Illustration by Jon Sperry

MUCH OF THE CONTROVERSY over a recent list of police promotions centered on one officer who was handed his sergeant's badge last Thursday, December 9: Leo Besner, the man who shot a despondent Raymond Gwerder in the back in 2005 and whose various acts of misconduct have cost the city nearly $1 million.

By the morning of the promotion ceremony, outcry over Besner's advancement grew so loud that Mayor Sam Adams took the unusual step of weighing in on what normally would be considered a matter of discretion for a city bureau head, in this case Police Chief Mike Reese.

In a statement posted on his blog, Adams didn't directly reference Besner's history of run-ins—including menacing protesters and three African American men in a parking garage in 2007. Instead, he pushed for yearly reviews and called on the police bureau to reconsider how promotions are bestowed. Test scores currently determine who advances.

"The most recent round of promotions has raised policy questions to answer regarding lawsuit/tort claims," Adams said, "and how they relate to the forthcoming police officer annual performance evaluations."

That announcement came a day after the Mercury reported Adams' promise to meet with former council candidate Jesse Cornett—Gwerder's roommate at the time of his death—and hear concerns raised loudly not only by Cornett but also by Gwerder's family, Portland Copwatch, and others.

But Besner also wasn't the only cop with a curious record to win promotion.

Chris Davis, promoted to lieutenant, was one of two cops who watched Officer Jeffrey Bell kill José Mejía Poot in a psychiatric hospital in 2001. All three were placed on leave but cleared by a grand jury.

Then in 2007, Davis was one of two officers slapped alongside Besner for harassing Harold Hammick, Ri'Chard Booth, and Alex Clay in 2007. A judgment in that case cost the city $175,000, according to Portland Copwatch.

"The key to the case was that the officers didn't realize there were independent witnesses until after they gave their depositions," said Greg Kafoury, one of the prosecuting attorneys. Besner "was clearly the most out of line and clearly dominating the scene, but Davis was his superior at the scene."

(Davis, for the record, also wrote a piece in the police union's newsletter in February 2010, urging "sanity" and an end to posturing in what's been a frayed relationship among the community, the police brass, and the union.)

Mark Friedman, promoted to sergeant, was one of three officers who shot and killed Vernon Allen, an African American man carrying a knife, in Old Town in 2005. While officers said Allen was lunging at them, some witnesses said he was far enough away that lethal force wasn't necessary.

Friedman was present at another 2005 shooting involving a mentally ill, knife-wielding man. Friedman fired a bean-bag round at John Vitale, who was injured after another officer, Stacy Dunn, shot him.

At the promotion ceremony, Reese offered a vigorous defense of the promotions list—drawing from the muscular language of President Theodore Roosevelt to send a message to the rank and file. And critics.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better," Reese said. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again."

Advocates and others lashed out at Reese afterward. Only a month before, Reese had angered the city's main police union when he fired Officer Ron Frashour, the cop who shot and killed Aaron Campbell in January.

"The chief took a bunch of heat," says Jason Kafoury, who helped his father prosecute the 2007 parking garage case, "and this is his chance to placate the people inside his ranks."