People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Citizen Review Committee Flexes New Power,
Two historic moments in Portland's oversight system transpired recently when the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) sent back one misconduct case for more investigation, and considered two appeals regarding cases investigated "independently" by the board's civilian staff. The "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR) continues to lack authority to compel officer testimony, perhaps leading to the disappointing investigative outcomes in the two cases-- which both involved protest actions. Meanwhile, though IPR released its annual report in November (article), it was not brought to CRC for review in December, nor were modifications to operating rules for IPR and CRC.
Case #2015-X-0002: Man with Mental Health Issues is Tasered Up to Six Times; CRC Demands More Info
At the October CRC meeting, CRC heard the Case File Review in case #2015-x-0002, in which Matthew Klug, a man who has a diagnosed mental illness and a brain injury, was hit as many as six times by police Tasers. Klug was allegedly circling a woman's car and punching the windows before officers approached. Klug supposedly would not take his hands out of his pockets and officers used the 50,000 volt Taser six times, according to the device's computer readout, including five "arcs" lasting a total of 9 seconds, and one "probe deployment," meaning 1/8-inch unbent fishhooks were fired into his skin to deliver a full 5 second long blast.
As part of the Settlement Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the Bureau began conducting on-scene investigations of all Use of Force incidents in 2013, under Directive 940.00 After Action Reports, known as 940 investigations. Portland Copwatch (PCW) has expressed concern that the 940 investigations are done by the officers' supervisors, and thus are likely to be biased and incomplete. This case shows our concerns are valid, as the Sergeant who showed up to investigate the incident knew the appellant from the past and referred to him as being "intoxicated and aggressive." CRC member Kiosha Ford expressed concerns that the past contact may have "clouded the judgment" of the investigator.
The 940 investigation included four civilian witnesses, one of whom was a security guard. After Klug filed his appeal, Internal Affairs (IA) decided to re-interview only one of the four civilians-- the security guard. The others' testimony was considered "vague" and "emotional." Acting Captain Erica Hurley of the Professional Standards Division said it was not worth going back months later to re-interview the others with whom the Sergeant already talked. TJ Browning, a former CRC member acting as Klug's Appeals Process Advisor, noted that the same amount of time passed for the Security Guard, and that he was the only witness describing Klug as a threat. CRC agreed and insisted on IA conducting more investigation in a 7-0 vote, deciding the case was not ready to move to a full appeal hearing.
The vote is historic because City Council gave CRC the authority to require such investigation back in May (PPR #66), so this was their first chance to test their only real power to obligate action by the Bureau.
Captain Hurley said a few times that Klug posed a threat because he was "aggressing" on the officers.
Case 2015-X-0003: Pushing a Protestor as a Defensive Action is Not Use of Force?
At their November meeting, CRC held a hearing that lasted roughly 4.5 hours for an appeal derived from a December 2014 Prayer Vigil hosted by the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform. That event ended on the Skidmore overpass where Kendra James was killed by police in 2003 (PPR #30). One demonstrator, Jake Dockter, alleged that Sgt. Erin Smith (#29991) pushed activist Teressa Raiford while Raiford was acting as a "marshal" trying to direct traffic around protestors who were gathered in the street. Dockter also complained that Raiford asked for, but never received Smith's business card, and that Smith and Sgt. Robert Brown (#36496) refused to help when motorists were aggressively trying to pass the marshals, endangering the protestors.
PCW was a sponsor and co-organizer of the prayer vigil.
Even though IPR conducted the investigation-- something that had never been done before 2014, especially for a community complaint-- the outcome was slanted in the officers' favor. IPR turned the allegation that Raiford was pushed into a charge that Sgt. Smith swept his arm at her hand because she was shining a flashlight in his eyes. The finding attached to this by Captain Kelli Sheffer of the Traffic Division was "Unfounded," which means the incident did not happen as alleged-- even though Sgt. Smith admits he did act to move the flashlight. Sheffer claimed there was no use of force because in her reading of the Bureau's Directive, force is defined as "mechanical intervention against resistance," and since Smith's action was a "natural defensive reaction" to push the flashlight away, it did not meet the definition. IPR does not make findings, but they are required to sign off on the Bureau's recommendations, or else "controvert" the finding and send the case to the Police Review Board. That did not happen.
The Professional Standards Division Captain also reviews findings and can "controvert" them.
To their credit, the CRC voted that the finding was not supported by the evidence (defined as "a reasonable person could not come to that finding") on an 8-0 vote; then voted 6-2 to propose it be changed to "Not Sustained," meaning there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove it. Vice Chair Bridget Donegan and member Kristin Malone both felt the finding should have been "Sustained," which makes sense since the officer admitted to physically interfering with Raiford when he was not trying to arrest her and she was not threatening him.
CRC's splitting their vote to challenge a Bureau finding into two parts-- that it is not supported by the evidence and then what the finding should be-- never happened before the current Committee was seated in February, but now has happened twice, the first time in June (PPR #66).
They upheld the finding that Smith was "Exonerated" (in policy) for failure to identify himself, because even though he refused to give a business card to Raiford (who was subjected to a use of force), he eventually gave his card to Dockter. That vote was 6-2, with Malone again thinking it should have been "Sustained," this time joined by member Julie Falk.
In a move they have only taken once since 2010 (PPR #64), CRC asked the Bureau to add a
"debriefing" to the finding the officers were within policy when they did not assist the marchers
who asked for help. Capt. Sheffer insisted the complaint had no validity because the officers
had helped the protestors march from NE 8th to the overpass. Moreover, officers have the
discretion to decide not to act, and described themselves as "outnumbered" and Raiford's insistence
on being given a business card "hostile." The vote to add debriefings was 7-1, with CRC member
Angelo Turner saying he felt CRC had already expressed their concern about the officers.
On November 19, the Chief wrote a letter accepting CRC's proposed changes.
A few other things about this hearing:
a) it was the first time under the new ordinance that the CRC held the Case File Review and the Appeal Hearing in one meeting; while the goal is to speed up the process to appease the DOJ, PCW continues to object to this concept.
b) Dockter also alleged the officers made disparaging remarks about the prayer vigil and about Dr. Martin Luther King, and that Smith pushed the business card at his face aggressively. Unfortunately, he didn't pursue these rudeness complaints because they were "he said/she said." However, the overall attitude of the Sergeants and supervisors make it seem there was bias because the event was about police accountability and organizers chose not to get a permit. Acting Captain Larry Graham made his decision about the refusal to assist being within policy because the marchers were in the street "illegally."
c) 20 minutes were eaten up by a debate about whether CRC can hear from witnesses who weren't interviewed by IPR or IA. They can, but if they want to consider the testimony when challenging a Commander's findings they have to send the case back for more investigation.
d) Raiford, who is African American, expressed thanks that Dockter, who is white, was able to use his white privilege to allow her to be part of the appeal process. Referring to whether Sgt. Smith used force against her for "resisting," she said, "I know not to resist, Kendra was killed right there."
Case # 2015-X-0004: Officers Kettle Protestors at Ferguson Demonstration; Unprosecuted Arrests Found "In Policy"
At their December meeting, CRC held a Case File Review (CFR) to determine whether two supervisors violated Bureau policy by ordering that protestors be "kettled" (boxed in) and arrested during a post-Ferguson verdict demonstration in late 2014 (case #2015-x-0004). Police also used "flash-bangs" and pepper spray during the same protest, but when IPR processed the nine complaints they received about that evening's events, they split those force issues into a separate investigation. IPR's (confusing) case summary report indicates officers gave conflicting directions to protestors (e.g. "get on the sidewalk/get off the sidewalk into the street"), and arrested someone on the sidewalk for standing on the street and another person who was trying to leave. However, IPR decided to only focus on whether the Commander and Sergeant who ordered the arrests were out of policy. During the meeting IPR Director Constantin Severe stated that the kettling-- where officers moved in from all four surrounding streets to block exit routes-- (a) had never been done before and (b) was not against Bureau policy.
A few people who were part of that protest spoke to the Committee and expressed displeasure at the decisions being made both by the commanders and individual officers. CRC members seemed frustrated by the fact that the District Attorney had failed to pursue the charges (of "Interfering with a Police Officer" and "Disorderly Conduct"), probably because it indicates the cops were just arresting people to break up the protest. Despite the lingering questions, CRC decided there was enough information to move forward with a full hearing. Chair Mae Wilson had decided if the CFR were longer than one hour, the appeal hearing would be held at a later date; it lasted two hours. For the record, of three appeals to CRC since the consolidation of the CFR and Appeal were approved by Council, both processes happened on the same night only once.
CRC Doesn't Get to Review Own Policies, Continues Mixed-Message Outreach, Gets New Member
At CRC's September meeting, held at the Q Center in North Portland, the IPR did not put its proposed changes to the Appeal/CFR protocols (5.03 and 5.11) on the agenda, even though a deadline was looming for comments. No mention of the protocols has been made since then, and the City's website still carries the old versions, although they have not reflected City Code accurately since June. Earlier code changes affecting IPR also have not been offered to CRC for their scrutiny, even though advising IPR on operations is part of their charter.
Also at that meeting, Ms. Ford reported back on participating in a Police Review Board (PRB) hearing about a shooting incident. The details of the meetings, as the meetings themselves, are not open to the public. Ford said the hearing was well organized and informational, but it was difficult among so many law enforcement representatives to express the point of view of the community.
Mr. Turner, who we noted last issue seems more interested in breaking bread with officers than holding them accountable, reported going out under bridges and bringing food to homeless people in the wee hours of the morning. (He made his visit while on a ridealong with police.) Later, he talked about being in Baltimore during the "problems" (aka the uprisings after Freddie Gray was killed by police). He also met with upper level PPB management and proposed CRC hold a community meeting at a police precinct. Fortunately, Ms. Donegan countered that would create the appearance of a conflict of interest, nixing the idea.
For her part, Turner's fellow Outreach Work Group member Julie Ramos reported that she went on an uneventful ridealong with the Gang Enforcement Team (GET). It seems if the CRC is going to reach out to the GET, they should carry forth a list of community concerns about racial profiling, pat-downs of young African American men, and the death of Keaton Otis (PPR #51).
In CRC's game of musical chairs (by our count, 27 of the 46 previous members resigned), David Green left in November, replaced by youth mental health and addictions counselor Michael Luna.
UPDATE ON COMPLAINT ABOUT IPR: We reported last issue that Auditor Mary Hull Caballero released the findings from a city investigation showing IPR was "not guilty of any misconduct" against Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner. An Oregonian article on September 12 indicates that though IPR did not harass or discriminate against Officer Turner, IPR's investigator was found to have been discourteous.
--Chair Wilson and Vice Chair Donegan announced in December that they plan to step down from their leadership roles, in order to prompt a re-organizing of CRC which relies on co-chairs and an Executive Committee.
--While CRC's agendas continue to list the Recurring Audit and Deadly Force Work Groups, those groups haven't met in months (or years), and the Audit Group's report on dismissals has never been released.
--CRC's Standard of Review Work Group got the go-ahead from the full CRC to request that they be able to judge Bureau findings by the preponderance of the evidence, as they've suggested before (PPR #55); they are working on a formal report.
--IPR's monthly Director's Report in November was the first in months not to mention the investigation into use of force against teenager Thai Gurule in September 2014 (PPR #65); the community still has not heard the outcome.
--Director Severe is part of a statewide panel following up on HB 2002, which restricts police
profiling and requires investigation of complaints; Severe says he is figuring out how to ensure IPR
follows the new law (see article).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.