A citizen panel has appealed a police misconduct case originally dismissed by the Portland Police Bureau's internal affairs office.
The case, involving Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers suspected of threatening and retaliating against a woman who was filming the police in public, now lands on Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw's desk. Outlaw can either agree with the panel's findings and discipline the officers or disagree with the findings. And, judging by recent history, the odds are not in the police bureau's favor.
The ruling was the result of a 4-hour-long Wednesday meeting, where the volunteer members of the city's Citizens Review Commission (CRC) picked apart 11 different allegations the complainant (who has asked to remain anonymous) had made against two Portland police officers she had encountered on May 15, 2017.
The complainant says she was filming a number of armored police vehicles entering a parking garage at PPB's North Precinct on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd that afternoon when she caught the attention of two officers: Officer Neil Parker and Lieutenant Leo Besner.
According to the complainant, Besner threatened her with arrest if she didn't show her identification. At the time, the complainant was crossing the street, headed to her parked car. Besner allegedly asked the complainant to get back on the sidewalk. When she questioned his request, she claimed Besner grabbed her arm and forcefully pulled her onto the sidewalk—leaving behind a thumbprint-shaped bruise. Parker then handed her a citation for jaywalking.
The officers' retelling of this story is, expectedly, a bit different.
In his report following the incident, Parker said that since "there has been a spike in police ambush style attacks" and vandalism of police cars, he was extra suspicious of the complainant. In Lieutenant Besner's interview with PPB investigators, he says he was concerned for the woman's safety, since she was standing in the street. Asked if he believes the PPB citation was a way to retaliate against the woman for filming the police, he replied: "No. I don't think that was it at all. I think [Parker] cited her for standing in the street because she was standing in the street."
At the Wednesday hearing, the officers' supervisor, Lieutenant Tina Jones, claimed the complainant was lying about how her arm was bruised.
PPB's Internal Affairs department sided with their colleagues and exonerated both officers from the complainant's allegations (or found there wasn't enough evidence to support the claims) in their internal investigation.
CRC, however, disagreed. By the end of the meeting, the group had voted to uphold five of the 11 allegations, including claims that Besner had wrongfully threatened arrest and that Parker had issued the jaywalking citation as retaliation.
"Jaywalking happens about a billion times a day," said CRC commissioner Andrea Chiller. "Absent [the complainant] taking pictures, this behavior would have not resulted in a citation."
This CRC decision may keep the police bureau from pushing as hard for their officers' exoneration, based on two recent, telling decisions made by top city officials.
The first took place in February 2017, when a IPR case landed before the Portland City Council. It was only the second time in the IPR's 17-year history that a case required council intervention—ideally, a case is settled earlier on in the investigation by the police chief or IPR director. City council is seen as the place of last resort for a IPR case. But in February, the PPB and the CRC could not agree on whether or not Officer Bradley Nutting was justified in tasing Portlander Matthew Klug six times for "resisting arrest" after Klug yelled at a driver that he believed hit his bike. PPB appealed the CRC's ruling that Nutting's use of force was unjustified. The city council sided with the CRC.
Wednesday's appeal by the CRC is now punted to Chief Outlaw, who can either agree with the CRC's findings and decide how to discipline the officers or disagree with the findings—a move that nudges the case closer to a city council decision. If the council's recent response to an IPR case is any indication of how they'll rule on another, the odds are against PPB.
The second decision that may affect this case's outcome came in January, when Outlaw was faced with her first investigation in which the CRC had challenged the PPB's findings. The CRC ruled that Sergeant Erin Smith wrongly threatened to arrest an activist who was legally filming cops in 2016. Outlaw agreed, brushing off PPB's appeal. Again, this doesn't bode well for her voting against the CRC in the future.
"She's set a new precedent," said the complainant after Wednesday's meeting. "That makes me hopeful for my chances."