- illustration by levi greenacres
Chris O'Connor, a public defender and outspoken advocate on mental health and civil rights issues, has begun building a coalition of lawyers who support changing city code to ban the handcuffing (with some exceptions) of children 12 and younger—an effort spurred by a story in this week's Mercury about the 2013 arrest of a nine-year-old girl and the police bureau's collective shrug when her mother filed a formal complaint.
Currently, the bureau has no special guidelines for cases when officers decide it's a good idea to arrest and handcuff a child and then take that child to jail. O'Connor says the language for his proposed ordinance isn't final yet, but he wants to make clear that children 12 and younger should almost never be put in foot or hand restraints, with exceptions for rare cases when the children are a threat to themselves or others. And he wants that policy to apply not only to police officers, but also private security guards and school employees.
The goal is to put pressure on Portland City Council to speak up and step in, O'Connor says, with something stronger than an internal policy change in the police bureau. He's going to invite attorneys and other advocates to put their names on the language, which he hopes to send out by the end of the day.
"It's not rocket science," he says.
He also says he wants to draw up something that goes beyond the case reported by the Mercury, as shocking as it is.
"I'm not ashamed to say it's bigger than that issue," O'Connor says. "I don't want a private security officer at the library they'll handcuff a kid to the wall until the cops show up."
One attorney who's signaled his interest? Joseph Hagedorn, who heads the Multnomah County juvenile unit for Metropolitan Public Defender. Hagedorn was outspoken in our story, saying it looked as if the officers were trying to frighten the girl and raised concerns about the trauma and racial implications involved in her arrest.
"It's a good idea," Hagedorn says of the proposed ordinance. "We'd like some people to pay attention in city hall."
Some people, already, are: A staffer in one council office said her colleagues were stunned by this week's story. But as for anything on the record about the arrest or the proposed remedy, we'll see.
I've left messages directly with three commissioners, Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, and Nick Fish. I've left a message with Commissioner Dan Saltzman's chief of staff. And I've left a message with Mayor Charlie Hales' spokesman. Surely one or all of them will eventually have something substantial to say.
Update 4:45 PM: Fish has phoned back and said he's "very interested" in hearing what the attorneys working on this proposal have to say—and that he'll review their language and make time to meet when the time comes.
"It's an important subject worthy of council consideration," he says.
Meanwhile, Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says he's been trying to connect with the mayor's police policy director, former officer Deanna Wesson-Mitchell. And Fritz and Novick both said they hadn't seen the story and contended, therefore, they couldn't speak meaningfully. I still have yet to hear back, even cursorily, from Saltzman's office.