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Busy Times For Portland's Civilian Review Board
Five Reports, Two Hearings in Two Months Plus Sustained Finding in Taser Case Show Strength

The months of June and July were among the busiest in the history of the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR) and the Citizen Review Committee (CRC). The IPR brought its annual report to City

Council on June 30, and the OIR report on the James Chasse Jr. beating death on July 28 (see article). The CRC went to Council on three other occasions: June 2 for the Bias-Based Policing report (see article); July 14 for the Structure Review report (see article); and July 15 for their analysis of two PARC reports on shootings and deaths (same article). The CRC also held two appeal hearings on misconduct complaints (details below). At their May meeting, they were informed that their effort to sustain a complaint against Officer Ronald Frashour for misuse of a Taser had been accepted by Chief Sizer, after she initially balked (PPR #50). All in all, these are signs of the growing strength of the CRC, and to some extent, the IPR. In addition, a Stakeholder group reviewing the IPR's structure has been meeting to form recommendations to Council for further changes (same article).

Case #2009-X-0008: Road Rage? Officer Offers to Provide Law Enforcement Services at Site of Own Car Accident

The appeal heard at CRC's June meeting, case #2009-x-0008, involved a civilian who says that off- duty officer Sean Christian (#30281) sideswiped him in an incident of road rage while driving on I- 84 in January, 2009. He further alleged that the officer pounded on his car window, and slammed his badge on the windshield to indicate the appellant did not have to call for a responding officer, since he was with the police. The witness to this incident was an on-duty Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy driving a van.

Both the Deputy and the appellant called 911 to request a responding officer, since the Deputy was not a patrol officer. However, only the Deputy's 911 call was found when the Bureau's Internal Affairs Division (IAD) conducted their investigation. The night of the hearing, the appellant provided a phone record which showed that he indeed had also called 911. CRC did not feel that information on the recording would change the outcome of the case. IAD/Professional Standards Captain Ed Brumfield said that he would try to track down the 911 call, which may have gone to a neighboring county or even Washington state due to both the location of the accident and where the appellant's phone was registered.

As in the 2008 case heard by CRC about an off-duty officer at home in Silverton pointing a gun at a couple and failing to call for backup (#2007-x-0008/PPR #44), this case should revolve around the question of whether the officer followed Bureau policy for off duty conduct. That Directive, #311.30, calls for officers to assess the seriousness of a situation before offering assistance, to defer to on duty law enforcement, and, importantly, that officers "shall not make arrests, issue citations, or use their official position to gain an advantage in a personal conflict." Clearly, an officer trying to act as a neutral party gathering information at a traffic accident should not be one of the people involved in that accident.

Internal Affairs and IPR focused instead on #313.00 "Misuse of Official Position or Identification," which mostly focuses on financial gain and obtaining special privileges, but also for "avoiding consequences of illegal actions." While it is possible Officer Christian also violated this Directive, a Portland officer eventually arrived on scene in response to the 911 calls. IPR and IAD also considered Directive 310.40, Courtesy, on the question of whether the officer calmly put his badge on the appellant's windshield, or slammed it down. But the manner of flashing the badge does not address whether Christian should have shown his badge at all.

Member Jeff Bissonnette asked Lt. Alexander, Christian's supervisor, whether he (Bissonnette) could have persuaded the appellant to exchange information before a responding officer arrived. The Lieutenant admitted that an ordinary civilian who is not an officer would have had to wait.

The original finding on this allegation was "Exonerated with debriefing," meaning the officer did what was alleged, but was within Bureau policy. While two members disagreed that there was even a possibility Christian was out of policy (Lewellyn Robison and Chair Michael Bigham), a third wanted to "Sustain" the complaint (Lindsey Detweiler). CRC voted 4-3 to recommend the Bureau change the finding to "Unproven with a debriefing," meaning there was not enough evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.

Allegation #3, that the officer pounded on the appellant's car window with a key, was found "Exonerated." Lt. Alexander claimed Christian rapping on the window was "nothing untoward," a judgment call: the witness (Deputy) remembered the officer tapped lightly on the window; Officer Christian did not recall going to the window; and the appellant said the officer "pounded" on the window.

Noting that the Bureau did not have 50%+1 evidence, member Bissonnette proposed the finding be changed to "Unproven." CRC member Ayoob Ramjan voted no, as did member Robison, who did not believe the appellant's version of events because she personally would have put her keys back in her pocket by the time the alleged pounding happened. She often makes such statements and should consider leaving the CRC. The vote was 5-2 to change the finding to "Unproven."

Allegation #2 was that the officer engaged in "road rage." CRC voted 7-0 to uphold the "Unproven" finding. In the Bureau's "disposition letter" to the appellant, Lt. Eric Schober of IAD states that "Lt. Alexander noted that if there was any circumstantial evidence to suggest that... one of the drivers was on the verge of road rage, it would have been you based on your aggressive driving and odd behavior after the accident occurred."

In their response to Allegation #1, that the officer had failed to observe traffic laws, the letter accuses the appellant of causing the accident by speeding and changing lanes too quickly. During the hearing, Lt. Alexander, who is cited in the letter as finding no evidence that the officer violated the traffic code, stated that his purpose in reviewing the transcripts was to focus on the allegations, not try to determine who was at fault in the accident. It appears that either Lt. Schober misquoted Alexander, or Alexander lied to the CRC. Portland Copwatch (PCW) told IPR and CRC that disposition letters should not take an accusatory tone toward the complainants, rather only focus on whether the allegations are supported by the evidence.

The finding on the "Improper driving" allegation was "Unproven," which we assume from the tone of the letter means, in this case, that the actions did not occur as the appellant alleged (formerly "Unfounded"). CRC upheld this finding with no discussion in a 7-0 vote.

PCW publicly thanked the officer for participating in the hearing. While the two proposed changes threw his behavior into question, he was not found out of policy. Hearing the officer's perspective, and the moderate apology he offered to the appellant, was invaluable both for the CRC's process and for the general public observing the hearing.

Case 2009-X-0007: When You're Free to Go, What Happens When Police Approach You Again?

The hearing held in July for case #2009-x-0007 focused mostly on an incident from April, 2009, in which a woman says an officer harassed and intimidated her. Specifically, she had been riding in her boyfriend's car when an Officer Jensen pulled them over for a traffic infraction. Her boyfriend asked if she was free to leave, the officer said yes, and she got out of the car and walked away. Apparently, the officer then called for backup to scour the area looking for her, informing officers that she had a history with gun ownership and had been accused of crimes in the past. Officer Seth McLaughlin (#15616) found her talking in a phone booth nearby. She says he pulled the police car up to the phone booth, blocking her in; McLaughlin (who appeared at the hearing, though Jensen was on vacation and did not) said he leaned on a concrete post nearby, waiting for her to finish her call.

The CRC considered six allegations, affirming all of the Bureau's original decisions: "Unproven" findings that McLaughlin blocked her in, harassed her, laughed at her, and didn't call a supervisor when requested, and "Exonerated" findings that McLaughlin conducted a search without consent and that Jensen later stopped the woman and her boyfriend several times on petty violations.

Although the appellant had an Appeals Process Advisor (APA), former CRC member Sherelle Owens, Owens was prohibited by policy from addressing the board during the hearing. However, she took off her APA hat and spoke for two minutes during public input, making excellent points about (a) how an officer's mere presence is considered a level of force, albeit low on the scale, and (b) while some argued the appellant could have walked away from the phone booth, why would you walk away a second time after the police followed you the first time? After CRC Chair Mike Bigham reluctantly agreed to let Owens speak, member Hank Miggins expressed his deep concern that she had violated the policy. We strongly disagree, and continue to be alarmed at Miggins' intransigence on this subject-- while officers can automatically get union representation, civilians have to hope they get an APA (who can't talk) or a volunteer from the National Lawyers Guild (as the appellant in case 0008 did).

This appeal brought to light one issue raised in the CRC's Bias Based Policing report, the way in which "mere conversation" can be abused to make a person feel they are not free to go. Though the appellant is white in this case, she is a woman who was confronted by a man with a gun and a badge in a parking lot late at night. The issue about the search was also of concern--if the officer was engaging in mere conversation, it's not clear he had the right to ask her to lift up the bottom of her shirt to see if she had a weapon in her waistband. Member Bissonnette correctly pointed out that officers should not hold it against people when they assert their rights.

Sizer Sustains Finding: Possible Reasons Examined

When Chief Sizer accepted the CRC's proposed finding about Frashour using a Taser on Frank Waterhouse, there were likely a number of issues at play. The Oregonian reported that her April 27 letter called the judgment a "close call" and described her decision as a way to avoid "prolong[ing] the acrimony around this case by having it heard before City Council." Clearly, one reason for this is Frashour's high visibility for shooting and killing Aaron Campbell in January (PPR #50). Related to that is the Council's likely reluctance to weigh in publicly on Frashour's guilt or innocence due to legal concerns, even though the incident happened nearly four years before the shooting. Finally, it is likely, though we may never know, that Frashour can get that finding overturned in "mitigation," a process allowed for police to beg the Chief for mercy in disciplinary cases.

Annual Report: Slimmed Down Too Much, Information Falls Through the Cracks

PCW called the IPR's 2009 Annual Report "a mixed bag of useful and buried information, neutral reporting and public relations." The report is geared less than the 2007 and 2008 reports toward touting the IPR's statistics as achievements. However, IPR fails to highlight, for example, that only one of 27 cases investigated by IAD was completed by the Bureau within the 5-month guideline. The report also overstates certain statistics and trends, including the "sustain rate." Though IPR shows a 22% sustain rate, they are referring to how many cases investigated by IAD had at least one allegation sustained. But since IAD only investigated 27 of 405 complaints that came in the door, this is not an honest statistic. Our calculations put the sustain rate between 2.8% and 8.1%, depending on the numbers of cases or allegations involved.

IPR continues to dismiss over 60% of all cases, and handle 60% of non-dismissed cases as "Service Improvement Opportunities" (minor complaints that do not result in discipline). IPR leaves to the report's back pages information that the satisfaction rate with IPR has gone down 7 points to 37% while dissatisfaction has remained at 50%.

Many charts and tables from previous reports were not used in the 2009 report, making an ongoing comparison impossible. IPR includes a table on discipline imposed, but does not describe the actions for which the officers received time off, were terminated or resigned/retired.

A full analysis of the IPR annual report is available at our website,

Also at the CRC:

--In May, Chair Mike Bigham was re-elected; Vice Chair Hank Miggins stepped down, letting Jamie Troy take that post; and recorder Loren Eriksson "turned over the pen" to Jeff Bissonnette.

--Work groups continuing to meet include Taser/Less Lethals, Appeals, Protocols, Outreach, and Recurring Audit, which looks at case handling and other ongoing IPR/IAD processes.

--In August, a "Case File Review" for an officer who was appealing a "Sustained" finding was cancelled at the officer's request. Instead, the CRC spent well over an hour finalizing the protocol for Case File Reviews, a process that allows them to ensure they have enough information before scheduling an appeal hearing.

--CRC released a report on its March 14 Community Forum on Police Accountability. It is up on the web at http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=27069 . CRC is planning another forum to hear community concerns on October 28 at the Kaiser Town Hall in N. Portland.

Contact IPR at 503-823-0146 for more information.


September, 2010
Also in PPR #51

Portland Shootings on the Rise
Oregon Shootings Double
Chasse Lawsuit Settled
Sit/Lie 4.0 update
New Chief Reese
Police Oversight System Changes
Civilian Review Board Update
No Change In Profiling Data
Copwatching On May Day 2010
Quick Flashes #51
Pervocops Certifier is Perv
Legal Briefs 51
Rapping Back 51

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #51 Table of Contents
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