Another Police Accountability Victory

August 20, 2013

Thanks to efforts by NLG law student Briana Swift, the Citizen Review Committee recently voted to disagree with the Portland Police Bureau’s finding in a police misconduct complaint. Floyd McCorvey brought the complaint to the Portland Independent Police Review Division (IPR) after he was stopped by two police officers and immediately questioned as to whether he was a pimp, merely because he had briefly chatted with a woman. The senior officer also made comments about his low-income housing, and told him he needed to stay in his own neighborhood.

Mr. McCorvey, who is African-American, alleged that the officers’ conduct was discriminatory. The IPR refused to investigate that allegation. Instead, it referred the matter to the Police Bureau’s Internal Affairs division to investigate whether the officer was discourteous. The bureau eventually found that allegation ‘unproven.’

Ms. Swift served as Mr. McCorvey’s advocate in his appeal of that finding to the Citizen Review Committee. At the appeal hearing, the Citizen Review Committee voted to recommend the Police Bureau change its finding from unproven to sustained on the complaint that the senior officer was discourteous to McCorvey. The Oregonian and the Mercury both wrote stories on the hearing.

The Bureau will now decide whether to accept the recommendation. If it does not accept it, the Citizen Review Committee will vote on whether to refer the matter to City Council for a final decision on the matter.

The NLG is working with the Oregon Justice Resource Center to expand its IPR advocacy program to serve more individuals who seek to file police misconduct complaints. While the NLG recognizes the many flaws with the IPR complaint system, it believes that its participation in the system as an advocate for complainants assisting will aid its efforts at reform.


NLG Police Accountability Victory

June 14, 2013

Thanks in large part to efforts by NLG advocates, the Portland Police Bureau agreed to reopen the investigation of a police misconduct complaint. The reopened investigation will include an examination of potential racial profiling in the case of Lisa Haynes, a 4′ 10″ African American woman stopped in the search for a Hispanic man, 5-feet-4 to 5-feet-6, with a thin build.

The reopened investigation is the product of Ms. Haynes’ courage in facing down the police and city bureaucracy, and the work of NLG volunteers Briana Swift and Kristin Chambers, who wrote a letter on behalf of the NLG to the City of Portland’s Office of Independent Police Review (IPR) regarding this case. Ms. Swift also served as Ms. Haynes’ advocate in her appeal of her police misconduct complaint to the Citizen Review Committee. At the appeal hearing, which was covered in the Oregonian, the Citizen Review Committee questioned why IPR and the Portland Police Bureau did not investigate the racial profiling aspects of Ms. Haynes’ case.

The NLG is working with the Oregon Justice Resource Center to expand its IPR advocacy program to serve more individuals who seek to file police misconduct complaints. While the NLG recognizes the many flaws with the IPR complaint system, it believes that assisting individuals who seek to bring complaints will aid in its continued efforts at reform.


NLG Calls on IPR to Investigate Racial Profiling in Two Recent Complaints

June 4, 2013

Last week the Portland Chapter of the NLG sent a letter to Portland’s Office of Independent Police Review, criticizing its failure to investigate allegations of disparate treatment. The Portland Chapter NLG and the Lewis & Clark Student Chapter of the NLG continue to assist individuals who wish to pursue police misconduct complaints against Portland Police Bureau officers.


Portland NLG Student Chapter Represents Complainants Before Citizen Review Committee

February 20, 2013

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.


Portland NLG Comments on Portland Police/Dept. of Justice Settlement Agreement

November 14, 2012

The Portland NLG submitted the following commentary to the City Council:

Dear Mayor Adams and City Commissioners:

Thank you for the continuing opportunity to weigh in on the Department of Justice/City of Portland Settlement Agreement. We know the City and the DOJ have worked very hard on drafting and modifying this agreement, and appreciate that effort, including the most recent changes. We hope, however, that the Agreement is not final and the City will continue to consider community input. Toward that end, we highlight some additional concerns here.

USE OF FORCE

During my testimony at the City Council meeting last Thursday, Mayor Adams asked for clarification on the difference between our proposed language for the use of force policy to require “the least amount of force necessary to achieve a lawful objective” and the current language of “only the force reasonably necessary to achieve a lawful objective.” Words have tremendous practical as well as symbolic value; the “least amount of force” connotes a fundamental shift in the Bureau’s approach to use of force. The use of the term “least amount of force” rather than what is “reasonably necessary” would create a more cautious approach.

We also support the specific recommendations and analysis made by Tom Steenson related to use of force, in his letter dated November 12, 2012.

OVERSIGHT AND ACCOUNTABILITY

We support the Citizen Review Committee’s request for extending the 21-day deadline for the CRC to resolve an appeal. (Paragraph 121). As the members of the CRC testified, they are all volunteers, dedicated volunteers, but many have jobs that make this timeframe to restrictive. In addition, the NLG offers volunteer advocates for the CRC hearings, and we require three weeks notice in order to find a volunteer advocate and allow adequate preparation time. Shortening this timeframe to 21 days will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to continue to offer this service.

We continue to urge the City to define the CRC review standard of “supported by the evidence” as “preponderance of the evidence” rather than the “reasonable person” standard, which has proved to be overly deferential. (Paragraph 61). A preponderance of the evidence standard is not only more easy for the public and the CRC to understand, it would enhance the legitimacy of the review process, something the DOJ agrees is currently lacking.

We appreciate that lawsuit payout information is included in the COCL semi-annual reviews, but urge the broadening of the category of information from just “settlements” to include judgments and jury awards. (Paragraph 170.e.v.). All three of these categories are important to help identify deficiencies in policy and training, and/or issues with particular officers.

For a Better World,

J. Ashlee Albies, Co-Chair
National Lawyers Guild
Portland, Oregon Chapter


Police Oversight Update: Portland City Council Passed IPR Reform Ordinance

April 1, 2010

Yesterday, the Portland City Council unanimously passed the IPR reform ordinance. The NLG, as part of a broader effort led by the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition, supports the reform. This is a big step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The NLG will participate as part of a stakeholder group to push for greater independent oversight of the police in the upcoming 90 day review period.

For more information, see the Oregonian Article and Revised Ordinance:

Portland City Council unanimously approves police oversight reforms

IPR Revised Ordinance


NLG Testifies on Police Oversight Proposal at City Council Meeting

March 19, 2010

Community members packed City Council yesterday afternoon to testify in support of Commissioner Randy Leonard’s proposed ordinance to strengthen the Independent Police Review Division. President of the Portland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Ashlee Albies, was quoted saying “The police have power and authority that is unmatched in our society. A system of checks and balances is all that we ask.” The council decided to continue the hearing on March 31, 2010 at 6pm. Hope to see you there!

To learn more, see:

Oregonian Article

Mercury Article

Ordinance