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Friday, October 23, 2009

Leonard Drags City's Secret List Into Limelight

Posted by Matt Davis on Fri, Oct 23, 2009 at 2:22 PM

A majority of city council finally forced Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman to publish a secret list of frequent arrestees on Wednesday afternoon. Other local media have been downplaying the controversy during the hearing, but Commissioner Randy Leonard essentially went apeshit—as apeshit as it's possible to go in a city council hearing, at least—at Saltzman for withholding the list, in a continuation of his earlier hostility toward the police commissioner from the morning session. This comes on the heels of a series of skeptical statements about Saltzman from the mental health community, over his handling of the inquiry into the death in custody of James Chasse. And this morning, Police Union boss Scott Westerman was excoriated by a mental health advocate for his remarks about "healing," related to the case.

The vote came as an amendment on the payment of $1.2million more into the program, to fund ongoing drug treatment and rehabilitation for 53 people. City Commissioner Nick Fish supported the payment, but pointed out that "for an equivalent investment we can tackle about 40% of the homeless problem on the streets of Portland." "We're talking about a substantial investment of public resources," he continued.

I was absent from the hearing—as it happened, I was interviewing three of the people in the program, having worked with Saltzman's office to set the meeting up for the last month—but I've posted complete video from the hearing on Youtube this afternoon, because you really do need to watch it to get the full benefit of Leonard's long stares in Saltzman's direction, and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz's frantic efforts to diffuse what appears to be brewing as a pretty nasty argument. Sources also say Leonard hadn't discussed his planned remarks with Mayor Sam Adams, who was caught on the hoof, trying to accommodate Leonard with a hastily-crafted amendment before all hell broke loose.

A month ago, Saltzman said he had decided to keep the list secret, to protect the confidentiality of people on it. Leonard appeared to back off, saying he disagreed, but respected Saltzman's authority as police commissioner. But he certainly wasn't backing off, on Wednesday.

Initially this week, Mayor Adams suggested releasing the demographic information of people on the list, after criticism from Copwatch activist Dan Handelman. But Leonard interrupted. "There's no legal justification for keeping the names secret," he said, accusing Saltzman of "not serving the best interest of the program, or even the people in the program." "It's time to end this charade of allowing those who would attack this program for various reasons to hang their hat on the list," he continued.

Saltzman said "certain elements of the press are just clamoring to get the names in print," referring first to "the Mercury and Willamette Week," and later, specifically, to the Mercury. "You can dress up the issue any way you like," said Saltzman. "But these are people, they are individuals, they are job applicants, and I don't necessarily think they want to pick up the Mercury and see their names in the paper."

Leonard then bought his daughter into the argument. He again accused Saltzman's police bureau of leaking details about his daughter to the press—apparently referencing this Willamette Week story that describes her entry into drug treatment as an "open secret" at city hall. Leonard directed a long stare in Saltzman's direction as he made these remarks.

Then, Leonard said: "You get to the point when you have a child where they become an item for the police department—the least of your worries is for somehow the Mercury or the Willamette Week publishes their names. You're worried if you're going to get the call from the coroner."


LEONARD: REALLY WENT FOR IT WITH SALTZMAN

It's not clear what pushed Leonard into such an aggressive frame of mind on Wednesday, but Saltzman had earlier said he didn't support Leonard's plans to arm water bureau security guards. Leonard has now shelved his plans to arm water bureau guards for two weeks, to look at alternatives, reports Mark Larabee in yesterday's Oregonian.

Fritz and City Commissioner Nick Fish ultimately sided with Leonard on publishing the list, as did the mayor. Saltzman still voted against releasing the list. You can watch the complete videos after the jump. We have requested a copy of the list from the city attorney's office so we can do demographic analysis on it—we are hearing that the overwhelming majority of folks on the list are African American. We'll let you know as soon as we get it, and of course, publish the entire thing, over six whole pages, in every single copy of the Mercury, next week.

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