THE STORY of Floyd McCorvey—a 62-year-old black man vexed by the city's refusal to fully investigate a racial-profiling claim against two cops—had mostly played out the last time I wrote about it [Hall Monitor, News, May 8].
McCorvey, you'll remember, accused two cops of calling him a pimp and a crackhead before they figured out he was neither and grudgingly handed him a ticket for jaywalking. After their own cursory investigation, Independent Police Review (IPR) investigators didn't feel like they could prove profiling, and declined to send it to police investigators for a deeper look.
Then, in May, McCorvey persuaded the Citizen Review Committee (CRC)—the citizen panel that hears appeals in police misconduct cases—to take his side and politely request a full investigation. And once more, for good measure, IPR politely said no.
But the story didn't end there. And, unfortunately, it still doesn't end any better.
After that somewhat testy hearing two months ago, McCorvey's case kept playing out behind the scenes—the latest flashpoint in a squabble among Portland's police oversight players over how much power, or how little, civilians ought to get.
CRC members and advocates, feeling helpless, invoked a federal police reform document and its mention of Portland's "byzantine" accountability system—especially its habit of dismissing allegations without full investigations. City lawyers were consulted. Meetings were held. IPR staffers even did some more legwork to try to measure McCorvey's claim.
So what happened when everyone, including McCorvey, got back together at this month's CRC meeting, on July 10? Nothing much. Except for another glimpse into why Portland's accountability system, while dramatically improved, still needs fundamental change.
IPR Director Constantin Severe still wouldn't reconsider—and he had fresh legal memos to back his stance. The CRC can't make IPR do anything. And the only binding document on federal police reform, it turns out, is the settlement agreement on file in US District Court. Complaints in other documents, if they're not in that (almost) final agreement, don't have any teeth.
And the CRC, unhappily, finally voted to stand down and settle for reading Severe the riot act. There was talk again of asking Mayor Charlie Hales to step in (the CRC got former Mayor Sam Adams to help them once, last year) but that talk fizzled.
One member of the CRC—someone who's not always unsympathetic to police officers—was particularly lucid about why this all matters. It's because race still matters in Portland. Especially when it comes to the police—who should at least acknowledge their own self-interest when it comes to looking responsive.
"There's a PR angle to this whole thing," lamented that member, Steve Yarosh. "Even if you think it's thin, the idea that you don't look at [a profiling complaint], that you cut it off without examination, it empowers it...
"I would encourage internal affairs and IPR to err on the side of investigation, even if they end up with a lot of 'unproven' cases, which they will," Yarosh continues. "But the community will feel they've been heard a little. Let's take that next step."