A PORTLAND COP recorded using a racial slur during a confrontation with three men in Old Town last month will be investigated by the police bureau's Professional Standards Division, Police Chief Mike Reese has confirmed—after the Mercury obtained a copy of the video and sent it to police officials for comment.
The video, just 27 seconds long, shows Officers Michael Hall and Heather Martley ordering the group to leave a patch of sidewalk. And though it's jumpy and light on context—for instance, it doesn't capture what brought the cops and the men in contact—one thing is very clear.
Hall at some point utters a very obvious racial slur used against African Americans, telling one of the men to "go home." And then, when one of the men says, "You ain't supposed to say that shit," and repeats the word, Hall defends himself by saying, "but you said it to me." The video ends soon after.
"I don't think he knew we were recording," says Yasmin Talic, 23, one of the three men in the confrontation. "He just said it like it was nothing."
Talic said he and two coworkers, both African Americans, had come down to Old Town on Saturday, October 5, to celebrate his birthday after getting off work at Nordstrom. They were dressed for the job, in blazers and dress shirts, Talic says. But because one of those dress shirts was red—a color associated with gangs—a bouncer had barred them from a nightclub near SW 2nd and Burnside.
That's when Hall and Martley showed up, Talic says. And that's when one of Talic's friends took out his cell phone.
Because the video's so hazy, it's not clear whether Hall used the slur first, or if he was parroting it back. Talic says he doesn't remember.
But while that's an important distinction, it may not matter for discipline purposes. The bureau's policy on racial epithets doesn't allow for context: Cops may use those words only when quoting someone in official police reports or when testifying in court.
"My expectation as chief is that all Portland police officers treat people with respect and dignity," Reese said in a statement. "The video warrants an internal review to determine when, where, and what occurred."
Talic says he first called the police bureau about the video in the days after the incident, hoping for an investigation. He said he went to the media after getting nowhere—leaving messages without calls coming back.
Talic says he wasn't certain if the bureau had sent him to the Independent Police Review (IPR) Division, the city agency that handles complaints. Constantin Severe, IPR director, said his office would have called back if he had.
"This is something we would take very seriously," Severe says.
Tense relations with Portland's black community remain a sore spot for cops—even after years of attempts at making improvements. Several reports and studies—from enforcement of gun crime hotspots, to drug zone enforcement, to gang enforcement, to use-of-force reports, to basic stops and searches—show persistent racial disparities still haunting local police work ["Out of Whack," News, Oct 2].
The bureau has begun some deep training of sergeants and command staff on institutional racism. That training has not yet spread to rank-and-file officers.
"It was poor judgment on his part," Reverend Roy Tate of Christ Memorial Community Church told KGW, which followed the Mercury's story.