At almost any given protest, activists point him out as the one to keep a wary eye on. While other officers stand guard, Kruger stalks the grounds like a prowling lion. Currently, Sgt. Kruger is perhaps the most notorious police officer on the city's force. Wait... make that Lieutenant Kruger! During the last month, despite ongoing controversy that has swirled around Kruger's head like a swarm of killer bees, he was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant--a ranking just below captain.
Kruger came into the public's view during last year's anti-war demonstrations. As a ranking officer, Kruger shouldered responsibility for tactics and tone at those protests--which were largely characterized by stern confrontations between marchers and officers in riot gear. In footage from one downtown demonstration, a female protester is temporarily separated from other marchers. Suddenly, several cops swarm her. She curls up around a parking meter pole, grabs hold and tries to cover her face. But an officer pries her fingers off the pole as another pepper sprays her directly into the eyes. She screams and tries to crawl away as the officer continues to spray her.
Those confrontations have given way to lawsuits--at least two that name Kruger as a responsible party.
In one chilling encounter in April 2003, Kruger roughed up a young female protester near Pioneer Square. At the time, the woman was being arrested for the minor crime of jaywalking. From seemingly nowhere, Kruger emerged, grabbed the woman, and cranked her arm harshly behind her back. Although she cried out, "you're hurting me," Kruger continued to twist her arm and then, to silence her, grabbed her face in his hand, completely palming it. About 100 marchers and downtown shoppers watched in stunned silence.
During a Mercury reader survey in March, Kruger was overwhelmingly nominated as Portland's "Most Rotten Cop." Beyond humanitarian issues, Kruger has opened the city up to more than $1 million in liability lawsuits.
Yet despite this reputation and controversy, the police say they see no public relations problem with promoting Kruger--a promotion that's particularly troubling considering the community's current worries over police accountability. Following several police shootings--and what many in the public view see as lackluster investigations and punishments--there have been constant demands for better training and more responsible operating protocols.
There certainly have been several motions in that direction ever since Derrick Foxworth replaced the outgoing police chief Mark Kroeker last October. At the forefront of Foxworth's nine-month tenure has been the issue of police accountability. Many community members in North Portland were heartened when the chief visited the friends and family of James Jahar Perez, an unarmed African American motorist shot at a routine traffic stop. If nothing else, Foxworth's visit was seen as an expression of compassion not taken by previous police chiefs. Foxworth has also announced several substantive measures to bring more accountability to the force. He has demanded that officers write up a report each time he or she points a weapon at a person. He also has pushed for diversifying the force and for better training procedures.
But the recent decision to promote the police force's most notorious officer has some activists and civil rights attorneys pondering Foxworth's stance on individual officers. A primary worry is that the police union and the careers of certain individuals trump public safety concerns.
The police bureau pooh-poohed questions in regards to Kruger being a named defendant for two brutality lawsuits, saying that such liabilities are part of the job.
"At any given time, a police officer can be a defendant in a lawsuit," explained spokesperson Sgt. Brian Schmautz.
He also pointed out that the interview and examination process, which precede any promotion, were conducted by an external personnel company.
Schmautz went on to defend questions about Kruger's personal interests. Although the Mercury's line of questioning focused entirely on Kruger's role during anti-war demonstrations the police spokesperson provided: "I don't think that anyone would conceive of the mayor being a Nazi sympathizer." He went on to reiterate the same defense about the police chief.
While not provoked by any direct question asked by the Mercury, it's understandable that the police bureau is sensitive about Kruger's off-the-job interests. In the course of background research for a lawsuit against Kruger, attorneys discovered a disturbing pattern of behavior, personal interests, and hobbies. One of Kruger's former friends came forward to say they used to drive around the city listening to recorded Adolf Hitler speeches and shouting racial epithets at people. He also confessed that Kruger had constructed a shrine for fallen Nazi soldiers at Rocky Butte. The attorneys have acquired video footage of Kruger wearing Nazi uniforms.
Although his questionable interests may be tangential to Kruger's on-the-job performance, attorneys have used that information to attest to Kruger's mental state. In an email addressed to Mayor Vera Katz, civil rights attorney Alan Graf lambasted the mayor for allowing the Kruger promotion to go forward. The mayor oversees the police bureau; Graf is handling one of the suits against Kruger.
"Vera: This reminds me of the extensive background check you did on Kroeker," Graf writes, sarcastically referring to the recently departed police chief. (About a year after Kroeker was hired, the Portland Alliance found publicly available audio tapes from a speech Kroeker gave in which he made several bigoted and troubling remarks against homosexuals.) "Lo and behold," continues Graf's note, "you later find out that [Kroeker] dislikes gays and lesbians, thinks women should be in the home and recommends boat oars as 'tough love' punishment for the kids."
Graf then turns his attention away from previous hiring snafus, and specifically to Kruger and his alleged hang-up with Hitler and the Third Reich.
"As you, I have history also with the Holocaust. I lost both of my grandparents to the gas chambers. I still am in shock that you would allow this to go down on your watch," Graf says. He concludes: "Shame on you."