McGruff Takes Bite Out of Own Ass 

"Cover-Up" Stresses Out Portland's Criminal Justice System

Last week, a Multnomah County Grand Jury indicted two Portland police officers for a bruising off-duty assault downtown. In late January, allegedly the two officers were mocking a man and followed him out of a nightclub, jumped him from behind, and slammed his head into a plate glass window. But what was most shocking about the assault and recent criminal indictments was that few people have been truly surprised by the incident, or the commanding officers' disinterested investigation into the beating.

According to police watchdog groups in Portland, for the past several years, a steady parade of citizens have complained about a culture of police abuses and harassment. Instead of expressing shock, most described the incident with a sense of inevitability.

"Not surprised at all," said Dave Mazza, who has spearheaded two voter initiatives for a citizen oversight committee for police misconduct. Mazza said he worries that the incident and the subsequent attempt to cover it up are merely the tip of the iceberg. "They' re not treating it as a disease."

Pieced together, the testimony in front of a Multnomah County grand jury from nearly 30 witnesses narrated a chilling story about two off-duty officers--Craig Hampton and Grant Bailey--operating outside the bounds of the law and decorum. According to witnesses, Bailey and Hampton poked fun at the victim's clothing, until he finally shoved one of them down. The officers then promptly requested that the bouncers eject the man from Stephano's, a downtown nightspot.

A few minutes later, the officers allegedly attacked the man. Although in press conferences police spokespersons continued to placate that "the officers encountered [the victim] a few blocks later," the testimony seemed to indicate that the officers hunted down the 32-year-old man. The man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, was apparently jumped from behind. One witness said he heard the officers calling the man a "faggot." (No other witnesses corroborated this testimony.)

Although several officers and sergeants responded to the scene, the incident would have vanished were it not for a rookie cop and an anonymous letter demanding an investigation. The victim did not want to press charges and, according to testimony, evidence such as a bloody shirt and incident report notes were destroyed. One rookie officer, however, took photographs of the crime scene and scribbled observations in a personal notebook.

Internal affairs was not notified about the incident until February 18, almost three weeks later; an anonymous complaint was filed on February 6, with the Independent Police Review Division. The criminal investigation did not begin until March 6.

"This foot-dragging has given them a chance to lawyer-up," explained Mazza. As with any criminal investigation, the more time that passes after an incident, the more difficult it becomes for prosecutors to secure convincing evidence and find credible witnesses. Mazza, who has watched the police bureau for the past two decades said that the DA "very rarely zealously pursue officers" and went on to call the DA' s handling of police misconduct cases as "lackluster."

Mazza had tried to place a voter initiative on this year's ballot that would have established a civilian oversight committee, but during the verification process the ballot measure fell a few hundred signatures short.

In exchange for a lighter sentence, Bailey agreed to testify in the case against Hampton and plead guilty to third-degree assault charges. He faces 18 months in prison. Hampton faces first-degree assault charges. As a so-called Measure 11 crime, that criminal charge carries a mandatory sentence of 70 months.

Even though the grand jury uncovered a wide-reaching scheme to what has been called "a cover-up," they decided not to pursue criminal charges against the supervising investigator, Central Precinct Lt. Gabe Kalmanek. But the grand jury did release a scathing report on the investigators' actions and inaction, claiming they had "put their heads in the sand."

With officers testifying against each other and the DA prosecuting the very police officers it relies on for evidence-gathering, this case promises to further stress the criminal justice system in Portland.

Dan Doyle, the head of the criminology department at the University of Montana and an expert on criminal procedure, calls the relationship between police departments and the DA as one of co-dependency. He went on to recommend that the Oregon Attorney General appoint an independent prosecutor to handle the officers' case. "It would increase legitimacy," Doyle explained.

"Certainly [the DA] doesn' t want to generate hard feelings," he concluded, indicating that the Multnomah County DA may hold back from pressing too hard against the suspected officers.

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