Community police oversight panel to meet in undisclosed location with video feed for public
After halting recent meetings due to disruptions from the public, the city’s Community Oversight Advisory Board will gather Thursday night in an undisclosed location yet allow the session to be viewed on a video feed in the Portland Building.
The board was set up as part of the city’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to allow members of the community to monitor the progress of Portland police reforms.
The board’s chairwoman, Kathleen Saadat, resigned at the end of June, and the agenda for Thursday night’s meeting suggests members will discuss the board’s priorities and their “work moving forward.”
The board’s website and its agenda for the meeting simply states that members of the public “are invited to observe the meeting via video feed” in the Portland Building’s Room B. The meeting runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday.
“The room will be set up to allow for public comment, per the agenda,” it says.
Deputy City Attorney Ellen Osoinach, who has worked with the board and Police Bureau regarding police oversight and reforms required under the federal settlement, referred questions to the Chicago-based academics who were hired to serve as chairs of the board and the city’s compliance officers, Dennis Rosenbaum and Amy Watson.
Watson said she and Rosenbaum made the decision and shared it with the board’s executive committee at its meeting last week.
“We felt it necessary to provide a safe environment that will allow the COAB to conduct its business while also providing an avenue for public participation,” Watson said.
She noted the board has had “significant disruptions” to the last few meetings.
“In fact, we have not been able to get through a full agenda since the April 28, 2016, meeting,” Watson said. The disruptions have prevented the board from getting its work done, and several members have expressed concern about their safety at meetings, she said.
Last month, the board couldn’t get through its agenda, due to the repeated shouting of insults and disruptions from some in attendance. They criticized Saadat for coming up with new restrictions that limited filming of the public sessions to a specific area of the room. Others complained that the board doesn’t represent the voices of the community, and another board member was harangued for failing to apologize to a regular attendee who videotapes the meetings after having referred to him as a skinhead on a Facebook post.
Board member Avel Gordly last month suggested the panel take a hiatus this summer to regroup and move past the “current dysfunction and disruptions.” But any such decision had to be made by the full board, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers advised.
On Tuesday, Gordly said she didn’t support the decision by Rosenbaum and Watson regarding the format for Thursday’s meeting.
“I will not support separate meeting arrangements that feed into, or perpetuate an us versus them or them versus us mentality,” Gordly said. “We can and must do better than that.”
Fellow board members Tom Steenson, Philip Wolfe and Myrlaviani Rivier, who sit on a board subcommittee on accountability, supported a motion Tuesday night, calling on the full board to meet in the same room as the public on Thursday.
“My current plan is to sit with you all” on Thursday night, Steenson told members of the public attending the board subcommittee meeting on accountability.
The board was created to monitor reforms outlined in an agreement that stemmed from a 2012 U.S. Justice Department investigation, which found Portland police engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force against people with mental illness or perceived to have mental illness. The investigation also found that stun gun use by officers was unjustified and excessive at times.
The board’s bylaws say the board shall meet at least two hours each month to assess the progress of the agreement. The settlement agreement is clear that all board meetings must be open to the public.
Dan Handelman, who leads the police watchdog group Portland Copwatch, said in an email that although the public video feed format for the meeting technically falls within state law, “it seems like a violation of the spirit of the purpose of having a community-based body to act as an intermediary between the public and the city/police bureau.”
He said he also thinks it’s a “disastrous decision” to make now that Saadat is no longer chairing the board, since it was largely her decisions to restrict where people videotaping the meeting could stand that led to much of the disruptions.
“The board has a chance now to show the community it is dedicated to open and welcoming meetings, but is going in the opposite direction,” Handelman said.
Eds note – the “Open Letter” and “List of Issues” below were circulated on July 4 to the Compliance Officer and Community Liaison and the Community Oversight Advisory Board.
Open Letter – July 4, 2016
We, the individuals named below, oppose the Compliance Officer and Community Liaison (COCL) hiring yet another local person to be the Chair of the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB). In the interest of self-governance and independence from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the City and the COCL, we are convinced after what has happened over the past year and a half that the Chair of the COAB needs to be a COAB member selected by a vote of the full COAB. To the extent the current Settlement Agreement requires the COCL to be the Chair of the COAB, the Settlement Agreement needs to be modified by the DOJ and the City to give the COAB the authority to select its own Chair from its members.
We believe this change in how the COAB operates is crucial to building community trust in the COAB and in allowing the COAB to successfully fulfill its responsibilities under the Settlement Agreement between the DOJ and the City.
Catherine Gardner, Avel Gordy, Jimi Johnson, Laquida Lanford, Mireaya Medina, Myrlaviani Rivier, Rochelle Silver, Tom Steenson, Philip Wolfe
List of issues for the COAB to consider regarding the operation of the COAB and the COCL:
1. Should the COAB be allowed to select its chair from its membership rather than being chaired by the COCL?
2. Should the COCL be replaced, in whole or in part, by a court-appointed monitor with duties and responsibilities similar to the court-appointed monitors for settlement agreements in cases brought by the DOJ against other cities such as in Seattle and New Orleans?
3. What paid staff and funding does the COAB need to fulfill its responsibilities under the Settlement Agreement?
4. Should members of the COAB receive stipends or at least receive reimbursement for mileage, parking and bus expenses?
5. Should the COAB have the authority to select and have access to private legal counsel, independent of the City Attorney’s Office, to give legal advice to the COAB on matters affecting the operation of the COAB and fulfilling its responsibilities under the Settlement Agreement?
6. What should be the criteria and process for selecting and appointing individuals to the COAB?
7. What should be the criteria and process for selecting and appointing individuals to the Executive Committee? Should there be a term limit on membership on the Executive Committee?
8. How many subcommittees, including the Executive Committee, should COAB members be allowed to serve on at one time?
Resignation letters from COAB members 2015-2016
Bud Feuless nominated by Human Rights Commission & the Portland Office of Disability
Cory Murphy nominated by – unknown
Alisha Moreland-Capuia – nominated by Mayor Charlie Hales
Emanuel Price nominated by Human Rights Commission
Ime Kerlee nominated by Albina Ministerial Alliance
Kristi Jamison – nominated by the Portland Office of Disability
Vanessa Gonzalez nominated by Human Rights Commission & the Portland Office of Disability
Paul Meyer – nominated by the Portland Police Bureau
Se-ah-dom Edmo nominated by Human Rights Commission
Sharon Maxwell nominated by Albina Ministerial Alliance
Sharon Meieran nominated by City Commissioner Steve Novick
Joshua Robinson nominated by Human Rights Commission & the Portland Office of Disability
Michael Cahana nominated by City Commissioner Dan Saltzman
Avel Gordly nominated by City Commissioner Nick Fish (coming 7/22/2016)
Mental illness no excuse for disruption of Portland police oversight meeting
See – DOJ-driven PDX Police Oversight Begins To Collapse, June 15, 2016
Eds. note – Author Amy Watson co-manages the city contract for oversight of the settlement of US DOJ v. City of Portland, which seeks to develop trust and respect between people with mental illness and the police. COAB members Sharon Meieren, MD, and Ime Kersee, PhD, resigned from the police oversight committee during the week of June 27. In the prior week another committee member and board chair quit.
I am truly saddened by the recent disruptions at Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) meetings by a small group of angry people, some of whom identify as having lived experience of mental illness.
The purpose of the COAB is to provide community voice and oversight to the police reform process required by the settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the city of Portland. The agreement resulted from DOJ’s finding of a pattern of excessive force used against people with mental illnesses. The voice of people with mental illnesses and their families is critical to this process.
I have occupied many roles in the mental health and criminal justice arenas. Professionally, I have been a probation officer working on a specialist mental health team, a forensic social worker/mitigation specialist, a social work educator, and a researcher focusing on mental illness stigma and police response to mental health crises.
Currently, I am part of the compliance office and community liaison team monitoring the city’s compliance with the settlement agreement. Personally, I identify as a person with lived experience, a family member and an advocate. So it is from this perspective that I share my thoughts on the recent disruptions at COAB meetings and personal attacks on COAB members.
First, I must clarify that I do not know the mental health history of the individuals who have disrupted the meetings, only that some have shared that they live with mental illness. This small group claims to represent “the community,” and some have suggested that their disruptive and often verbally abusive behavior should be excused due to their mental health conditions.
Certainly, no one should be discriminated against simply because they live with a mental illness, and reasonable accommodations should be made to support people with psychiatric disabilities in fully participating in civic life. However, this does not justify repeatedly disrupting meetings to the point that no work can be done, name-calling and nasty personal attacks, and the drowning out of all other voices.
It is these negative actions that we have attempted to restrict from COAB meetings and not, as has been indicated, the perspectives of people critical of the police and the reform process.
To assume that people with mental illnesses are never in control of their behavior, and thus should be allowed to disrupt, harass and impede the rights of others without consequence, is in itself stigmatizing. There may be times during acute phases of illness or crisis that a person’s behavior arises directly from psychiatric symptoms, but most of the time their behavior is motivated by the same things that motivate all people.
Based on what I have observed, some members of the group of disrupters exhibit symptoms that may impact their ability to regulate their behavior at meetings, while others appear to be engaged in planned disruptive behavior, all supported by others whose primary goal appears to be undermining and attacking the COAB chair and volunteer members of the COAB. The planned disruptions have stifled the voice of COAB members and meeting attendees who also have the right to participate in this important process. This small group of mean-spirited individuals cannot be allowed to dominate meetings and drown out other community members.
The “community” of people with lived experience is diverse, and they do not always speak with a single voice. While the small group of disrupters may represent a portion of the community, they do not represent the voice of all with lived experience and certainly do not represent the entire community of Portland.
There are mechanisms for all to have a voice in this process. There is public comment time at all meetings, and members of the community can join COAB subcommittees. Comments can be submitted electronically as well. There is also a publicized process for requesting accommodations.
In order for people to be able to work together, there must be respect for reasonable rules of conduct. It is difficult to understand why a small group of people who claim to be fighting for constitutional and human rights are so determined to deny those rights to others in this effort to improve the Portland Police Bureau’s response to mental health crises.