Portland NLG Student Chapter Represents Complainants Before Citizen Review Committee

The Portland NLG Student Chapter has a number of volunteers who represent individuals who wish to appeal the City’s findings in police misconduct complaints. Here, law student Dana Gross describes her experience.

Last month, I acted as an advocate for a complainant at a Citizen Review Committee (CRC) appeal from the findings in her police misconduct complaint. The City of Portland Independent Police Review division (IPR), the City body charged with handling police misconduct complaints, issued the findings. After Internal Affairs investigates, the IPR may issue a finding of either “not sustained” or “sustained.” The complainant and the officer each have the right to request an appeal to the CRC, the nine-member panel, composed, as the name suggests, of private citizens.

In my case, the complainant was an elderly woman who claimed that an officer had used excessive force against her when the officer was clearing a city block near her apartment as part of the police response to nearby Occupy Portland activities. The complainant was physically unharmed from the encounter, but it was a scary experience for her.

Over a year after the incident that led to the hearing, and three weeks after the hearing was originally scheduled, a room full of people met for the CRC Appeal Hearing at the Portland Building. Different interests were represented – the complainant with me, the NLG supervising lawyer, the complainant’s Appeals Process Advisor, and our friends in the audience; the officer with his supervisor and Police Bureau representatives; the City Attorney; Independent Police Review; the CRC members; and community members including members of Portland Copwatch. The client gave a summary of what happened, supplemented by her witness and questions from me and the NLG attorney. The police officer gave a somewhat contradictory version of what happened, supplemented by his colleagues. After questions and comments by the CRC members and public, we gave rebuttal statements.

The CRC may make one of three possible findings: (1) Exonerated – meaning the officer did not violate any bureau policy; (2) Sustained – meaning that the officer’s actions did violate bureau policy; or (3) Unproven – meaning that there is not sufficient information on which to base a firm decision. Any of these findings may be accompanied by a debriefing, meaning that the officer’s supervisors would have a conversation about different ways to handle a situation.

In this case, we were surprised and excited when the wheels of justice turned slightly. The CRC voted against affirming the IPR’s decision to exonerate the officer! Instead, the CRC found that the charge was unproven. After all the preparation, and the adrenaline, and excitement balanced by the political realities of the system, it was wonderful to receive a somewhat favorable outcome and a degree of community-recognized justice for the complainant.

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