get counseling. Other advocates pointed out that this grant does nothing to target the root causes for prostitution such as lack of affordable housing (Portland Mercury, February 26).
Perhaps a better solution would be to have women who see no alternatives but prostitution to also be appointed to the Advisory Council to discuss the many reasons that force this choice. The current make up of the Council and the "do it or else" attitude will probably make no difference in the long run.
On March 19, a federal jury found in favor of Portland police officers Jeffrey Dorn (#29094) and Jason Harris (#34584) in a lawsuit filed by Freedom Child, a woman who was arrested and detained for riding a bike at night without a light.
On August 6, 2003, Child, then 51, was riding her bike home at night without a light. Approximately three blocks from her home, an unmarked, brown police car pulled up to her as she started to walk her bike on the sidewalk. According to Child, the driver, without identifying himself, asked her where she was going. She ignored the person and kept walking. She stated that, when she arrived at her house, she asked "Who are you and what do you want?" When the officers started to get out of the car, Child ran to her porch. The officers admitted in court that they chased her, then pulled her away from her house by grabbing her arm and her hair. They handcuffed her and took her to jail. Child was charged with riding without a bike light, and at the criminal trial she was acquitted of the additional charge of interfering with police.
Child initially filed a complaint with the Independent Police Review Division (IPR), but it was classified as a "Service Complaint," which cannot be appealed to the Citizen Review Committee. The IPR never interviewed her or witnesses, and her complaint was dismissed (PPR #37). Child then filed a lawsuit, asserting that her civil rights had been violated and that the police used excessive force, unlawfully arrested and detained her and maliciously prosecuted her. She sought approximately $100,000 in non-economic damages and $1 million in punitive damages, as well as changes to the IPR system.
During the trial, Officer Harris testified that his practice is to arrest misdemeanor suspects if they don't already have a mug shot and fingerprints on file so police can obtain that information. During closing arguments, Child's lawyer Steven J. Sherlag accused the officers of lying in their testimony, pre-trial statements and in their written reports. The City's attorney tried to portray Child as an unreliable witness with a grudge against the police. The jury found for the police. (Some information from the Oregonian's website Oregonlive, March 19).
Sherlag says though three witnesses and Child contradicted the officers' stories, the jury's decision shows that many ciitzens show deference to police despite the compelling evidence that they are not telling the truth. "It seems like a fundamental miscarriage of justice when Ms. Child's rights were so clearly violated," Sherlag told Portland Copwatch.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.