Council Gives Photo Request a Negative

Not Available Elsewhere Online – June 22, 1995 | The Oregonian

The Portland City Council decided Wednesday to fight in court a television station’s request for a photograph of the police officer who fired 22 rounds at a fleeing suspect.

Only Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury voted against taking the case to court, saying the bureau should have developed “clear policies” addressing release of photographs instead of plunging into a legal battle that probably will cost Portland taxpayers thousands of dollars.

“We knew this issue would come up. . . . and now we are scurrying after the fact,” Kafoury said.

Officials say releasing the personnel photo of Officer Douglas Erickson, or any other officer, could be dangerous because officers might someday work undercover. Erickson, who was fired after the 1993 shooting and then was reinstated, works a uniformed officer in Central Precinct.

“Police should have higher level of accountability. . . . but there is also the issue of safety and security, especially for those who work undercover,” Mayor Vera Katz said. “I would like to have this finalized in a court of law.”

Gerald F. Gratton Jr., now 28, was shot in the back and left elbow in the 1993 incident. He was treated and released from a hospital the same night.

In May, when Erickson was reinstated by an arbitrator, KPTV anchor Lars Larson asked for Erickson’s photograph, saying citizens have a legitimate interest in knowing what the officer looks like.

“The city should keep public business public,” Larson said.

Larson’s request was given to city attorneys, who advised against releasing the photo, claiming it would put the officer in danger.

The Police Bureau refused the request. Larson appealed to the Multnomah County district attorney. Senior District Attorney David Hattrick ruled that police must release Erickson’s photo.

“The information submitted by the Police Bureau does not adequately show a particularized peril to Officer Douglas Erickson if his personnel photo were released,” Hattrick wrote.

Police rejected that decision and filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court to fight the release.

Police Chief Charles Moose believes his bureau is exempt from Oregon’s public records law, which requires public agencies to release documents such as photographs.

“We have worked to be more open to the community,” Moose said. “I believe the request is a vindictive effort by the media. Officer Erickson has been exonerated. We are putting public employees at risk by distributing their photographs, and that is poor public policy.”

The case could land in court this summer.