Today Portland’s City Council will consider filing an appeal to DOJ v City of Portland, the long simmering lawsuit which in 2011 found the Portland Police Bureau has a “pattern and practice” of harming persons in a mental health crisis.
City Attorney Ellen Osoinach wants to amend the decision of Federal Judge Michael Simon, who intends to bring the settlement’s Compliance Officer/Community Liaison to his court once a year to repeat and clarify their determination whether the PPB is turning it around and not beating people up anymore.
Osoinach wants to lower the bar, to reduce oversight, and frankly undermine the credibility of her office. Further, her appeal would undermine police credibility, the work of hundreds of citizens supporting police engagement, and the still unhired Compliance Officer/Community Liaison, stuck in the middle.
Council agreed to the settlement in 2012. They passed a telephone tax to pay for the upgrade. Police officials have been repairing the damage described by the suit with additional training, new tools and resources, new staff and a determination to regain trust and confidence. They’re not done, but they seem to be doing what needs to get done.
Why would the city attorney stall now? Why not? She appeals DOJ v City of Portland because she can. Why not throw a petulant monkeywrench? Note this is not the first time stalling by a city attorney has undermined police reform. James Chasse died in 2006, and for lack of mayoral oversight of the city attorney’s office, his case was not settled until 2010.
The press release argument Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz make is City Council is accountable for DOJ v City of Portland. But accountability is not judgement. They forget the context; as defendant in DOJ v City of Portland their judgement is not impartial. An appeal underscores a continuing effort of City Hall to delay, diminish and disregard the settlement agreement.
Without timely redress, justice is effectively denied. Without an impartial review of the settlement’s progress, it’s effectiveness is compromised. We won’t trust the outcome, regardless how sincere or rigorous.
The answer to the city attorney is no. The law does not solve all legal problems. Commissioners Dan Saltzman, Nick Fish and Steve Novick should block this foolish last minute move and let DOJ v City of Portland settle as agreed.
READ – Portland City Council should swallow ego, accept federal judge’s oversight of DOJ settlement, Oregonian editorial, October 21, 2014
READ – City to Appeal to Clarify Judge’s Role in DOJ Settlement, Mayor’s office press release