People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Dept. of Justice Force Agreement:
The tumult surrounding the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) has continued despite actions designed to calm the waters (PPR #66). The COAB is a body charged with "independent assessment" of the progress implementing the City's Settlement Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding police use of force. Less than nine months into the process, six of the original community members left the board, while a Portland Police officer advisory member filed complaints against three community COAB members. These actions prompted publicity focusing on the tumult rather than the considerably progressive recommendations being made by the group. Heavy-handed facilitation by local Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL) Kathleen Saadat has led to additional problems. In September, the DOJ, plaintiffs in the suit that led to the Agreement, released a one-year "report card" revealing serious deficiencies in the City's compliance, followed by a similar second quarterly report from the COCL. The DOJ, COCL, COAB, the City, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMAC) all presented updates to Federal Judge Michael Simon in October.
While Simon had originally envisioned annual hearings in which parties could present evidence, the City filed a complaint claiming Simon was overstepping his bounds, which resulted in a compromise downgrading the gatherings to "status conferences." Simon's more limited role led to a mostly subdued three hour gathering. The Judge stated he understood his role in the Settlement is limited to resolving conflicts when the DOJ thinks the City is not in compliance. Simon did express concern after the AMAC's Dr. T. Allen Bethel reported how the City had been unable to track its use of force data since April due to computer issues, and hearing from DOJ that waiting 48 hours to interview officers after shootings is not consistent with "best practices." Also, even though body cameras are not part of the Agreement and the community is not of one mind about their usefulness, Simon pushed the City to obtain them (see article).
The Judge set the date for the next Status Conference as Tuesday, October 25, 2016.
The City, as usual, mostly did a public relations presentation on what they consider to be their own achievements, though they did admit that much work needs to be done. The Portland Police Association, included as a co-defendant since the Agreement affects their "union" contract, made a short presentation of little substance. COAB Executive Committee Chair Bud Feuless gave a good snapshot of the trials and tribulations of COAB while foregrounding the recommendations they'd made. Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum and Dr. Amy Watson of the Chicago COCL team spent a lot of time talking about the Crisis Intervention Team. In a counterpoint to the Judge asking whether the City's pledge of $500,000 to the "Unity Center" is enough, the COCLs noted that the proposed mental health hospital doesn't necessarily meet the needs of the Agreement's "walk-in/drop-off" center for people in crisis.
At their September meeting, the COAB heard a presentation about the "Unity Center," then the DOJ along with community members also pointed out the Center does not fulfill all that is required by the Settlement Agreement.
Just prior to the Status Conference, COAB member Sharon Maxwell tendered her resignation in a public letter, saying she felt COAB was not being adequately supported and speculating it was set up to fail. In an unusual move, Judge Simon added her letter to the Court record. Her resignation allowed the final appointed alternate, Mireaya Medina, to step up as a voting member. This means six original COAB members were no longer involved by the time the group reached its 9-month anniversary, as noted in a two-page article in the October 16 Street Roots. The fact that nobody has named more alternates is of great concern, as more roster changes are likely, if not from resignations then from heavy-handed manipulations by the police and COCL Saadat.
At the October 22 meeting, COAB member Tom Steenson presented Force policy recommendations of the Data Systems, Use of Force and Compliance Subcommittee (DSUFCS) for consideration by the Board. The eight proposals had already gone through the convoluted process instituted unilaterally by Saadat, calling for each one to be presented on its own form with supporting documentation including "pros" and "cons." Officer Paul Meyer interrupted the meeting to complain his "con" statements, although summarized and incorporated with the recommendations, were not reprinted word-for-word. And, even though Saadat knew about this concern days before the meeting, she allowed his unreasonable complaint (the officers do not have a vote) to derail the process, aided by the too-ready-to-defer-to-authority DOJ. Meyer then filed complaints against Steenson and his fellow DSUFCS members Dr. Rochelle Silver and Philip Wolfe, implying he wants to see them removed for misconduct. When Saadat denied Steenson's request to let COAB set up a process to resolve internal complaints, he filed a counter-complaint, leading to a November 25 Portland Mercury article. Saadat is also working behind the scenes to remove Myrlaviani Rivier, perhaps the last remaining member of COAB appointed because of lived experience with mental health issues. So, the experimental goal of having community members help guide major changes to a City's police department now seems more distant.
That said, the DSUFCS also made eight significant recommendations about the Bureau's Bias Based Policing Directive, which all passed at the October 8 meeting with little pushback from the cops. They included suggestions to collect data on police stops that involve any information gathering, and to prohibit or track "pretext stops" and "consent searches." In September, COAB recommendations about the Bureau's Directive on Training also passed, though the Board took half an hour to formulate and vote on a simple added proposal from Portland Copwatch that the Bureau's training should match its policies.
The first half of the October 22 meeting was set aside as a "community forum" on the COCL's second quarterly report. About 12 communty members gave testimony, while six uniformed officers sat in the audience to observe. Not until after the forum portion ended did the officers identify themselves. It turns out three of them were involved in controversial killings: Lt. Jeffrey Kaer, who killed Dennis Young in 2006 (PPR #38), Sgt. Leo Besner, who shot and killed Raymond Gwerder with a sniper rifle in 2005 (PPR #37), and Bret Burton, the former Multnomah Deputy turned PPB officer, who was one of the cops who beat James Chasse, Jr to death in 2006 (PPR #40). Sure, these officers have the right to be at a community meeting about ending police violence, particularly against people in mental health crisis, but maybe it would have been wise to think about the balance of who was there, and have them come without guns. Each of the cases was settled by the City-- Young for $200,000, Gwerder for $500,000 and Chasse for $1.6 million-- but the cops were never held accountable.
In early November, COAB's new Accountability Subcommittee scheduled a meeting at which Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman was to speak about the oversight system, followed by officers explaining the Bureau's Employee Information System (EIS). COAB set the meeting for a community location ten days early, but eight days after the announcement and two days before the meeting, Saadat declared the meeting would take place at East Precinct, to allow the cops to physically interact with the database. She also requested that all 15 COAB members and 5 police advisory members attend. When PCW objected to making a community presentation in a police precinct, the Accountability Subcommittee went forward with their meeting as originally planned. Both meetings took place, with four COAB members attending each, but no police officers were among the 20 people who came to hear Handelman talk. (It's not clear if police stayed away because the meeting was held in Augustana Lutheran Church, which has a "no weapons" policy, or lack of interest.)
Saadat made a statement at the beginning of the November 12 COAB meeting, asserting "I'm sorry not for what I did, but for how I did it." Her declaration then went on to stress the importance of officers to the process, ignoring the fact that the cops could easily have made a powerpoint show based on the EIS database and shown it at the Church.
Also at the November meeting, COAB voted on a number of their own recommendations about the COCL's quarterly report, though those ideas weren't vetted in the same way that Saadat insisted the Force recommendations be done. The DOJ and City Attorney Ellen Osoinach each offered opinions, with the DOJ hinting that COAB can vote on anything as long as it's consistent with their bylaws... yet Saadat's "vetting" process is not part of the bylaws. Osoinach, however, suggested COAB members failing to use the process would have to submit recommendations to the COCL as community members, not COAB members.
The second half of the November 12 meeting and almost the entirety of the November 19 meeting were taken up by the police, using their usual tactic of running out the clock. The first was a presentation about the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU), given in part by Officer Chris Burley, who allegedly punched Keaton Otis in the face before he (Burley) was shot in the legs, and fellow officers killed Otis with 23 bullets (PPR #61). To their credit, the BHU commented that some of their "clients" prefer not to come into police precincts when they need help. The second was an onslaught of PPB "success stories," including how they "cleaned up" the corner of Albina and Killingsworth, but not mentioning how the special mission there netted 89% African Americans (PPR #58). One of the presenters, Sgt. Mark Friedman, was involved in two shootings of people in mental health crisis in 2005 (PPRs #35 & 36).
On December 4, the DOJ issued a memo warning COAB members to follow state law regarding meetings or be removed, stating they would not be bothered to explain why they disagree with COAB recommendations, and asserting the COCL's right to decide on all of their administrative matters.
On August 19, City Council approved an increase of $143,000 per year to the COCL Contract, which bumped up Saadat's salary from $75,000 to $120,000, doubled "project manager" Amy Ruiz's initial $30,000 salary to $60K, and gave third Chicago COCL member Tom Christoff an extra $13,000 for additional responsibilities.
At the December 10 meeting, the DSUFCS was to present its eight Force policy recommendations along with ten related to use of specific weapons. In part due to the police continuing to sow confusion, COAB was only able to consider 4 of the 18 proposals-- passing them all with the needed super-majority of over 8 members. In particular, the police tried to get COAB not to recommend the PPB adopt a "force continuum" to outline which types of force are considered more serious than others. The officers tried to paint this as going from a "totality of the circumstances" model (the constitutional test) to a "mechanical" model ("tit-for-tat"). However, Board member Se-ah-dom Edmo, who is not on the DSUFCS, understood the need to explain levels of force more clearly, and helped usher in the 9-2-1 passing vote.
In short, without a Truth and Reconciliation process-- and accountability for officers doing harm to civilians-- we may never be able to build a Bureau that doesn't use excessive force, or a community that trusts its police.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.