People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Bureau Boycotts Citizen Review Committee, Which In Turn
Compels Officers to Attend
On April 20, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), faced with police refusing to show up at a misconduct appeal hearing, voted for the first time ever to use their power to compel officers to attend in May. In the previous three months, Portland's "civilian police review board" met twice a month to catch up on their workload.
The extra work is in part trying to meet the US Department of Justice's unreasonable timeline of disposing of cases in 21 days after an appeal is filed. The outcomes varied from agreeing with the Bureau to attempting to "Sustain" findings-- which led in one case to a meeting with the Chief, replacing that finding with the promise of more investigation. Meanwhile, the City pulled together a "Focus Group" to examine the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), conducting meetings behind closed doors without any appellants or people from the City Work Group (including Portland Copwatch) that led to the creation of IPR and CRC. With the increased workload, the CRC Chair and Vice Chair turned over their positions to others, and helped create a new Executive Committee. Member Angelo Turner resigned in March.
The case of Matt Klug, a man with mental health issues who was tasered multiple times (PPR #67), came back to CRC on April 20 with additional information CRC had requested in October. Because the police were not satisfied with CRC's security plans (after the March 30 hearing--p. 4) the Chief said they would not send the head of Internal Affairs, the officers' commander, or anyone to the hearing. Once Klug agreed his hearing would be best served by police presence, in an unprecedented move CRC voted 7-0 to require the officers to attend, as provided for in the IPR ordinance. Meanwhile, Auditor Mary Hull Caballero announced that because the City Attorney had given bad advice to CRC at the March 30 hearing, she had asked them not to attend the April meeting and was looking for independent counsel. This is an important step toward accountability, ending the conflict of interest of the attorney advising both the cops and the oversight body.
In our last issue, we laid out facts from appeal #2015-x-0004 about police "kettling" (boxing in) the crowd at a November 2014 protest. The demonstration ended up by Central Precinct downtown, where community members voiced objection to the lack of indictment in Ferguson. Although officers told protestors to both get on and off the sidewalk, and arrested a person standing on the sidewalk, the Bureau found no wrongdoing. That decision relied on how IPR Director Constantin Severe formulated the allegations-- rather than focusing on the individual cops who violated people's rights, he asked whether the supervisors who ordered arrests to begin were out of policy. At the January 6 hearing, Teressa Raiford of Don't Shoot Portland, who helped organize the protest, testified the plan was to have a "die-in" in the street for 4.5 minutes and then leave, but protestors didn't get the chance because the cops boxed them in. After hearing from Raiford and fellow protestor Theresa Holloway, the only one of about eight complainants to file an appeal, CRC felt Holloway and others who'd been told they were under arrest-- but were let go-- had been improperly detained. Committee members noted Captain Brian Parman could not have reasonably "Exonerated" the police because the investigation only focused on people who (unlike Holloway) were taken into custody and processed. CRC voted 5-3 to say the commanders who ordered arrests were in violation of Bureau policies because the orders were unconstitutional. In a rarity, CRC made headlines on the Oregonian and Portland Mercury's websites for the strong stance.
Chief Larry O'Dea disagreed with the suggestion to "Sustain" the findings. He spoke on February 25 at a "Conference Hearing," a chance for the Bureau and CRC to work out differences. Despite the fact that for many years, the IPR and the City Attorney have told CRC they do not have the power to ask for cases to be sent back for allegations to be added, that's exactly what O'Dea asked them to do. He pledged the police would reformulate allegations and conduct investigation to address those in Holloway's situation (who were told they were under arrest but released). CRC voted 7-0 to send the case back. Had CRC disagreed with O'Dea, the case would have gone before City Council-- something that has only happened once since CRC first met in 2002 (PPR #30).
The Mercury, which followed up on this incident in part because one of its reporters was caught up in the November 2014 "kettling," identified the Commander in question as Sara Westbrook (Mercury Blog, January 6).
Case #2016-X-0001: "You Must Not Be a Very Good Lawyer"
Only six CRC members showed up for a special January 21 meeting to hear the Case File Review for Sara Foroshani, a public defender who witnessed a woman outside Goodwill being manhandled by police and was then roughly treated for intervening. Her appeal (#2016-x-0001) included allegations that (1) Officer B dragged the woman out of her car by the hair, (2) Officer A pushed Foroshani (which IPR called a "control hold"), and (3) after hearing her advise the arrestee she did not have to talk to the police, both officers said something along the lines of "you must not be a very good lawyer." Officer A was also accused of using profanity ("no fucking way you're a defense attorney"); though Foroshani wasn't sure if the cop swore or not, a witness confirms hearing it. The Bureau found the force allegations within policy ("Exonerated"), while the other allegations were "Not Sustained"-- there wasn't enough evidence to prove or disprove them. The case went to the Police Review Board because Director Severe "controverted" the findings, saying Officer A's unprofessional behavior allegation should be Sustained since he admitted to making disparaging remarks. The PRB and/or the Chief appear to have disagreed.
The case was complicated by the fact that the arrestee was allegedly using drugs in her car and was still facing charges during the investigation, so her lawyer would not let her talk to investigators about the complaint. CRC sent the case back for more investigation, but in February IPR said they tried but couldn't find the witness. The appeal is still pending, postponed from April 6 (see below).
On February 2, CRC held a Case File Review to consider the appeal of Warren, a young African American man who had been approached by police for allegedly not using a turn signal (case #2016-x-0002). Warren argued with officers about whether he'd used the signal and refused to show his license because he felt they had no reason to stop him. After about five minutes, three officers grabbed his arms, pinned him against the trunk of the police car, cuffed him, and Officer B* put a wrist lock on him. Warren said when he complained about the pain (his arm had previously been injured by law enforcement), the officer said he "didn't give a fuck." Warren's father arrived on scene and gave police information so they could check the son's record. Based on the license plate, they thought he was a person who'd recently driven the same car, received a DUII and had his license suspended. He wasn't, so the cops let the young man go without charges.
In his interview, Warren described being afraid he was going to be killed, being unsure the people who pulled him over were actually police, and wondering why they asked if he was "Mario." Officer A said Warren expressed fear of being shot by the cops while unarmed, and Warren called him a racist. In the totality of the circumstances, it's not clear why IPR and Internal Affairs did not flag this incident as racial profiling. Officer A saw the car and ran a record check even though there was no suspected criminal activity--Warren just "stopped at a flashing red light for an extended period of time." They then waited until he (allegedly) failed to signal a turn to pull him over.
Because Officer B did not remember using profanity but did not deny swearing, the "courtesy" allegation was "Not Sustained." However, even though Warren thought officers used excessive force, IPR categorized his handcuffing as a "control hold" and the Bureau "Exonerated" their actions. With the case where officers allegedly shoved Teressa Raiford and Ms. Foroshani's case, this makes three recent cases where force allegations were downplayed or not investigated for force. Despite the questions raised, CRC voted to hold an appeal once the officer's Lieutenant was available (apparently nobody confirmed the Lt. was available for the Case File Review).
*Note: The IPR report identified Officer B as "Officer Balso," but our records show no PPB
employee by that name.
Case 2016-X-0003: Grabbing a Woman Over a $1.25 Transit Fare
At their March 2 meeting, CRC heard the Case File Review and Appeal of Micehlle, a woman with diabetes who was yanked around by her shoulder bag by an officer questioning the validity of her "Honored Citizen" Trimet pass. Michelle was waiting for a MAX train when the officer asked to see her fare and ID. She says she showed him both, which she keeps visible in her wallet to make that process go faster. The cop felt she did not sufficiently display her identification, so when she walked away to try to read the display board about next arrivals, he yelled out to her but she didn't respond. Michelle explained she knew she'd shown her information and didn't think he would be calling to her. When he grabbed her shoulder bag, it spun her around. She says he also put his hands on her arm, but he doesn't remember doing so and there are no surveillance cameras at that part of the train platform. Either way, it was considered a use of force.
Commander Mike Leloff admitted a $2.50 train ticket is not a significant governmental interest to use force. (Actually, an honored citizen ticket is $1.25.) He jumped into a discussion of how police check fares on everyone getting on and off public transit to plug an $11 million shortfall from those who don't pay. On balance, he exonerated the officer for his use of force but was going to debrief him for failing to report the grab as a use of force (the definition of force changed recently).
Michelle and her Appeals Process Advisor TJ Browning explained in great detail the trauma of the experience. Michelle had previously had a run-in with police and expressed having psychological problems in the wake of this new incident. Portland Copwatch also pointed out that any woman having a man come up from behind and grab her bag would probably feel violated. After Leloff agreed to discuss the impact of the use of force when he debriefs the officer, CRC voted 7-0 to uphold the original finding.
On March 30, the CRC heard the Case File Review and appeal of Robert West, an activist with Film the Police 911 who tapes public interactions of cops. While West was video-ing outside Central Precinct in October, Officer Scott Groshong (#27445) drove up in an unmarked SUV, got out, put his hand on the camera's lens, said "oh, it's you," then got back in the vehicle and left.
West filed a complaint and the officer's commander-- (former?) neo-Nazi Capt. Mark Kruger (PPR #52)-- said there wasn't enough evidence to prove or disprove the allegation ("Not Sustained"). Both the head of the Professional Standards Division (PSD) and IPR Director Severe "contravened" Kruger, suggesting the finding be "Sustained" since there's evidence the officer acted in an unprofessional way.
This dispute automatically meant the case went to the (secret) Police Review Board, which includes: an Assistant Chief, a peer officer, Severe, a community member, and... Capt Kruger. (We've complained about allowing the commander to vote on his/her own finding many times.) The Board voted 4-1 to uphold Kruger's finding, and according to a letter from Severe, Kruger called the complaint "pettifogging" (a waste of time over nothing). Severe triggered a never-used provision of the PRB City Code to forward the case for an expedited CRC appeal; Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner, who attended to speak on Groshong's behalf, questioned whether Severe read the code properly. He may be right-- though it's moot since West filed his own appeal.
Some CRC members focused more on why West was video-ing police cars than whether the cop was guilty of misconduct, with new member Michael Luna taking time during his vote to caution West not to reveal the identities of undercover officers like Groshong. In a fascinating revelation, PSD Captain Derek Rodrigues called out Kruger for having the video broken down frame-by- frame to make his finding-- information PSD did not include as part of the investigation. Kruger claimed he couldn't Sustain the complaint because the allegation used the word "grabbed," and the officer putting his hand on the camera's lens didn't fit the dictionary definition. Fortunately, most of the CRC found Kruger's decision unreasonable, meaning under City Code they could recommend a different outcome-- suggesting in a 5-2 vote to Sustain the allegation (Jim Young and Julie Ramos voted no).
For the record, this was only the third time out of seven cases in which CRC heard the full appeal immediately after the Case File Review since City Code was changed to speed up the process.
At the end of this meeting, an audience member tossed a cup of water on one CRC member, prompting the Chair to adjourn the meeting. Chief O'Dea and Daryl Turner each warned CRC they would not send officers to CRC meetings unless security measures were undertaken. Despite the fact that they could have subpoenaed PSD and the Commander to the hearing, CRC cancelled their April 6 meeting.
In February, the CRC elected Kristen Malone as Chair and Julie Ramos as Vice Chair. They then created an Executive Committee including the Work Group chairs for Outreach, Recurring Audit, and newly-named Policy and Procedure.
CRC came up with this plan between their third January meeting--which involved all 11 members-- and the beginning of March, with no public discussion. The January 25 meeting mostly focused on breaking into small groups to hold hearings. The Executive Committee will include at least five CRC members--a quorum under City Code--so those meetings will have to be public.
ALSO AT IPR/CRC:
--The Auditor refused requests from the League of Women Voters and PCW to present the 2014 IPR annual report to City Council, saying that the data were so old it was no longer relevant. Since it was the Auditor's office that delayed the release of that report until November 2015 (PPR #67), that's circular logic and doesn't help with transparency and high-level understanding of what's going on with accountability in our city.
--In addition to the ongoing shortcomings of CRC's powers, when the Bureau made changes to the definitions of its findings (Exonerated, Not Sustained, Sustained, Unproven), their definitions reverted to old ones that heavily favor the police. Since the Directives project is on-and-off (article), it's not clear when this topic will come up again. PCW thinks City Council should enshrine the definitions in law to prevent such bias.
--The Auditor told CRC not to expect a lull in their busy appeals schedule, saying the
"Independent" Police Review Division plans to do more investigations. The implication is that the
investigations by IPR produce more outcomes to which complainants object. Maybe if the
investigations were thorough, there wouldn't be any appeals?
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.