With little fanfare, last week a circuit court judge threw out "interfering with a police officer" (IPO) charges against a local cameraman. Somewhat like martial law, an IPO allows an officer to ticket a person for an otherwise legal activity--like walking on a sidewalk or questioning an officer's motivation for shaking down a citizen. It is a largely subjective power and one that gives police a great deal of latitude.

This is one of a number of rulings in recent times that have been given the judicial smack down. In the past few months, the circuit court struck down the city's sit-lie rules and gutted the Drug Free Zones.

The IPO charges arose five months ago when Eric Nordquist was detained and ticketed by a cop for refusing to leave a sidewalk. Nordquist is a professional "scanner chaser"--a freelance cameraman who rushes to fires, accidents, and crime scenes to capture footage for local TV news. At 3 am, he arrived to film a house fire in northeast Portland.

Although no police tape quarantined the area, an officer ordered Nordquist to back off. When Nordquist proceeded to film and stroll towards the fire, the officer began to cross-examine the cameraman. Ultimately, Nordquist was ticketed with an IPO.

"Male macho law dictates that 'I'm always right,'" said Nordquist, referring to the officer's attitude. "And this gives them a law backing up that attitude."

It's difficult to determine how many IPOs are issued yearly, as most go unchallenged or are simply meant as a stern warning.

"Civicly speaking, it is a very scary thing," said Nordquist. "Instead of trying diplomacy, [the police] are going straight to: 'You're in violation.'" He added, "It's causing a lot of hostility."

Last week, the judge agreed, accepting the argument from Nordquist's attorney that the law is overly broad and gives too much power to police. It appears as if the decision will not be appealed.

by Phil Busse