Advocates for people with mental illness petition to join US DOJ v. City of Portland

READ – Motion for Amicus Curiae Status by the Mental Health Alliance

In December 2012, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the City of Portland, alleging improper use-of-force by the Portland Police Bureau against members of a protected class. The US Attorney’s Office and the DOJ Civil Rights Division sought injunctive and declaratory relief. Based on findings of more than a year of investigation, the complaint alleged Portland police officers engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of force against individuals with actual or perceived mental illness. In 2014 the City of Portland signed a settlement agreement in US DOJ v. City of Portland, overseen by Judge Michael Simon.

US DOJ v. City of Portland is notable because of its finding of a pattern or practice of undue force against persons with mental illness.

To assist with the settlement agreement, the court currently has an “enhanced” amicus curiae, or “friend of the court.” This the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, representing a number of local churches, organizations and individuals. The group does not directly represent people with mental illness. The Portland Police Association, representing the defendant patrol officers of the Portland Police Bureau, also attends all court negotiations.

As the settlement moves toward resolution, persons and organizations concerned for the welfare of people harmed by the pattern or practice – people with mental illness – have not been directly included in court discussions. No one with lived experience of mental illness has advised the judge or parties except as a member of the general public. No one who solely represents the interests of people with mental illness has engaged with the parties, reviewed documents, or participated in private meetings.

In April 2018 at the US DOJ v. City of Portland Status Hearing, Judge Michael Simon responded to a member of the public by inviting a petition from the mental health community to join the case as a friend of the court.

In response to Judge Simon’s invitation, the Mental Health Association of Portland, joined by Disability Rights Oregon and Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, have formed the Mental Health Alliance and filed a motion for enhanced amicus curiae status in US DOJ v City of Portland on September 10, 2018 in Federal Court in Portland, Oregon.  The three organizations are jointly represented by Juan Chavez, Project Director and an attorney for the Oregon Justice Resource Center’s Civil Rights Project.

Bob Joondeph of Disability Rights Oregon, “Oregon’s long-standing failure to provide adequate behavioral health and housing services for those in need have placed increasing pressures on individuals experiencing mental illness, law enforcement and the community. Disability Rights Oregon has produced investigatory reports showing the dire conditions this has created in our jails and prisons. Law enforcement must not only receive the training and oversight necessary to humanely respond to this crisis, but they must be given better alternatives to keep people out of a cycle of meaningless arrest, punishment and release. The Settlement Agreement is a critical component of achieving a broader solution.”

Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, “The basis of US DOJ v City of Portland remains alarming – people in mental health crisis are at risk of harm by our police officers. The alarm bell continues to ring. Recently we learn 52% of those arrested are homeless. It’s time for agencies who care about the welfare of people with mental illness – and addiction – to help courts determine the full implementation of the settlement agreement.”

About the organizations

The Mental Health Association of Portland is Oregon’s impartial and independent advocate for persons with mental illness and addiction. The organization helps persons with mental illness or addiction speak up and speak out – and speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. The nonprofit is host of the Northwest Law & Mental Health Conference and the Oregon Housing Conference.

Disability Rights Oregon upholds the civil rights of people with disabilities to live, work, and engage in the community. The nonprofit works to transform systems, policies, and practices to give more people the opportunity to reach their full potential. Oregon’s designated Protection & Advocacy System since 1977, Disability Rights Oregon has a unique role: to uphold the legal rights of people with disabilities.

Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare delivers whole health care – integrated mental health and addiction services, primary care, and housing – to support our communities, provide hope and improve well-being for those they serve. For more than 35 years, Cascadia has been the community health and housing safety net provider for Oregonians of all ages experiencing mental health and addiction challenges, trauma, poverty, and homelessness. From prevention to healthy lifestyle education to intensive treatment when needed, their services encompass a more systemic approach to health management for the adults, children, seniors and families they serve.