DARYL TURNER, president of the Portland Police Association (PPA), wasn't cheerful and certainly wasn't smiling after an arbitrator this month decided to zap suspensions for two of the cops who presided over the 2006 beating death of James Chasse Jr.
He did, however, see it as a measure of vindication. Turner quickly folded the favorable rulings for Sergeant Kyle Nice and former Officer Chris Humphreys into what's become his mantra over the past few months—ever since Mayor Sam Adams decided to fight an arbitration ruling this spring that would reinstate Ron Frashour, the officer fired for killing Aaron Campbell in 2010.
"The PPA understands that politically motivated decisions are made every day at city hall," Turner told me, arguing that those kinds of decisions shouldn't apply to "the job we do every day: protecting the citizens of Portland." But Turner, at the same time as he rails against the mingling of politics and police work, is hoping to influence another kind of political decision at city hall.
With the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) due to decide any day on the mayor's Frashour fight, city commissioners and their staffers say Turner has become an especially frequent visitor. If the ERB doesn't side with Adams, a court challenge is the next step, and that requires a full council vote. Turner is hoping at least three commissioners will quietly tell Adams they won't be playing ball.
"Daryl's been by here many times," says Dan Saltzman, explaining that he won't really focus on the issue until there's a ruling but also allowing that he'll have to weigh the cost of a court fight.
A court challenge would be unprecedented, and could offer some respite from the union's dispiriting track record in arbitration cases: In 30 years, it's never lost a high-profile case. But the city has already spent close to $1 million defending Frashour's dismissal—almost as much as the $1.2 million it agreed to pay his survivors in a federal wrongful death suit. With no real guarantee the city will succeed, commissioners no doubt will wonder what else that money might buy.
Interestingly, the other stick Turner's used to prod the council—disclosing selective details from transcripts of Frashour's arbitration hearing to embarrass Chief Mike Reese and his command staff—may not be making him any new friends. And it may even be pushing away some old ones.
Randy Leonard said months ago he didn't agree with Adams' fight with the PPA. But now Leonard says Turner's heavy-handed moves have made him "pull away" from the union. He says he's been told that the full transcripts, if they're ever released, could wind up making Turner's own members look bad, too.
"It's a nuclear bomb strategy," Leonard says. And the damage? "It cuts both ways."