People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Citizen Review Committee Upholds Police in One Force Case, But
Finds Excessive Force Involving Homeless People & Dog
In the last few months, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), the often obscure board that hears appeals on police misconduct cases, has appeared in several news stories. Driving media coverage were: a finding that an officer was out of policy for off duty conduct which the Chief agreed to "Sustain" at CRC's urging; agreeing with police that violence against a Native American man was likely within policy; a case involving a homeless man being attacked by an officer who also manhandled a dog; and the case of Latoya Harris' young daughter being handcuffed (PPR #62) which came up at the April and May meetings. In July, CRC heard a presentation from the Behavioral Health Unit and said goodbye to another one of its members. Meanwhile, the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), which houses the CRC, revealed they are working on several investigations not directly involving Internal Affairs, leading to a media back-and-forth with the police "union." IPR also published community feedback for the first time in over a year.
At the May CRC meeting, it was announced (without the use of names) that on April 29, the Chief agreed with them that Det. Jason Lobaugh was out of policy in his three unprofessional contacts with his ex-wife and her husband (PPRs #61-62). In December, the ex-wife had appealed the finding of "Unproven." As the CRC began discussing the case again, the City Attorney jumped in and encouraged them to go into "executive session" to talk about confidential personnel issues. This caution was likely because Lobaugh resigned days before the Chief made his decision, according to Willamette Week's website (May 5). It's difficult to understand why a resignation would be a confidential matter. (Lobaugh actually appears to have resigned facing discipline for two other cases-- article) In any case, the constitutional crisis created by the Chief sitting on the decision for 5 months became a moot point and no City Council hearing was generated by a disagreement between the Chief and CRC.
In PPR #62, we outlined case #2014-x-0001 about the son of community activist Jeri Williams, who said he was beaten by four police officers* including being punched in the face by Officer Jon Dalberg. IPR and Internal Affairs investigated the young man being "hobbled" (handcuffed and then having his feet tethered to the chain) and the punch, but not the extensive bruising Williams photographed or the profanity and derogatory remarks the son reported. The hearing dragged on for nearly 2-1/2 hours and the CRC indicated they planned to support the findings that the officers were "Exonerated" (within policy) for the hobbling and it was "Unproven" (not enough evidence one way or the other) whether Dalberg punched the son. Seeing the way they were leaning, Williams gave an impassioned speech. Riffing off the CRC's restrictive standard of review, which says they have to agree with the Bureau if a "reasonable person" could come to the same conclusion, Williams said "I am a reasonable person... and it's reasonable to believe that Portland Police beat the crap out of people of color." (Her talk was featured on the Flying Focus Video Bus on cable access TV in early August.)
Williams also talked about how CRC member Jeff Bissonnette being subjected to a demonstration of the hobble at the April meeting had triggered her Post Traumatic Stress. She questioned the police's assertions that the bruises she saw on her son, who came two blocks directly from the jail to her office the morning after the incident, might have been caused by his thrashing around in the back seat.
It didn't seem to be emphasized enough that Dalberg said the young man might have been bleeding from "cutting the inside of his mouth when I held his head down." He apparently pinned the man's head against the seat using his knee. The officers knew he had been injured, in fact accused him of spitting blood at them, and noted there was blood on the "spit sock" they put on him, but didn't report the injury. Yet Captain Chris Davis (formerly of Internal Affairs) chalked this up to a "mistake" when it could have been a cover-up. Also, the jail video of the son, who also suffers from PTSD, being brought in with the spit sock on had no audio on it; it appears the Sheriff's office stopped using audio after the movie "Alien Boy" documented the howling screams of James Chasse, Jr, who also had mental health issues, was beaten by police, and was put in a spit sock. (Chasse, however, died from his injuries-- PPR #40.)
Williams walked out accurately predicting CRC would support the findings; they voted 8-0 to uphold the "Exonerated" finding on the hobbling, and agreed 7-1 it could not be proven whether Dalberg punched the son. Member Jean Tuller thought the officer should have been found in policy ("Exonerated"). Tuller also expressed concern that the Chief and Mayor called Williams to apologize, not because no other community member gets such treatment when misconduct occurs (Williams works for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement), but because she thought the officers didn't do anything wrong.
Detective Acanero of Internal Affairs, whose aggressive style made the son hang up and stop participating in the complaint process, likely has no Crisis Intervention Training since he is the only IA member who's not a former Portland Officer (he was hired from San Francisco).
Although Williams was represented by a National Lawyers Guild law student and Appeals Process Advisor (APA) TJ Browning, the appeal lacked clarity, mostly because, as Browning noted, the APA can look at the whole file but can't divulge its contents.
*(we wrote five previously, we apologize for the error)
In October 2013, the Portland Police worked with Portland Patrol, Inc (PPI-- a private security firm) to do a sweep of a homeless camp under the Morrison Bridge. During the sweep, Officer Todd Engstrom (#29982) was irritated by one person's service dog who was "under foot," so he reached for the dog, which allegedly bit him, and he then grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and pinned it down. The crowd became agitated, and Angel Lopez, one of the 30-40 homeless people there, allegedly got into a short shoving match with Officer "B," which Engstrom used as an excuse to pepper spray Lopez and, perhaps, punch him in the face. Lopez complained of excessive force. Interestingly, the Bureau found Engstrom out of policy for putting himself into a position where force became "necessary," explicitly saying that his violence against the dog precipitated the other use of force. Weirdly, the use of force itself was "Exonerated." A similar odd logic applied in case 2012-x-0004 in which a cop who unlawfully entered a woman's home and used force was found out of policy for the entry but not the force (PPR #58). If a civilian broke into a store, took a candy bar and left money, would they get charged with breaking and entering but not theft, because what they did inside the store was "legal"? Several members seemed to think it was important whether the officers' repeated sweeps of the area precipitated the whole incident, while the Bureau shrugged off the importance of that question.
Despite assertions from PPB Acting Captain Wagenknecht that using pepper spray in the volatile crowd was a "good option," the CRC found that Engstrom spraying Lopez's girlfriend, who apparently was trying to drag him out of the situation to de-escalate, was not within policy (though most of them thought spraying Lopez was OK). They voted 6-1 to change the finding from "Exonerated" to "Sustained," with acting Chair David Denecke disagreeing with the majority. They supported the finding on the beating 7-0, based in part on witness testimony that it wasn't Engstrom but a "newbie cop" who punched Lopez. This doesn't explain why that officer wasn't identified or investigated.
Interestingly, Internal Affairs says their method of investigation is to ask officers about the incident prior to showing them video taken on scene (of which there was quite a bit). This is good news as we assumed they showed the video to "refresh memory" prior to interviews. The Bureau admits the officer did not issue a warning, but noted the directive doesn't require it for pepper spray. It was said that the officers reacted to the homeless crowd as if they were in the middle of a protest action, which does not seem appropriate.
It was also interesting that this case, in which an officer was found to have escalated a tense situation, was heard at the same meeting where there was a presentation from the Behavioral Health Unit, whose focus is on de-escalation.
Although there was no space for public input (or criticism--cough cough too-timid CRC--cough cough), a presentation from Lt. Cliff Bacigalupi of the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) gave insight into his new-ish Bureau body whose advisory board meetings are held behind closed doors. The BHU was put together in November 2012, the same month the City signed the agreement with the US Department of Justice about alleviating their use of force against people with mental health issues (PPR #58). It involves the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team (ECIT), Mobile Crisis Units and the so-called "Service Coordination Team," which targets people who are arrested repeatedly to force them into drug treatment (PPR #49).
Bacigalupi admitted the Bureau still has a long way to go, which was good to hear since all of the shootings that have happened since Nov. 2012 have involved people in apparent mental health crisis (article). Bacigalupi noted that 78 of the 390 patrol officers have received 40 hours of extra training beyond the basic 40 hours given to everyone. The ECIT is called if there is a mental health crisis involving violence or weapons; a "suicidal jumper," or in response to an officer, mental health facility or citizen request.
The Mobile Crisis Unit, which involves a mental health professional teamed with an officer in each of the three precincts, only operates 8:30-6:30 since, as Bacigalupi put it, there's no way to connect people with services at 3 AM. MCU generally does follow up, but doesn't go out on radio calls. The Bureau has "BHU Clients" flagged and can send that information out. It's not 100% clear why we are paying for police officers to do this rather than strengthening mental health services-- instead we're getting social work with a gun. For what it's worth, the Lieutenant sounded sincere when he noted many officers know someone with mental health issues, and that they can't reach everyone: "The stuff we turn down is heartbreaking." CRC didn't pursue much in the way of questions, particularly the key one: When do officers decide it's time to stop using their Crisis Intervention training and start using force?
While minor victories such as the resignation and "Sustained" findings against Det. Lobaugh occasionally keep us from agreeing with those who call the entire system "worthless," the revelations that Latoya Harris brought to light by speaking to CRC is one example why it is crucial to have public meetings on police accountability. Her initial remarks to CRC, made during the public comment period of the April meeting, detailed how the Bureau treated her complaint about her 9-year-old being handcuffed, arrested, fingerprinted and photographed over a schoolyard tiff (that happened 6 days before the arrest) as a "Service Improvement Opportunity." Her shocking story led to an article in the Portland Mercury, the Oregonian, and international attention.
That presentation was expounded upon at the May meeting, where two legal advocates addressed the issue (article).
The morning of the meeting, Professional Standards Captain Dave Famous announced the Bureau was going to look into changing the policies around juvenile custody, using a committee made up of city employees and a Senior Deputy DA. No community members, including CRC and the Community Police Relations Committee, were named. CRC members Troy, Jeff Bissonnette and Jim Young agreed to "bird dog" the issue.
These events show the importance of hearing individual cases even if the outcome is not what the complainant wanted-- in Ms. Harris' incident, the "Service Improvement Opportunity" meant she had no ability to appeal to CRC (another flaw in the system).
--With Director Severe out on paternity leave, Assistant Director Anika Bent-Albert gave the May Director's report, noting four independent IPR investigations were ongoing--but giving no details.
--At the July meeting it was noted that Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, had expressed concerns in an email conversation with CRC about how IPR conducts investigations. It was agreed that since the cases were still open, CRC would delay the discussion. However, Turner's comments in the Rap Sheet (see "Rapping Back") brought IPR's policies into focus in the Oregonian (June 17) and the Mercury (July 23). Severe's analysis: "He represents his members, we do what we're tasked to do."
--Although in June, Director Severe said the reason IPR had stopped printing community feedback from Outreach Coordinator Irene Konev was that such comments were confidential, his July Director's report noted that some Latinos are reluctant to file complaints because of concerns about immigration status. PCW and the League of Women Voters have been pushing for these comments to return to the reports, so, another small victory.
--Member Theresa Baldwin, sworn in last June, announced her resignation in July; this brings CRC back down to 10 members. Since two "backup" members were added when other members quit (PPR #61), IPR will be waiting until after their October 30 deadline for applications to fill her seat.
--While CRC members undergo background checks before appointment, in order for them to rotate onto Police Review Boards (internal hearings to recommend findings on force cases), they have to also be fingerprinted.
--IPR staff underwent training on handling stressful situations with the public.
--Years in the making, the Bureau is still figuring out how to get CRC members remote access to information in their case files, perhaps by secure computer connections or delivery of CDs.
--CRC co-coordinated two "Race Talks" panels on police issues on August 5 and 12. However, the Outreach Work Group planning the panels failed to meet prior to the July meeting, so the entire Committee never discussed the presentations' content. They focused on community policing, not accountability.
--CRC member David Denecke went to Bangladesh with Chief Reese and Captain Mike Marshman as part of an ongoing program (see PPR #55). He described it as a chance to explain police accountability and build a pathway for community policing, saying that in addition to improvements for the Bangladeshis, he saw positive changes in the "Portland Police Department" [sic] officers. The federal government paid for the trip; Denecke seems to have been picked to neutralize any questions by CRC. After all, what do you think of when you hear Portland is exporting its style of policing?
--The Crowd Control Work Group is still writing its report--now months in limbo.
--The Use of Deadly Force Work Group met a second time with City Attorney David Woboril to go over the directives on use of force. In July, they talked to recently-armed OHSU law enforcement about their Use of Force policies.
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