Two weeks ago, Mayor Tom Potter upheld his decision to fire a cop who apparently broke departmental rules and shot the driver of a moving car, citing "poor judgment and decision-making." But the head of the police union, Robert King, says the mayor's decision was political, and is destined to be overturned.
"The city's decision is going to be reversed," says King. "It's flat wrong, and there is no way they are going to be able to prove their case to an independent arbitrator."
On Thursday, August 16, the mayor announced that he was standing by his May decision to fire Lieutenant Jeffrey Kaer for poor decision-making leading up to his fatal shooting of 28-year-old Dennis Young in January 2006.
Potter's decision to fire Kaer represents a tougher approach by the city than that taken by Mayor Vera Katz in 2003 over the controversial shooting of Kendra James by Officer Scott McCollister.
McCollister was suspended by Katz for five and a half months without pay for shooting James. But in January 2006, arbitrator John C. Truesdale ordered the city to overturn the decision and pay back wages, benefits, and interest of $25,000, plus expunge the incident from McCollister's record. Truesdale based his decision to reverse the suspension on the fact that there wasn't an internal affairs investigation into McCollister's actions at the time. Notably, an internal investigation has been completed in Kaer's case.
King is also angry that Potter chose to tell the media he planned to fire Kaer on May 9, before the mayor had a chance to sit down with Kaer in an arbitration hearing on July 30. King also accuses Potter of making a political issue out of the decision. Potter's announcement followed media scrutiny of the case throughout April.
"It's unequivocally political," King says. "When Potter released the pre-disciplinary hearing letter to the public and the press, he biased public opinion against the lieutenant, and has put himself in a position that he can't walk away from. He took a political step, which had a harmful and detrimental impact on Kaer's ability to be treated fairly by the mayor at the arbitration hearing."
Police oversight activists are unconvinced by King's rhetoric. "My understanding is that one of the reasons these firings keep getting overturned is that there is no precedent for firing an officer in these circumstances," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. "We can only hope that this endless loop logic—where officers get reinstated because nobody has ever been fired—doesn't prevail this time. It's like living in the novel Catch-22."
Potter's office has refused repeated requests by the Mercury for follow-up comment on the firing decision.