Robert West, blue shirt, talks to the Citizen Review Committee
Robert West, blue shirt, talks to the Citizen Review Committee Doug Brown

A police-filming activist won a small battle during a contentious three-and-a-half hour public meeting last night—a day after being arrested for allegedly filming behind police lines at a standoff.

The Citizen Review Committee—a volunteer offshoot of the city's Independent Police Review (IPR)—sided 5-2 with Robert Lee West, who insists a Portland officer was in the wrong in October 2015 when he briefly grabbed West's video camera. The police bureau had ruled that complaint "not sustained," finding the officer in question did nothing wrong. The citizen committee's recommendation for the outcome of the incident now goes to police chief Larry O'Dea.

West was legally filming police cars leave the Central Precinct garage on October 20 when this happened:

That wasn't enough to concern the city's Police Review Board, which voted in 4-1 in January that officer Scott Groshong had done nothing wrong, that he was not acting unprofessionally when he got out of his SUV to confront Woods. The ruling didn't sit well with IPR Director Constantin Severe, who in a Feb. 1 letter criticized the PRB's findings and laid bare tensions between his office and police brass. From that letter:

As a factual matter, I believe it is clear that the involved member grabbed the lens of a camera belonging to a community member... Additionally I was disappointed by the tone of the Police Review Board session in this case. The involved member's superior officer Captain Mark Kruger behaved in a manner akin to defense counsel for the officer as opposed to neutral factfinder. Even more disturbing was Captain Kruger's description of the Internal Affairs investigation as "pettifogging" and not worthy of an administrative investigation. Captain Kruger's behavior at the Police Review Board was hostile and combative. Captain Kruger was disrespectful to Internal Affairs and openly disdainful towards IPR.

That CRC appeal happened last night, in a painfully long evening full of outbursts by a handful of activists, who often interrupted the Committee and police with yelling and Nazi comparisons. (That was a repeated shot at Kruger, who was at the hearing, and has a more-than passing familiarity with the Nationalist Socialist Party.)

Arguing for the bureau's "not sustained" finding were Derek Rodrigues of the Professional Standards Division (edit: as Dan Handelman points out, Rodrigues actually agreed with Severe, and was not there to argue for Groshong like the two others), commander George Burke, and Kruger. Burke and Kruger both said that they watched the video a number of times and, despite it unambiguously showing Groshong getting out of his car and grabbing the camera, they couldn't quite determine if he grabbed it, so that's why the complaint shouldn't fly.

"There is no evidence in this video that the officer grabbed the camera at any time," Kruger told the CRC, before citing the Merriam-Webster definition of the word "grab", (cue more Nazi references from the audience). "In my review of the video, that's not what we see... Is it a conduct violation to put your hand in front of camera?"

Kruger said that if he thought Groshong actually grabbed the camera, he would have sustained the complaint. Police union leader Daryl Turner argued that Groshong acted professionally, and only put his hand up to block the camera as a natural reaction.

A majority of the seven CRC members on hand were not convinced, and challenged the finding. It's now up to O'Dea to either accept or challenge the CRC's recommendation. If he challenges it, the case will go back to the CRC for a conference hearing with the chief—and then potentially to Portland City Council if they can't work out their differences.

"In reviewing the evidence," said CRC chair Kristin Malone during her explanation about why she sided with West, "there was no way Captain Kruger could have viewed the same video I viewed."

Two CRC members—James Young and Julie Ramos—voted for the bureau's account.

And then things got ugly. During the final public comment section after the vote, local activist Charles Johnson walked on stage and tossed a full cup of water on Young, then stood next to the police bureau members on stage with his hands behind his back to surrender—only to be led away by a building security guard.

"I'm sorry, at this point, I'm going to adjourn," an exasperated Malone concluded. That was that.


3/31/2016 - Citizen Review Committee meeting from Doug Brown on Vimeo.