Two years ago, Portland police shot and killed Jose Mejia Poot. At the time, Mejia, a Mexican national, was being held at a local psychiatric hospital. A few days earlier he had been pulled from a city bus after he failed to pay his full fare. Mejia did not speak English and had not been given a translator. After three days at the hospital, he became violent and lunged at two police officers.
Almost unbelievably, the internal review committee considered the incident an open-and-shut case. Even worse, the mayor bestowed medals of honor on the two officers who shot Mejia--for their courage. But last week an ongoing appeal for justice was given a surprise reprieve when the Independent Police Review Division (IPRD) voted 7-1 to hear out a group of Latino community activists.
In spite of the heartening news, legal experts worry that the time for appeals has come and gone.
"Too much time has passed for this appeal," says Richard Rosenthal, director of IPRD. He says that appeals are only accepted for 30 days after an IPRD decision. Rosenthal is conferring with city attorneys to determine the legality of this current appeal. Though Rosenthal acknowledges the tension the issue has created between the Latino community and police, he believes "there are better solutions to the problem." Rosenthal thinks a better bandage would be to include Mejia's death in a current review of Portland officer-involved shootings between January 1, 1997 and July 1, 2000. The results of that review will be released by a L.A.-based independent investigator this July, says Rosenthal.
Activists have tried unsuccessfully in the past to appeal the IPRD's decision to exonerate the officers who shot Mejia. The IPRD plans to address the most recent appeal in their next meeting, April 1, exactly two years after Mejia's death. Also, Mejia's family filed a $10 million lawsuit last week.