By WALLACE TURNER, Special to the New York Times
Published: May 27, 1981
PORTLAND, Ore., May 24— A police scandal spawned in the torrent of cash from the illegal narcotics trade is running its course behind this city’s lovely facade of blooming late-spring flowers and rainwashed, sun-dried streets.
Five narcotics squad officers have been forced to resign, and one of them went to prison on conviction for trafficking in narcotics. Another has become an informer in the investigation of the narcotics squad.
Three to five more policemen face judgment soon, according to lawenforcement officials, when a report by a combined force from the police and the District Attorney’s office is completed. Seventeen officers were assigned to the narcotics squad; all have been replaced in the last six months.
About 50 to 60 narcotics cases were tainted by police misconduct, but official concern about this has been eased because no one is now in jail in any of the tainted cases. Officers Dividing the Loot
While officials say that Portland’s drug traffic is not unusually large for a metropolitan area of 1.2 million people, it is no less lucrative than most. Police Chief Bruce Baker tells of an incident in which four officers divided $10,000 they stole from an apartment they entered with a search warrant. ”There was so much money in that pad that the people didn’t even miss $10,000 cash,” the chief said. The officers resigned when caught.
In interviews here last week, city officials described a variety of misconduct by narcotics agents. They said officers had falsified claims of money paid to informers, had stolen money from arrested people and from premises being searched and had lied to judges to get search warrants. Some officers, they said, committed perjury in a death penalty case.
One officer was mortally wounded in a raid on a motorcycle group’s clubhouse. Narcotics found in his pocket at the hospital were destroyed by one of his fellow officers in violation of regulations, officials said. The police now say that he may have been carrying the narcotics to plant as evidence; some narcotics squad officers did that if raids were unsuccessful, officials said. The search warrant that the clubhouse raiding party carried was based on a policeman’s affidavit that he later acknowledged was perjured.
The motorcycle club member who said he had shot the officer was tried for murder and was sentenced to 20 years when the jury refused to vote the death penalty. After a year in jail, he was released last month when the police and the District Attorney’s investigators found that officers had committed perjury in his case. He has sued the city, some officials and some policemen for $13 million in Federal District Court. Retrial Order Expected
This man, Robert Jack Christopher, 31 years old, still has the 20-year sentence hanging over him. His attorney, Des Connall, a former District Attorney, refused to be interviewed and said he had instructed Mr. Christopher not to give interviews. Officials assume a retrial will be ordered by state appellate courts.
”The question on retrial is whether there is a viable legal theory, once you have analyzed what’s left of the case,” said the Multnomah County District Attorney, Michael Schrunk.
It was on Dec. 12, 1979, when raiding policemen, carrying a search warrant, broke down the door of the Outsiders Motorcycle Clubhouse and Patrolman David W. Crowther, 27, was hit by shotgun pellets as he stepped across the threshhold. He died two weeks later. Mr. Christopher said the plainclothes officers had not identified themselves. Police witnesses contradicted this.
Patrolmen Neil Gearheart and Scott L. Deppe, who were later to resign in disgrace, were among the police witnesses in the Christopher case. The search warrant the police had was based on an affidavit in which Mr. Gearheart swore that two informers had told him that illegal narcotics were stored in the motorcycle clubhouse.
Months later he confessed that this was a lie. By then the city had agreed to pay Mr. Gearheart $37,466.95 to settle his pension claim and to grant him immunity from prosecution. Released Pending Appeal
On April 17 Circuit Judge Robert E. Jones ordered that Mr. Christopher be released pending a decision on his appeal. The police authorities say the investigation of the narcotics squad began independent of the pressures of the Christopher case and resulted from checking complaints of persons arrested on narcotics charges. They said that complaints had also come from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which said its informers were being mistreated by police narcotics officers.
The officer sent to prison is Mr. Deppe, 32, who was forced to resign in August after a three-month internal Police Bureau investigation. After he was arrested in November, Patrolman Gearheart sought to retire on disability. The investigators decided he could be their informer. Unanimous Pension Ruling
”It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Chief Baker said of the Police and Fire Pension Board’s unanimous decision, in which he voted, to pay Mr. Gearheart his pension settlement. But he added, ”If we hadn’t done that, Christopher would still be in jail.”
Police Commissioner Charles Jordan, who had no voice in the pension matter, defended the immunity grant, saying, ”He’s not a murderer or a rapist and I think the public is better served if he can identify who was involved so we can clean that cancer out of there.”
Meantime, former Patrolman Deppe’s three-year sentence for drug trafficking was to be served in Idaho to avoid putting him in prison with convicts he may have arrested. After three weeks in prison, he went on work release and is selling insurance, Chief Baker said.
”I can’t do anything about it,” he said.