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Friday, February 8, 2013

Besides Todd Wyatt, Chief Refused to Fire Two Other Cops Review Board Panned for Untruthfulness

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 3:57 PM

Hopefully you remember: In the latest batch of reports from the semi-secret Police Review Board, Police Chief Mike Reese was urged to fire three cops—including the now-infamous Lieutenant Todd Wyatt—either partly or wholly because of allegations of untruthfulness.

The chief's decision to demote Wyatt from captain, despite a 5-1 vote, has become a well-known PR nightmare for the bureau. But the Mercury has since learned, according to data obtained through a public records request, that all three cops, in fact, were allowed to keep their jobs.

That revelation comes at the same time the Mercury has learned the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office is talking with the bureau about how to better identify officers whose credibility is in such doubt they won't be called as witnesses at trial. That conversation started before the outcry over the Wyatt case because of evolving case law, Deputy District Attorney Don Rees tells me.

"This office currently is in discussions with the city attorney and the police bureau," Rees says. "But in a general way. It's not linked to one specific incident or officer."

No cop even currently holds that verboten status, Rees says. And it turns out, only one cop has even had that black mark in recent history: former Portland Police Association President Scott Westerman. It's a big deal for cops. Westerman quit the bureau and didn't get support from his union for a grievance challenging the discipline. But if he'd stayed, he'd have been consigned to a job where he'd never be in position to testify in court—a career death sentence for a cop.

But the timing, in light of the Police Review Board information, is compelling. And it suggests the bureau and the DA's office ought to have deep discussions about whether certain kinds of untruthfulness and other criminal conduct, like are worse than others.

In the most eyebrow-raising of the two new examples, Reese set aside a unanimous dismissal vote for a cop accused of failing to file a use of force report and then lying and dodging questions to cover his tracks. Board members were so upset by the allegations, they basically said the officer fundamentally lacked the credibility to continue working as a cop.

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Reese, though, gave the officer a letter of reprimand. In doing so he rejected the word of the entire five-person panel—including a peer officer, the accused cop's supervisor, and a representative directly in the chief's office.

In another case, in which a cop lied to his boss after getting caught buying a TV 80 blocks from his assigned district, Reese bucked a 4-1 vote for termination and ordered a demotion. Like in the Wyatt case.
The board also was fairly harsh.

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Simpson, citing state law when I last wrote about this, declined to comment when asked if discipline in either case differed from the PRB's recommendation. But the bureau later relented and provided a comparison on final discipline—which is still one step in a long road; arbitration and union negotiations often water it down further—when asked formally by the Mercury. (Expect a more detailed analysis of that document, attached Review_Board_Discipline_Outcome.pdf for your perusal, in the coming days.)

Simpson has not yet returned a message seeking comment. But here's what he's said before about discipline in general and the chief's discretion in modifying PRB recommendations.

"Individual discipline cases are confidential personnel matters. Neither the chief nor the bureau can comment on cases where an officer receives discipline," Reese's spokesman, Sergeant Pete Simpson, told the Mercury, calling the Police Review Board "only a recommendation and one step in a complex process."

"Chief Reese takes discipline decisions very seriously and conducts a thorough analysis of the investigative materials, meets with the member officer, and discusses proposed discipline with the city attorney's office to make sure that the police bureau is being fair and consistent with past discipline decisions."

The Mercury had previously reported that Mary-Beth Baptista, director of the Independent Police Review division, was planning on pushing an ordinance that would require the police bureau to make discipline decisions public. Baptista also was pushing for an explanation each time a decision differed from the board's majority vote.

"The purpose of these reports is to show the community that the police bureau is holding people accountable," Baptista told me last month. "If we don't know what the final discipline decision is, and what the reasons are for departing from those recommendations, then the community doesn't have that information."

It's unclear whether the bureau also began compiling the data after she raised concerns.

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