Questions linger about Portland police settlement on excessive force, including future body camera policy

A federal judge on Friday found that the city’s promised $ 4 million worth of remedies are “fair and reasonable” to meet the demands of a 2014 settlement with the US Department of Justice designed to curb police use of excessive force.

Yet US District Judge Michael H. Simon and community leaders highlighted many continuing challenges that plague the agreement.

Simon questioned the city closely about its progress in drafting a policy governing future use of police body cameras in Portland and the lack of city staff support for a citizen committee working as a bridge between residents and police. The group has struggled to get a quorum because of six unfilled seats.

He also asked about how an inappropriate and derogatory police training presentation advocating violence against protesters escaped oversight by Justice Department lawyers.

Several Portland leaders, including the Albina Ministerial Alliance’s Coalition for Justice and Police Reform and former state Sen. Avel Gordly, called for a court-appointed monitor to oversee the settlement reforms, citing concerns about continued police fatal shootings of people in mental health crisis, lack of police accountability and the inadequacies of the citizen oversight committee.

“Our city is not prepared for another George Floyd or another controversial shooting. It’s not a matter of if this will happen, but when, “said the Rev. LeRoy Haynes, co-chair of the coalition, referring to the 2020 killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. “That’s why reforming the Portland Police Bureau is critically important to speed up the process because we don’t have the level of trust that’s needed.”

Gordly, speaking by phone, told the judge that the current citizen checks-and-balance system on the mandated police reforms is not working.

“We’ve squandered the talents, time and energy of volunteers who wanted to do the work, showed up to do the work, but did not receive the quality of resources and support from the city to do the work effectively,” she said. “That model doesn’t work.”

While the judge said he believes a special court monitor would be valuable, he said he can’t order one unless the Justice Department asks him to do so.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Hager said the federal department is open to the idea. “We’re thinking about it, talking about it,” he said.

The original settlement, approved by Simon eight years ago, followed a federal investigation that found Portland officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. It called for widespread changes to use-of-force and Taser policies, training, supervision and oversight, a restructuring of police crisis intervention services and quicker investigations into alleged police misconduct.

A year ago, the Justice Department issued a formal notice to the city that it had failed to meet key changes under the settlement, citing inappropriate police use and management of force during 2020’s racial justice protests in Portland, inadequate training and subpar supervision by higher-ups.

The city agreed to most of the remedies sought by the Justice Department. They include hiring a civilian dean of police training, contracting with an outside expert to conduct a review of the Police Bureau’s use of force and response to the 2020 protests, equipping officers with body-worn cameras, requiring improved officer reporting on force and supervisors’ after-action reviews, and continued city support for the Independent Police Review office until the city transitions to a voter-approved Community Police Oversight Board.

The city and police union are in mediation over a body camera policy. If they do not reach an agreement, their proposals will go to a state arbitrator who will decide the policy. Any policy, though, would have to be approved by the Justice Department. Federal lawyers could return to the judge to enforce the policy.

The Justice Department has called for a camera policy that would not allow officers who use deadly force to review the footage before giving a statement or writing a report, but allow officers to supplement their reports or statements after viewing the footage.

Simon said he believes he has authority to overrule a collective bargaining agreement if it breaches the settlement requirements. He said he would likely have to hold a full-blown hearing to establish the breach and then could order a fix.

Anil Karia, the lawyer for the Portland Police Association, challenged the judge’s authority in that situation and noted that a pilot policy for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement would allow its agents to review body camera footage ahead of writing reports.

But both the judge and Hager said Portland, unlike other major cities, has been ordered to equip its officers with body cameras and adopt an appropriate policy governing their use because it failed to meet settlement requirements on the use of force during the 2020 protests.

“This body-worn camera policy in this city is the result of noncompliance with a federal court order” and is tailored to address those problems, Hager said.

Community members and Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty blasted the city’s process for selecting a civilian police training dean.

Hardesty said the two unannounced finalists out of a pool of 16 candidates have law enforcement backgrounds and shouldn’t be considered. One of her staff members sits on the interview panel for the selection. She called for the entire application process to be redone, saying it lacked community involvement. The city and Justice Department have suggested that the training dean work with the police training captain, which Hardesty and several others criticized as unacceptable.

Rochelle Silver, a psychologist and a member of the Mental Health Alliance, said the training dean must be granted independence and authority. Otherwise, she said, “Although it sounds good, it will probably be nothing but expensive window dressing.”

Jonathan Brown, a volunteer with the Mental Health Alliance and an epidemiologist, submitted his own analysis of police use of force to the court, finding that the rate of police using force against people perceived to be in mental health crisis has increased since 2017. He said he examined dispatched calls for services “most likely to involve the mentally impaired” and force data reports from the Police Bureau. He also said the use of serious force has almost doubled since 2017 for people in mental health distress.

The judge and federal and city lawyers briefly discussed the controversial police crowd control training presentation that was made public in January after surfacing during the course of sharing discovery evidence in a pending lawsuit against the city.

The city released a PowerPoint training slide showing a “Prayer of the Alt Knight” – a meme that uses biblical terms to urge the beating and pepper-spraying of demonstrators derided as “dirty” hippies. The meme advocated leaving protesters “cuffed and stuffed” and “stitched and bandaged” to teach them a lesson and came at the end of a training presentation that contained other inappropriate slides.

The city of Portland should have reported the training presentation to the Justice Department when it was developed, apparently in 2018, as required by the city’s settlement, federal lawyers have said.

Simon asked Friday: “Where did that slide deck come from? Was it used? Was it presented? How did it get in there? Where was the oversight? ”

City Attorney Robert Taylor apologized for the three-month delay in making the training slides public. “I got that wrong and I apologize for that,” he said. “That’s on me.”

He said an internal affairs investigation is continuing into the training slides. Police Chief Chuck Lovell said he expects the inquiry to be completed soon.

Simon asked if the city’s failure to inform the Justice Department of the derogatory training slide should spur “additional protections” in the settlement.

The Justice Department expects to issue another compliance report in June that will address the training slides, said department lawyer R. Jonas Geissler.

The court plans to hold its next status hearing on the settlement July 27 and will likely discuss the training presentation further then.

Attorney J. Ashlee Albies, who represents the ministerial coalition, said the city’s delay in sharing the training presentation until it was essentially forced to show that the city cannot be trusted to make improvements on its own.

Albies said the material reflects a serious problem in the bureau’s culture.

“The issue is that this slide deck did not exist within the bureau or anywhere else,” she said.

Simon agreed, noting the court hasn’t “even begun to scratch the surface of the underlying issue, what it shows was a violation and what we do if there was.”

– Maxine Bernstein

Email at [email protected]; 503-221-8212

Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian

Leave a Comment

News Msuica