THE PORTLAND POLICE BUREAU is investigating Portland Police Association boss Scott Westerman for a pair of road rage incidents in late January. On two occasions, only two days apart, he got out of his Pontiac Grand Am and shouted at a 58-year-old woman and her husband in their Smart car.
Oregonian reporter Maxine Bernstein broke the story on Friday, April 9, and it follows hot on the heels of last week's revelation that Sergeant Kyle Nice, one of the officers involved in the 2006 death in custody of James Chasse Jr., pulled his gun on a man in Beaverton during another off-duty road rage incident on April 3 ["Go Ahead and Call the Police," News, April 8].
Westerman is a familiar face in Portland as the defender of police officers in controversial incidents. He led a rally of 650 officers on city hall last November, for example, following the suspension of the other Chasse cop, Officer Christopher Humphreys, for shooting a 12-year-old girl in the leg with a less-lethal beanbag shotgun ["A Line in the Sand," News, Nov 26, 2009].
Virginia Thompson called police on January 28 after Westerman got out of his car at a light on SE Stark. She gave the bureau Westerman's plates and a description of his vehicle, but they were unable to locate his vehicle in the system, for reasons unknown.
Thompson was coming off I-205 across NE Glisan when Westerman overtook her at "65 MPH," she told a 911 dispatcher.
He got out at the light and started yelling at Thompson, telling her to dim her bright lights.
"He said, 'I'm a police officer. I can have you arrested,'" Thompson told the dispatcher. Then, Westerman drove off.
Two days later, Westerman got out of his car again to berate Thompson, this time on the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.
"All of a sudden this car pulls in front of us, slams on his brakes. My husband blinked his lights, the guy moved off to another lane, then he pulled up next to us at a stoplight," Thompson told the dispatcher.
Then Westerman got out and yelled, "Grow up!" said Thompson. "I recognized his face when he came up and yelled in the door this morning," she said. "I just figured I better let somebody know, to find out if he's a cop with a problem or just somebody going around pretending he's a cop."
"My behavior was unacceptable on all levels," Westerman tells the Mercury. "As union president, as a cop, as a citizen. I'd apologize to these people directly, but I'm not allowed to, because it would look like I was trying to interfere with the investigation."
Westerman says he doesn't remember telling Thompson he was a cop, and denies stalking her. He told the Oregonian that his getting out of the car to berate them a second time was "just a very bad coincidence."
Westerman also denies being under the influence of any controlled substance or intoxicants during the incident—without being specific, Westerman says he was having a hard time in his personal life when the incident occurred.
"Regardless of what that person said or did to precipitate the situation had nothing to do with it," Westerman continues. "It was strictly things that I was dealing with in my personal life and I am taking steps to address those things."
Westerman has been outspoken about the "politicizing of discipline" for police officers, and also recently hired the Gallatin public relations consultancy to represent the union. His Gallatin account representative, Shannon McCarthy Berg, did not return our call by press time.
Is Westerman planning to resign?
"I'm not willing to address that at this point," he told the Mercury on Monday, April 12. "I'm not going in either direction on that."
Meanwhile, regarding Sergeant Nice's road rage incident, Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman said Monday that he would place the officer in a desk job when he returns from family leave, pending the outcome of an investigation. As union president, Westerman is already off the street.
"Dan is disappointed," says Saltzman's chief of staff, Brendan Finn, referring to both Nice and Westerman. "He doesn't think that this behavior is acceptable of those representing the police bureau, either on or off duty."
Thompson was unreachable for comment. District Attorney Mike Schrunk did not return a call for comment, asking whether he plans to pursue criminal charges against Westerman over the incident.