Doug Brown

The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) says it's cool if officers elbow and punch suspects in the face if the cops think they are resisting arrest.

So said PPB Lt. Craig Morgan at Wednesday night's Citizen Review Committee (CRC) meeting, explaining why he decided not to punish an officer who punched a man whose arm officers weren't able grasp as they pinned him to the ground with their knees.

"The reality is punching—causing a short, hopefully non-enduring pain elsewhere to somebody—can cause them to focus their mental energies on that area," Lt. Morgan explained yesterday, "which will in turn lower the resistance to the arm they're trying to get out, and that's what happened in this case."

The suspect, accused of robbing a Southeast Portland bank, was pinned facedown on the ground by officers who caught up to him after a foot chase. One of the cops was able to grab his right arm to handcuff him, but his left arm remained under his body. The man said he couldn't remove his arm because of all the weight on him. Cops said he was intentionally resisting, so one punched him in the face at least twice, an investigation showed. He'd eventually get cuffed.

Here's what the guy told investigators:

There was so much weight on me that they were trying to pull my left arm out and they kept punching me in the face and they were kneeing me in the side repeatedly. Like two of them took turns kneeing me in the side. Like one got off of me, was kneeing me and they couldn't pull my arm out because there was a thousand pounds wroth of weight on my back. I mean, I couldn't pull my arm out and they couldn't pull my arm out. Finally, a couple of them jumped off of me and yanked my arm out, my left arm, and pulled it and handcuffed me.

Here's what the officer who punched the guy told investigators:

Officer [C] stayed on the right side of me and helped me control the hand. I gave a short blow to kind of the left side to try to pull his hand out. We were having trouble getting the suspect's hand out from underneath him. And then at one point just prior to doing that I gave a short elbow to the fatty part of the back. At that point we were able to pull his hand out.

The incident happened in November 2015. The suspect was accused of robbing a US Bank at Division and and SE 160th St., and police tracked him via a GPS unit attached to the stolen money. The man filed a tort claim notice with the city in February 2016, alleging numerous injuries by the police, including from the punches to the face and knees to the back. That tort claim notice triggered the investigation by the city auditor's Independent Police Review (IPR), which then referred it to the PPB's Internal Affairs. The allegation: that the officer used excessive force while taking him into custody.

The officer's boss, Lt. Morgan, ended up ruling the allegation as "not sustained"—meaning "the evidence was insufficient to prove a violation of policy or procedure"—explaining that "punching a suspect is allowed under certain circumstances.... Punching a suspect who is resisting and displaying other behaviors is on the range of acceptable techniques under training."

The CRC—which rules wither the bureau's finding on police misconduct issues could have been made by a "reasonable" person—voted 5-3 last night to challenge the "not sustained" findings in favor of "not sustained, with a debriefing." It's essentially the same outcome for the officer—no punishment—but with a talking-to about how the situation could be handled differently. It's up to the police chief to accept the CRC's findings and give the "debriefing," or challenge it. If challenged, the CRC can either back down or take it to Portland City Council, which would have the final say.