UPDATE – Mental Health Alliance granted ‘friend of the court’ status in police reform case – October 1, 2018
Portland police union, feds object to Mental Health Alliance’s push for stronger input on reform settlement
Oregonian – September 24, 2018
A lawyer for the Portland police union and federal attorneys are urging a judge to reject the Mental Health Alliance’s request to have a seat at the table in the court’s review of the city’s four-year-old settlement with federal Justice officials on police reforms.
Anil Karia, representing the Portland Police Association, called the alliance’s move a “last-ditch attempt to put its own stamp on this case” that comes “five and a half years too late.”
Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice said the government doesn’t object to the alliance’s input in the case to help the court better understand issues of public interest, but they called its push for “enhanced amicus curiae” unnecessary and way too late. They argue that the alliance’s interests already are adequately represented by federal Justice officials.
The alliance was formed in July and is made up of Disability Rights Oregon, the Mental Health Association of Portland and Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. The groups cite their experience and expertise as direct service providers to people with mental illness.
Karia challenged the alliance’s representation as a new group, noting comprises three, long-standing organizations that have actively participated in prior court hearings or with the police bureau in working to improve police responses to people suffering from mental illness.
The union lawyer argues that each of the agencies already has been represented by the Albina Ministerial Alliance’s Coalition for Justice and Police Reform and by federal government lawyers.
“It borders on fiction for MHA to assert that it needs enhanced amicus status for its voice to be heard,” Karia wrote in a court filing Sunday.
The city’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice called for reforms to police training, policies and oversight after a 2012 federal investigation found Portland police engaged in excessive force against people who have or are perceived to have a mental illness. Investigators also found that police improperly used stun guns against suspects. A federal judge approved the agreement in 2014.
In its recent petition to the court, the alliance cited ongoing police shootings of people with mental illness since the 2014 settlement was approved, the lack of sufficient drop-off or walk-in centers for people in crisis, and the absence for more than a year of meaningful community oversight as evidence the settlement reforms haven’t been embraced.
The alliance had highlighted the April police fatal shooting of John A. Elifritz in a Southeast Portland homeless shelter as the latest example of excessive force used by police against a person in a mental health crisis.
Despite Elifritz demonstrating clear signs of mental distress, at no point in the day or night of his encounters with officers did police have a specially trained officer from its Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team respond, the alliance noted.
The union lawyer countered that Elifritz was high on methamphetamine, refused to drop his knife and put men in the homeless shelter at harm.
“What is substantiated by the investigation is that Mr. Elifritz, a self-avowed white supremacist, engaged in a day-long crime spree that included carjacking a Portlander; committing road rage and threatening motorists; holding a knife to a person’s throat; jeopardizing the personal safety of many people who were simply seeking refuge in a homeless shelter; stabbing himself repeatedly in the neck to the point of gushing blood, which did not appear to faze him, and then charging at police officers while wielding a knife after refusing to comply with multiple police commands, all the while under the influence of methamphetamine,” Karia wrote.
Federal Justice attorneys noted that many of the concerns the alliance raised – the shooting of Elifritz to the safety concerns at the Unity Center for Behavioral Health – are well-known to the government and the parties of the settlement agreement. The alliance isn’t barred from sharing its concerns with the judge through testimony presented in court, federal Justice lawyers and the police union lawyer wrote in separate responses.
Juan Chavez, a lawyer with the Oregon Justice Resource Center’s civil rights project representing the alliance, said the alliance would like to be at the table, providing oral arguments and be present during any mediation sessions in the ongoing agreement. Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon, said the judge seemed open to considering extra involvement, and the alliance wants to provide that.
The city also is expected to oppose the alliance’s request.
All parties to the agreement are set to return before U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon at 9 a.m. Oct. 4 for a status conference.
A recently formed alliance of mental health advocates wants to give their input on the city of Portland’s settlement with the Department of Justice over police use of force. We talk with Juan Chavez, a lawyer with the Oregon Justice Resource Center who is representing the Mental Health Alliance.
City, Feds, and Police Union Reject Mental Health Alliance’s Request to Join Police Reform Talks
Portland Mercury, September 22, 2018
The city, the feds, and the police union all agree: It’s too late to give a new alliance of mental health advocates special standing in the court process that reviews Portland’s federally-mandated police reforms.
“The Mental Health Alliance (MHA) is playing fast and loose with the law,” writes Anil Karia, an attorney representing the Portland Police Association (PPA), in a response filed in federal court on September 23. “MHA’s motion is five-and-a-half years too late.”