Marsha Anderson, a petite and feisty 57-year-old, refuses to back down.
Two years ago, the North Portland resident filed a complaint with the city's Independent Police Review (IPR) division, alleging—among other things—that a police detective threatened her and her ex-boyfriend's lives. Anderson, who happens to work for the city, has been struggling with the police complaint process ever since.
Last Wednesday morning, March 22, Anderson headed to city council to inform them of her fight. Backed by Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman, and Alejandro Queral of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center (NWCRC), Anderson told the council that the IPR system is majorly flawed. The police complaint system is such a mess, they told the council—holding up Anderson's complaint as exhibit A—that a member of the Citizen's Review Committee had recently resigned in frustration.
"There's a lot of things with [Anderson's] case that highlight what's wrong with the Independent Police Review," says Queral, executive director of NWCRC.
Anderson's complaint started over two years ago: On December 30, 2003, she says, Detective Mike Malanaphy "tore" her house apart looking for her then-boyfriend. During the same incident, Anderson alleges the detective was "belligerent, yelling, and telling everybody to shut up," and told another detective that Anderson's niece had murdered her own boyfriend (untrue, says Anderson).
Then, on March 11, 2004, Anderson says she had another run-in with the same detective. This time, she alleges he arrested and roughed up the boyfriend (who was now her ex). She says the detective also threatened her ex's life, telling her "the next time I see [your ex-boyfriend], I'm just gonna shoot the motherfucker. I'm just gonna say that he went for something in his pocket, and I'm gonna shoot him dead," according to a September 26, 2005 letter from IPR to the Internal Affairs Division, outlining the allegations. "He also made the comment to [Anderson's daughter-in-law] over the phone later, and also told [Anderson's daughter-in-law] that he would hit Ms. Anderson over the head with his ASP (brand) baton."
Anderson filed a formal complaint on March 18, 2004. But, she says, it took a year and a half for Internal Affairs to complete the investigation—a lag she contends is intended to hamper citizens' complaints. Then, after the police bureau's Internal Affairs Division didn't sustain any of Anderson's allegations, she appealed to the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), the civilian watchdog branch of the police complaint system. The CRC voted to sustain one of Anderson's complaints—the threat against her ex-boyfriend—and upgrade the findings on another allegation.
But Police Chief Derrick Foxworth didn't accept the CRC's findings—instead, he sustained a less serious allegation, agreeing that the detective improperly used the word "motherfucker."
"Right then and there is when the whole procedure fell apart," Anderson says. Since the CRC and Foxworth disagreed, the CRC had the authority to send Anderson's case to the city council for further review. But the CRC—after learning that the IPR's director would present their findings to the council, but would side with Foxworth if asked—declined to take that step.
"They were basically strong-armed," Anderson told the Mercury. "They weren't going to get any support from IPR."
Anderson made a last-ditch effort to resurrect her case at the February 21, 2006 CRC meeting, requesting that the committee re-vote on whether or not to accept Chief Foxworth's findings. Anderson said Foxworth might have misunderstood which allegation the CRC had requested he sustain, and she thought it deserved another look. CRC member Gwenn Baldwin asked her colleagues to reconsider the earlier decision, but her motion failed, 3-4.
After Anderson outlined her saga to the council last Wednesday, Copwatch's Handelman delivered another blow: Baldwin had just resigned, citing concerns that the citizen's committee isn't able to do the job it's supposed to do, as long as it's so dependent on IPR.
On Tuesday, March 21—the day before Anderson's city council testimony—Baldwin met with City Commissioner Erik Sten, who had re-appointed her to the CRC in early 2005, to discuss her resignation.
Sten was interested to hear her frustrations with the committee's role in the system: "She felt that the committee itself wasn't being aggressive enough in questioning the decisions that came from the police," Sten says. "Someone of her caliber stepping down makes it crystal clear we've got to go in and look at this thing." (When contacted, Baldwin declined to speak on the record about her resignation, but did confirm that she resigned.)
Sources say the CRC's policy review role—the committee studies police policies and makes recommendations—is working just fine. It's the CRC's role in citizen complaints that needs to be looked at—the CRC defers to the IPR staff too often, critics say, and doesn't have enough autonomy.
Indeed, the CRC has only sent one case to city council for review. ("The idea that [no cases] are going to the council makes me pause," says Sten.) And Anderson's case is rare simply because she's diligently kept it alive—last year, the CRC only heard two citizen appeals, another red flag for critics, who wonder if something is deterring appeals.
Given Anderson's testimony and Baldwin's resignation, Sten thinks the council ought to review the complaint system.
"I think that we need to have a real public look at what's working and not working," he says.
The current system is better than the one it replaced four years ago, Sten says, but the council also promised to revisit the complaint system if it wasn't working.