The president of the Portland police union is encouraging his officers not to attend meetings of the Citizen Review Committee, the panel that hears appeals of Police Bureau findings on complaints of alleged officer misconduct.
His email to union members came in the wake of a particularly contentious meeting on March 30, when a man threw a cup of water in the face of a committee member who had voted in support of exonerating an officer of alleged wrongdoing. The protester was escorted out of the meeting. It also followed audience taunts of a police captain who defended the officer’s actions.
“With the safety of our members in mind, the Portland Police Association highly discourages any PPA Member to attend CRC hearings for now and into the foreseeable future,” Officer Daryl Turner wrote.
Turner also encouraged Police Chief Larry O’Dea to stop sending command staff to the hearings, “as they are exposed to these dangerous and volatile situations.”
O’Dea wrote his own letter to the director of the Independent Police Review Division, which arranges the committee hearings. “I can no longer support having my employees participating in this environment unless and until steps are taken to address my serious concerns,” O’Dea wrote.
Constantin Severe, director of the Independent Police Review Division – the intake center for complaints against police – said the throwing of water in committee member James Young’s face was unacceptable. The city is working on steps to ensure the hearings are conducted civilly, he said, but “further acts of disruption or violence” threaten the city’s ability to hold such hearings.
“Mr. Young is an experienced attorney whose knowledge of police issues has been very beneficial to the community,” Severe said. “Verbal or physical abuse directed at community volunteers, police officers, or other participants at appeals diminishes the efforts of the CRC and civilian oversight of the police.”
Yet Severe said Turner’s advice to his union members may only hurt them.
“In my experience, every time an officer has appeared at a CRC appeal, it has worked to their benefit,” Severe said.
Officers have rarely appeared before the committee to defend their actions.
The case heard by the citizen committee March 30 dealt with a complaint that Officer Scott Groshong grabbed Robert Lee West’s video camera as he was filming the officer. West frequently films police and was arrested last week, accused of crossing police lines to film police activity in Southeast Portland.
Severe, in a memo to the committee, was critical of the bureau’s review of the complaint, finding Groshong’s supervisor didn’t take the allegation seriously when the matter was reviewed by the Police Review Board.
“The involved member’s superior officer Captain Mark Kruger behaved in a manner akin to defense counsel for the officer as opposed to a neutral factfinder,” Severe wrote. “Even more disturbing was Captain Kruger’s description of the Internal Affairs investigation as ‘pettifogging’ and not worthy of an administrative investigation. Captain Kruger’s behavior at the Police Review Board was hostile and combative. Captain Kruger was disrespectful to Internal Affairs and openly disdainful towards to IPR.”
The Citizen Review Committee voted 5-2 to challenge the Police Bureau’s finding of “not sustained” regarding the allegation of unprofessional behavior against Groshong.
— Maxine Bernstein