Craig Rosebraugh is perhaps the most infamous environmental activist in Portland, if not the entire Northwest. As the former spokesperson for the firebrand Earth Liberation Front, Rosebraugh has spent plenty of time defending anarchy in front of media microphones and cameras. But on Halloween, Rosebraugh sat earnestly in front of City Council and petitioned for justice, fairness, and order from the local police.
Nearly two years ago, Rosebraugh and a fellow activist, Elaine Close, were allegedly affronted by police during a protest near Pioneer Square. Close claims that police pushed her from the sidewalk into oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, in the same protest, a police officer broke Rosebraugh's arm during a brutish arrest. Afterwards, police handcuffed Rosebraugh and dragged him a block to the Justice Center.
"I could feel my nerve rubbing my bone while I was being dragged away," Rosebraugh explained to the council members. In the dimmed chambers, Rosebraugh showed reels of videotape which clearly show police throwing him to the ground, breaking his arm, and dragging him from the scene.
In the face of such graphic and damning evidence, the City settled an out-of-court lawsuit with Rosebraugh for $47,500 one year ago. But at that time, city officials pointed out that a settlement does not equal an admission of guilt; Internal Affairs went on to exonerate all the arresting officers.
However, complainants may petition City Council to overturn such findings; On Wednesday, Rosebraugh desperately tried to gain an admission of guilt from the bureau. The police, however, stood steadfast with their claim they did nothing wrong.
City Council sided with police and, once again, shrugged off complaints from residents that the police were roughhousing activists. Of the eight officers implicated by Rosebraugh, City Council unanimously confirmed the finding of "no guilt" for seven. With a vote of 3-1, council voted to change Internal Affairs' finding for the primary arresting officer from "exonerate" to "insufficient evidence"--a change that is little more than a blemish on the officer's record.
Rosebraugh's ultimate failure to convince City Council to reopen the case on Wednesday not only exposed heavyhanded policing, but also revealed gaping holes in the city's inability to watchdog the police.
Throughout the proceedings, Mayor Vera Katz was actively disinterested. "How long will this take?" she quipped, as Rosebraugh and Close began their testimony. "We need to get through this as quickly as possible," she continued. "Will it take longer than ten minutes?"
In charge of the police bureau, Katz has been routinely accused of demonstrating obsequious behavior toward the police and their Internal Affair reports. Even though the three other council members present ultimately confirmed the majority of Internal Affairs' report, they remained engaged, and actively pursued various details of the case. During the entire proceeding, Katz remained unconcerned.
"Katz's main motive was to speed the process along," said Rosebraugh. "Watching her the entire time, it was clear she had no real interest in the case."
Over the past several years, a string of complaints about police abuse have lined up in front of city council, and only in the rarest of cases were the police convicted of any wrong-doing. Invariably, those findings were rubberstamped by the civilian oversight organization, the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee, and City Council. Mounting dissatisfaction with PIIAC forced Mayor Katz to finally concede to several changes last winter and form a new system, the Independent Police Review (IPR).
Rosebraugh's case was one of the final three cases to flush through the old PIIAC system; the new system, with an overhauled oversight committee, will begin to take effect as early as late November.
"This is a good example why we changed our system," explained Mike Hess, the chief administrator for the IPR. Hess points out that the new committee of civilians represents a wide sampling from the city--from Bryan Pollard, the managing editor for streetroots, to a Latino minister. Three of the committee members remain from PIIAC; yet those members sharply criticized the old system, and were largely responsible for recommending changes.
Currently, the nine new committee members are receiving training from the ACLU, as well as attending seminars on mental illness and homelessness.