People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
On March 26, City Council considered the "new" report from Portland Police Chief Mike Reese on the Bureau's 2013 involvement with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). The report was mostly a cut-and-paste from the previous two years' reports, generated as part of a 2011 resolution to clarify Portland's sometime participation with the JTTF (PPR #54). Despite the fact that two council members voted to reject the report last year because of its threadbare nature (PPR #59), the Chief was allowed to keep details, including benign public information such as the name of the Assistant Chief overseeing the Bureau's Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU), out of the report. That Assistant Chief, Donna Henderson, made matters worse by being unprepared to answer most questions posed by Council at the hearing.
The City should have voted to withdraw participation from the JTTF last April, when Mayor Hales received notification from the FBI that he was not being granted "Secret" security clearance because it was on a "need to know basis." Hales is the elected Commissioner of Police and needs to oversee his employees (the reason Mayor Tom Potter pulled out of the JTTF in 2005-- PPR #36). For good measure, FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Gregory Fowler questioned Hales' commitment to public safety based on a radio interview he'd done about the JTTF (OPB, March 28). It's not clear why Hales, the only Commissioner to vote against participation prior to the 2005 pullout (PPR #25), waited to reveal the FBI's snubbing the agreement about oversight, but he has said he expects the new SAC, whose first day was March 31, to get him the clearance. If not, Commissioner Amanda Fritz assured the Mayor at the hearing that Council has the votes necessary to withdraw again from the JTTF.
Only six community members, including representatives of the ACLU of Oregon and Portland Copwatch, testified about the report-- all expressing concerns. The Mayor postponed the vote, probably because with Commissioner Nick Fish absent he was facing a 2-2 vote that would result in rejecting the report. This would have been a reasonable outcome. On April 2, Council voted 3-2 to accept the report, with all the members except Dan Saltzman pledging to revisit the underlying policy later in 2014 after the Mayor speaks to the new SAC.
The two main differences between the 2013 and 2014 reports were: [a] rather than just two members of the CIU being given security clearance, now all the officers (how many is unclear) have that clearance; and [b] while the PPB again participated in "at least one" terrorism investigation, they were not sent outside of Portland this year.
The Oregonian, rabid supporters of the Task Force (despite the fact that JTTFs existed prior to 9/11 and 9/11 happened anyway), put out a propagandistic editorial on March 27 telling Portland to go "all in." They acknowledge the City will not receive any more information by doing so, but to them that is beside the point. The region's sort-of-daily paper also ran a poll on its website about the JTTF-- as of April 18, responses were running at 87% against participation.
Mohamed Mohamud, a young man swept up in an FBI sting, was convicted in January, 2013 of attempting to detonate a bomb, supplied by FBI agents, at the 2010 tree lighting ceremony in Pioneer Courthouse Square (PPR #59). He has been in jail since his arrest. In November 2013, federal prosecutors disclosed that warrantless surveillance may have been used against Mohamud using the insidious FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) amendments of 2008. The defense team viewed this as a "knowing and intentional violation of the law, and a possible means by which the conviction could have been overturned." The defense added their case was hamstrung from the outset as Mohamud "did not know that this statute was used to gather information about him," until recently and was thus denied the right to challenge that evidence. They filed a motion for more disclosure about the evidence and methods used by the government (Willamette Week, February 9).
On March 19, U.S. District Judge Garr King denied the defense motion, saying he would only authorize disclosure if he concluded that was necessary to determine the legality of the surveillance (Oregonian, March 21).
The Bureau's Training Advisory Council (TAC), created in anticipation of the US Department of Justice's Settlement Agreement, held its 6th meeting in late February. TAC chair Bruno Amicci passed the job of outreach to the Council's "Communication" task force, stating there is no mechanism for the group to get input. One suggestion they've ignored: TAC could invite public comment at their meetings. Amicci also admonished the 20 or so members still remaining (of the original 30) that anything they learn while observing police training is confidential. This concept runs contrary to the idea of open meetings discussing training issues of community concern. We hope to see this warning narrowed to cover only sensitive issues such as where police set up during hostage negotiations, rather than a blanket secrecy clause.
Most of the meeting was taken up by a presentation from Deputy City Attorney David Woboril, who explained the Bureau's interpretation of the Graham v. Connor court decision calling for officers to use "reasonable force" depending on the "totality of the circumstances." He stated the final changes to the force policy were made to assuage concerns of the Portland Police Association (see article and "Rapping Back", this issue.). Woboril confirmed that a clause in the changed directives provides that an officer can be punished for failing to use force.
While applicants to TAC were heavily screened out by background checks (PPR #59), there are some voices to balance those enjoying their "insider" privileges with concerns of the community. Communications chair Tory Campbell outlined his group's plan to ask community members "what can you tell us?" Unfortunately, the plan is to ask each person for just one recommendation. We will keep you posted as much as possible.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.