People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Review Committee Finds Misconduct Despite Police Wordplay,
While Backing Off in Pepper Spray Case
Perhaps to prove their lack of bias, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), Portland's so-called police review board, found misconduct in one recent case while pulling back from a similar decision in another. A CRC subcommittee released a long-awaited report on police Crowd Control policies-- but did not include community concerns about use of force. And, the "Independent" Police Review Division, the agency that houses CRC, began looking at ways to further change the IPR/CRC system to meet expectations of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Agreement with the City (article here).
In PPR #62, we reported on a complaint made by David Walker in which the Bureau exonerated Officer Karl Klundt for having asked Walker questions without reading his rights-- because it was a different officer (Jeffrey Cioeta) who did that. CRC sent the case back to Internal Affairs (IA). Lt. Larry Graham, the officers' commander, came back to CRC on October 23rd with his assigned finding of "Unproven with a debriefing," meaning there is insufficient evidence whether Cieota violated Walker's rights-- despite his admitting he asked Walker about an allegedly stolen cell phone without knowing if Miranda rights had been read. Why? Because the allegation stated Cioeta asked the question "before" the reading of rights, and it is possible that (now-fired) Officer Timothy Sessions did Mirandize Walker.
Washington County police had asked the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to investigate whether Walker stole the phone to ransom it. Walker said he found it and was trying to return it to its owner. In addition to the failure to read rights, Walker accused them of applying handcuffs too tight, being rude, filing an incomplete police report, and improperly searching his home. The "additional investigation" focused on whether Cioeta asked the question and conducted the search; both findings came back as "Unproven." It is not clear whether any additional interviews of the officers even took place, begging the question of why it took took eight months to get back to CRC.*
Lt. Graham indicated he believed Cioeta violated the policy, but the Professional Standards Division (PSD) told him he couldn't Sustain the finding because of how the allegation was written. Oregon Justice Resource Center's Joel Lopez, advocate for Walker, noted the PPB would have told the Washington County cops they'd read the Miranda warning, and since the Washington cops read his rights later, it's clear the PPB did not do so. PSD claimed if they changed the allegation after it was written, the Portland Police Association would file a grievance. (CRC should have asked the City Attorney to confirm this-- in the past, IA said they add allegations if investigating a complaint reveals other possible misconduct.)
CRC was understandably frustrated by the Bureau's shenanigans. Member Jamie Troy noted the logic used demonstrated a systemic problem, which leads to the public seeing the process as "rigged." They voted 7-0 to send the case back a second time to Sustain the finding, with member Mae Wilson noting their task isn't to decide whether the allegation was accurate, but whether the officer violated policy.
The question of the cuffs being too tight was combined with the issue of rudeness as a "Courtesy" complaint. Klundt admitted commenting that handcuffs are "not meant to be comfortable." As reported last issue, Graham did not seem interested whether Klundt's remark was sarcastic, since what he said is a "fact," so he Exonerated him on the question of overtightening the cuffs. CRC noted Walker also told IPR the officer said to "shut up and stop whining," which wasn't investigated at all, or mentioned in the summary report. (As Troy put it, rather than "he said/she said," we have "he said, he can't remember, and IA didn't ask the question.") CRC voted 4-3 to ask the Bureau to change the finding from "Exonerated" to "Unproven," with Chair Rodney Paris and members Roberto Rivera and Jim Young dissenting.
CRC asked for a future demonstration in which, presumably, some of them will be handcuffed.
On the search, Klundt was "Exonerated," since it was Cioeta who looked around the apartment. Because it wasn't known whether Cioeta went beyond determining if other people were there, the finding for him was "Unproven." CRC upheld both findings 7-0.
They also upheld the "Exonerated with debriefing" finding for Klundt about the Miranda warning, and the "Exonerated" findings on inadequate reporting and improper entry allegations-- all in unanimous votes. In December, the Chief agreed with their recommendations.
This was not the first time an investigation led to an initial decision unfavorable to community justice because of how allegations were framed. PCW has long advocated (as did the 2010 Stakeholders group) that IPR send allegations to CRC for approval with a firm deadline to respond. While IPR Director Constantin Severe told CRC they can't formulate allegations as though the Bureau is "out to get the officer," they certainly should be reflective of the complainant's concerns and the officer's potential policy violations.
* In the context of CRC being accused of slowing down the complaint process, it's important to note the hearing was scheduled for October 1, but delayed because IPR didn't make audio files of previous hearings available to CRC members who needed to listen to them. Such foul-ups by IPR are starting to stack up.
In PPR #63, we reported on an incident from October 2013 in which Officer Todd Engstrom provoked a crowd of homeless campers by pinning one of their dogs to the ground, then pepper sprayed Angel Lopez and his girlfriend in the ensuing melee. Though Engstrom was found out of policy for creating a situation where force was used, the force itself was "Exonerated." In August, CRC voted 6-1 to ask the Bureau to change that finding to "Sustained," though some drew the line when Lopez's girlfriend was sprayed for trying to pull him away from the confrontation, while others felt neither should have been hit.
At CRC's November meeting, Chief Reese, with Officer Engstrom in tow, attended a "Conference Hearing" to try to change their vote, something he did successfully regarding the racial profiling of Floyd McCorvey in 2013 (PPR #61). While he wasn't outright rejecting the new recommendation, Reese wanted to change the finding to "Unproven with a debriefing."
The Chief cited community complaints about the sidewalk being blocked, and the City's strategy of police having compassion and not waking people up unless there's a problem. He also said the PPB tries not to arrest homeless people for minor crimes since it can make it harder for them to get housing and jobs. Nobody mentioned Lopez was cited for "Interfering with a Police Officer" based on his blocking the sidewalk-- a low level crime "accidentally" included in the Bureau's enforcement of District Attorney guidelines 17 times (PPR #62).
Similar to how he previously smeared McCorvey, Reese stated Lopez had many previous "antagonistic" contacts with the police. He insisted Lopez needed to respond to cops so private security could clean up and pressure wash the pavement. He claimed Lopez "pushed the limits" by trying to incite people to disobey police, so Engstrom used pepper spray. The only way to know what happened would be to interview the complain-ants, but they only gave initial statements to IPR. Thus, argued Reese, a key CRC analysis-- that Engstrom was not justified in pepper spraying Lopez's girlfriend because she was just pulling him away from the confrontation-- is mere speculation.
CRC asked how Lopez or his girlfriend could know he was under arrest, since Engstrom didn't announce the arrest. Reese said if force is used, you will be arrested. Having seen police attack dozens of people at protests who weren't arrested, we know this is not true. Engstrom's excuse: the FBI shows women multitask better than men, so he couldn't talk and pepper spray at the same time.
The idea Engstrom had to concentrate to use his weapon is especially specious since, as he told CRC, he is a "master instructor" for officers who use pepper spray. His training probably leads him to use it more often than other cops-- pepper spray is used in less than 5% of force incidents (and has the potential to be lethal-- PPR #10).
CRC also asked for a pepper spray demonstration.
Specific reasons Engstrom gave for deploying the spray included that he "perceived" Lopez shoving another officer. (That officer did not react to Lopez's action.) He also claimed Lopez's girlfriend was trying to "unarrest" Lopez; he has seen people pulled into crowds to avoid police custody.
CRC and community members were shocked watching video of Engstrom's brutality at the previous hearing. But the fact that Engstrom was there and Lopez didn't even have an advocate to speak for him, plus the video being a dull memory, led to a 7-0 decision to support the Chief's proposed "Unproven" finding. Had CRC stuck with their original vote, the case would have headed to City Council.
Numerous unanswered questions included Wilson's concern about handling 40 homeless campers using crowd control tactics (though Reese replied that "unarrests" happen not only at protests but also at bar fights). Also, Engstrom said he had been there the day before and knew Lopez, so why couldn't he just find him later to arrest him? While he said he'd seen Lopez every few months since the incident (no hard feelings), supposedly nobody could find Lopez to invite him to the hearing.
Engstrom's case isn't the first time an officer appearing at CRC has led them to ease up on potential findings: In January 2014 they moved an officer's "Unproven" road rage finding to "Exonerated" (PPR #62); found another off-duty road rage cop's charges "Unproven" in 2010 (PPR #51); upheld the exoneration of an officer who stopped for coffee while transporting a man to detox in May 2007 (PPR #42); and in 2004 they "Exonerated" an officer's previously "Sustained" use of profanity (PPR #32). Of the eight times we have records of officers appearing at CRC hearings, only one (in 2005-06) had a finding "Sustained" against him-- for use of profanity when CRC called him out for making a threat (PPR #38).
While some tinkering to the IPR/CRC ordinance occurred in January 2014 to try meeting terms of the DOJ Agreement (PPR #62), provisions to have CRC appeals last no more than 21 days and to give them authority to order more investigation still need to be enacted. IPR held public meetings starting in October to discuss possible changes, wisely steering away from putting the timeline into code. Unfortunately, they are planning to (a) cut the time for a person to appeal Bureau findings from 30 days to 14, and (b) collapse the important "Case File Review"-- at which CRC determines if they have enough information to hold a hearing-- into the same meeting with the appeal. Initial discussions indicate IPR is willing to be flexible about keeping the Case File Review separated, but hesitant to ensure CRC is empowered to order them (or IA) to investigate further. PCW is strongly suggesting CRC be able to request changes to allegations, though IPR seems resistant.
Good news about the ridiculous 21 day timeline: at CRC's September meeting, the DOJ's David Knight referred to that idea as "one line in a 70 page document," promising "if you take more than 45 days we're not going to go to the judge." That's nice, but still doesn't allow time for the appellant and the volunteer CRC members to prepare for a process that takes at least 60 days.
Unfortunately, IPR is also over-emphasizing the need to relax the workload on CRC members to increase the professional staff's involvement. Director Severe reported how other boards do not do as much as CRC and, with the Committee's blessing, will shift the creation of case summaries back from CRC to IPR. CRC began writing the summaries after years of IPR reports focusing more on appellants' alleged criminal behavior than officers' misconduct-- the reason the complaint was filed in the first place. Most other review boards which receive documents from paid staff rubber stamp the staff recommenda-tions, whereas CRC, for all its flaws, is more thoughtful and deliberate.
At CRC's September 3 meeting, PCW alerted them the Bureau was reviewing its Crowd Control Directive as part of an effort to review general orders (article). Though CRC's Crowd Control Work Group had been working on its report for months (PPRs #61-63), they kicked into gear and presented a "draft" to the Bureau before the September 30 deadline (skipping their requirement to present the draft at a meeting). The report failed to include recommendations about use of weaponry (including bicycles and horses), while making some reasonable proposals. In written comments, PCW explained our role is not "to perpetuate police use of violence against unarmed, peaceful protestors [by advising] ways to harm people." We called out CRC for ignoring violence at protests after they'd heard from lawyers and community members, including Occupy Portland participants who'd been attacked.
Some recommendations didn't go far enough, such as suggesting, rather than requiring, officers from agencies called in to Portland protests wear visible nametags and attend PPB crowd control training. Good recommendations include: Ensuring front-line officers maintain a friendly demeanor; emphasizing de-escalation; releasing seized property promptly; and prohibiting profiling based on people's clothing or perceived political affiliation.
Though they fixed some language after a special November Work Group session, CRC voted to approve the finalized weak report at its December meeting at the East Portland Rosewood Initaitive. Ironically, dozens of "Don't Shoot Portland" protestors who'd been attacked by cops for a week (article) arrived minutes after the vote. Their arrival was preceded by an officer running in offering CRC sanctuary from the protestors. CRC sent him away.
--With Jamie Troy, Rodney Paris, Jeff Bissonnette and David Dennecke retiring from CRC, Teresa Baldwin gone, and Jean Tuller quitting, six of CRC's 11 members will be new starting in late February.
--At the September meeting, at N. Portland's Charles Jordan Community Center, only PCW mentioned the Portland Police shooting two days earlier (article).
--In November, IPR staffer Derek Reinke presented the IPR annual report, a 24-page document that prompted a 10-page analysis by PCW (p. 5). His presentation-- including CRC questions-- lasted only 20 minutes. Reinke noted the CRC challenged findings in 5 of 6 cases in 2013. He did not say that only one recommendation was to "Sustain" the allegation, one was to lower the severity in the officer's favor, and CRC backtracked on one of the requests.
--The Audit Work Group's report on IPR Dismissals has been outstanding so long that the 2013 Annual Report merely moved the expected publication year up to 2014; the report still hasn't been released.
--In November, CRC officially shut down their Recruitment, Retention and Promotions work group.
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