The legal drama over police reform in Portland isn’t quite over yet.
Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz are going to ask their colleagues to consider pushing back at one of the more contentious elements of a federal judge’s decision to accept a package of police reforms negotiated between the city and the federal Department of Justice: an order that the city and feds, along with the Portland Police Association and community advocates return to court for annual updates.
They’re seeking a vote during next week’s council meeting, according to a resolution (pdf) obtained by the Mercury. The announcement was reported this morning by the Oregonian, although it was cast as a move to toss out the requirement for updates. Both elected officials say they’re addressing only the requirement for the updates, not the reforms themselves. Hales and Fritz, in an announcement, insist they want to “clarify” what US District Court Judge Michael Simon’s role in overseeing the progress of reform might be.
“This appeal does not challenge the settlement that four stakeholders—the U.S. Department of Justice, the City, Portland Police Association, and Albina Ministerial Alliance—agreed to,” Hales said in comments emailed to the Mercury. “The City and the Police Bureau are fully committed to the reforms outlined in the settlement agreement. Chief Mike Reese, our next chief Larry O’Dea, and the entire bureau remain dedicated to continually improving the service our police officers deliver to the community. This resolution authorizes a narrow appeal to clarify the judge’s role in the implementation. We all want to move forward, get out of court and get to work.”
“It clearly identifies that the Council is directly responsible for oversight, which ensures that Portlanders know who is responsible and accountable for managing the Police Bureau in conformance with the community’s values,” Fritz is quoted as saying in the city’s announcement. “The settlement emphasizes community engagement. I believe that public trust in policing in Portland depends on all Council members demonstrating that we are committed to implementing the Agreement fully. I accept that responsibility. I look forward to collaborating with all Portlanders on this crucial work, especially those with lived experience enduring mental illnesses.”
The possibility of an appeal has always loomed over Simon’s ruling, issued August 29, as first reported by the Mercury. The city had long chafed at Simon’s insistence on regular updates, concerned about the implications of that extra oversight and questioning Simon’s authority, even though the feds and the Albina Ministerial Alliance both agreed Simon could order them if he wished.
Hales’ office pointedly didn’t respond to our questions, after the ruling came down, on whether an appeal might come or if the city would knuckle under to Simon’s insistence.
Not everyone sees this as a modest bump on the road to an otherwise cheery acceptance of the reforms, which are meant to answer federal accusations Portland officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of using force against Portlanders with mental illness.
One advocate, Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland—who’s been critical of Hales’ decision not to try funding mental health facilities called for in the federal settlement along with the city’s process for hiring a compliance officer/community liaison to oversee reforms—issued a blistering statement this morning. Renaud was responding to the O‘s reporting.
Mayor Hales has taken every opportunity to delay, diminish and disregard the settlement agreement in DOJ v City of Portland. Today’s proposal to council to appeal Judge Simon’s modest requirement for annual reporting on progress of the settlement to the court should be rejected by Council members. Persons with mental illness have been admittedly harmed by Portland’s police and after three years of dawdling there is still no independent assurance anything has changed.
Without timely redress, justice is again effectively denied.
The full announcement by Hales and Fritz is here (pdf).
READ – Portland Mayor Charlie Hales seeks to appeal federal judge’s order requiring city to present evidence of police reforms during annual updates, Oregonian 10 17 2014
READ – City Council may appeal DOJ settlement update requirement, Portland Tribune, 10 17 2014
READ – Portland’s Mayor To Feds: Clear This Up, KXL.com, 10 17 2014
Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform
c/o Allen Temple 4236 NE 8th Avenue, Portland, OR 97211
For Immediate Release October 17, 2014
Media contact: Dr. T Allen Bethel, Co-Chair, AMA Coalition, (503) 288-7241
AMA COALITION CONDEMNS CITY MOVE TO DILUTE OVERSIGHT OF FEDERAL CHANGES
The Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform condemned today the proposal by City Council to appeal Judge Michael Simon’s limited oversight of the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement. Though the City says it is focusing solely on whether Judge Simon has the authority to call the parties to the lawsuit (including the AMA Coalition) into his courtroom for annual reports on the implementation of changes to the Police Bureau, the Coalition sees the move as avoiding due diligence and the transparency promised when the City signed off on the Settlement. The appeal will likely delay entry of the judge’s order.
The lawsuit prompting the Settlement Agreement focused on excessive force by the Portland Police against people in mental health crisis, but if implemented properly and thoroughly, should result in de-escalation during police contacts with all Portlanders.
“In light of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, which is in an uproar about issues around race and police accountability, this is an attempt to backtrack and dilute and get rid of the limited oversight provided by the judgment entered by Judge Simon in August,” said Rev. Dr. LeRoy Haynes, the Chair of the AMA Coalition. “This move further reduces the community trust for reform and accountability of the Portland Police Bureau.”
The Coalition calls upon the members of City Council to reject this proposal, being put forth by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz in the form of a Council Resolution authorizing the City Attorney to appeal the judgement, and further calls upon the community to attend the Council hearing at 3:30 PM on Wednesday, October 22 to oppose the Resolution.