Now's your opportunity to sound off by voting for "Portland's Most Rotten Cop"--featuring two truly rotten nominees chosen by the Portland Mercury. Who will emerge most rotten? Will it be the brutish and violent thuggery of Sgt. Mark Kruger, or the evil, sinister machinations of Officer Jeff Myers? Read the case studies below and decide--AND VOTE-- for yourself!
BRAWN: Sgt. Mark Kruger
While it may sound strange, Sgt. Mark Kruger will probably take his nomination as Portland's Most Rotten Cop as a compliment. Although I'd heard his name bantered around activists' circles, I'd never witnessed his heavy-handed tactics firsthand until last spring's anti-war demonstration.
Last March, after President Bush ordered bombing raids on Baghdad and ground forces began sweeping across the country, demonstrations in downtown Portland had become a routine activity. During one lunchtime anti-war march, protesters crowded the Southeast corner of Pioneer Square and chanted slogans like, "Bombs Drop While You Shop!" Noisy but peaceful, about 50 people packed onto the street corner and waited for the streetlight to turn green. With all the jostling, a pixyish woman was momentarily pushed off the curb and into the street. But before she could regain her balance, an officer grabbed the young woman by the scruff of the neck. He dragged her further into the street, pinning her arms behind her back. Like a mantra, she cried out in pain, "I can't bend my arms."
That's when Kruger showed up. A hulking presence, Kruger's frame was accentuated by his head-to-toe body armor. After studying the woman for a second, he grabbed her entire face like Shaq palming a basketball, then twisted her head and shoved her into the back of a paddy wagon. For several seconds, the crowd was deathly quiet, before breaking into a chorus of boos. In capital letters, I wrote "KRUGER" across the middle of my notes, making sure to underline his name three times.
Since then, Kruger's name has come up again and again. He is the named defendant in a lawsuit brought by the National Lawyers' Guild against the city for alleged police misconduct at anti-war demonstrations.
Kruger also has a reputation in activist circles for his frequent and abusive use of pepperspray. In August 2002, when President Bush attended a fundraiser for Senator Gordon Smith, several hundred protesters marched around the Hilton Hotel downtown. At one point, police set up barricades to hold back the demonstrators. A few reporters and camera-operators stood off to the side, slightly in front of the police barricades. Suddenly, the police began to push back. Then, in what certainly looked like a deliberate act, Kruger raised his pepperspray and shot FOX Channel 12 camerawoman Beth English point-blank in the face. Last year, Indymedia also caught and posted a photograph of Kruger pepperspraying a young female protester.
But it's not only Kruger's on-the-beat antics that have earned him a nomination for Portland's Most Rotten Cop. In the ensuing controversy over his actions at demonstrations and in court documents, a shadowy past has also been brought to light. After the lawsuit was filed, one of Kruger's former friends contacted Alan Graf, the lead attorney in the case. Kruger's cohort told Graf stories about driving around Portland, listening to Hitler speeches and shouting racial epitaphs out the window. It's also been rumored that Kruger tried to hold his wedding at Hitler's summer home.
Kruger has reportedly admitted that he has worn Nazi outfits, but justifies his fancy for the Third Reich as a history buff's fascination.
When asked whether they would consider removing Kruger from patrolling demonstrations until the lawsuit was resolved, a police spokesperson flatly responded, "No."
BRAINS: Officer Jeff Myers
In the recent documentary Fog of War, director Errol Morris patches together a complex picture of Robert McNamara's life through a series of interviews and news reels. The Secretary of Defense during most of the Vietnam War, McNamara first earned his spurs when he masterminded a fire-bombing raid that destroyed most of Tokyo. Oddly, a few years later, McNamara climbed into the CEO position at Ford Motors, where he insisted that the automotive giant install safety belts in all vehicles. Set against his conniving war tactics, McNamara's push for safety measures is a chilling reminder that creativity and genius can both help and ruin lives.
When voting for Portland's Most Rotten Cop, it's easy to be swayed by dramatic street-fighting scenes. While frontline cops like Sgt. Kruger may interact more directly with residents (read: viciously abuse protesters), citizens may actually be more affected by a single high-ranking officer the public rarely sees (read: evil genius).
Officer Jeff Myers may be more of a desk jockey than a pavement-pounding patrolman, but don't discount the far-reaching havoc that he can--and has--spread on the our community. For his sneaky smarts, Senior Neighborhood Officer Myers receives the Mercury nomination for Most Rotten Cop.
Ostensibly under orders to reduce petty crimes like car break-ins and keep the peace in neighborhoods, Myers has taken this responsibility as a mandate to harass homeless men and women, and to crackdown on fun-loving groups like the Zoobombers, a collection of bike riders who whiz down the hill near the zoo.
A year ago, Myers brainstormed a plan to "sweep" out the homeless from property managed by Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Myers' plan did not suggest where these men and women should go. At the time, Rob Justus, executive director for JOIN, was quoted as saying, "(This plan) punishes people for being homeless."
Throughout last summer, Myers continued to push his plan even further. The plan eventually evolved into a "blacklist" of sorts--targeting homeless individuals who would either be chased out of town by police, or into a holding cell. Then, in October--apparently at his urging--ODOT mowed down a community garden across the street from First Presbyterian Church. The flowers and shrubs had been planted a decade earlier by children in a church group, but police insisted the garden had become overrun by weeds and was a haven for the homeless and drug users. After ODOT was finished, all that remained was a muddy patch.
That project was meant to be a "pilot" project. But after lobbying from homeless advocates and concerns from ODOT, the plan remains on hold. One homeless advocate (who preferred to remain nameless) called Myers "an outright asshole."
Most recently, Myers has again directed new policing protocols against a group that apparently chafes his sensibilities. In November, Myers presented an idea to the Sylvan-Highlands Neighborhood Association to curb late-night Tri-Met service to the area. This is the very train that Zoo Bombers (legally) ride up the hill. Citing crimes like "camping, partying, and zoo bombing," Myers suggested that the neighborhood association lobby Tri-Met to halt their service at 10 pm.
"I was totally unaware what I was doing is a crime," said "Solid Gold," one of the Zoobombers.
The neighborhood association also responded with a healthy dose of skepticism.
"We had doubts that MAX actually brings crime," explained Gretchen Hollands, chair of the neighborhood association. She quickly added, "but we do take suggestions from the police seriously."
Unsure on what Myers was basing his warnings, Hollands began soliciting input from residents and the zoo's nighttime security officer. So far it seems like there is little data to support that Tri-Met brings anything but late-night commuters and the weekly Zoobombers.
Hollands assured that the neighborhood association wants to work with the police bureau and to give their utmost consideration to public safety issues. But she did add: "Linking fear with public transportation is not a good thing to do."