The demotion, and later suspension, of the Portland Police Bureau's only Black assistant chief looks fishy enough to City Commissioner Dan Saltzman that he's willing to say race might have been a factor.
While not claiming to know the ins and outs of Chief Mike Marshman's decisions, Saltzman says the consequences for former Assistant Chief Kevin Modica seemed to outstrip allegations that Modica failed to forward a complaint from a subordinate to human resources officials.
"I think that’s an incident that wasn’t worthy of him being demoted and put through all the rigamarole he was put through," Saltzman says. He tells the Mercury that "from afar" the separate decisions to demote then suspend Modica seem like they could have had a racial component.
The commissioner first made his views public in a Facebook post last week, after he spoke at a retirement ceremony for Modica, who's married to one of Saltzman's aides, Lyne Martin-Modica.
"The City owes you a tremendous debt of gratitude and an even larger apology for the way that you've been treated," Saltzman wrote in the public post.
Modica was among the first casualties following Marshman's appointment to lead the police bureau in June 2016. Mere hours after being sworn in, the chief announced a seismic shakeup that included Modica and other assistant chiefs being demoted to the rank of captain, with an attendant reduction in pay.
Marshman likened the reorganization to "shaking out the cobwebs a little bit," but the move immediately rankled the Albina Ministerial Alliance, which called Modica's demotion "a step backward to creating a leadership team that will be effective, relevant and embracing of the vision of the 21st Century Community Policing."
Then, in March of this year, the PPB confirmed Modica had been placed on leave with another senior officer, Captain Derek Rodrigues. The police bureau didn't offer details except to say that the suspensions were "due to ongoing internal investigations that began under former Chief Larry O’Dea III."
The Oregonian tied Modica's suspension to an investigation into whether he and other high-ranking police officials had failed to report to HR the complaints of an administrative assistant, who said the PPB's diversity manager had made discriminatory remarks toward her. Rodrigues was suspended over an inquiry into whether he'd inappropriately failed to launch an internal investigation when it became clear O'Dea had mistakenly shot a friend on a camping trip.
But the move concerned Saltzman, who says he'd worked closely with Modica on domestic violence issues even before the high-ranking officer began a relationship with his staffer.
"Two of our higher-ranking minority officers in the bureau were being suspended," Saltzman said Wednesday. Asked if he believed the moves might have had a racial component, he responded: "It kind of looks like it from afar...To me, it doesn't match the offense." He reiterated that point when asked again.
That's a striking thing to hear from a city commissioner who once oversaw the police bureau, and we've reached out for a response from Marshman. But after throwing shade at the decision, Saltzman also pointed out he doesn't know the specifics.
"I’m not trying to insert myself like I’m the ultimate fact finder here," he says. "I know very little detail other than what I’ve read."
Saltzman says he has not pursued a formal apology to Modica, who was allowed to retire with the rank of assistant chief under a separation agreement with the city, according to the Oregonian.
"I don't try things I know will not be successful," Saltzman says, adding that he presented his concerns to Mayor Ted Wheeler.