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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hales "Skeptical" of Portland Cops Working with Feds, Vows to Rethink Relationship

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 1:14 PM

Deputy City Attorney David Woboril, from left, Police Chief Mike Reese, and Assistant Police Chief Eric Hendricks.
  • Denis C. Theriault
  • Deputy City Attorney David Woboril, from left, Police Chief Mike Reese, and Assistant Police Chief Eric Hendricks.
Mayor Charlie Hales signaled his interest in rethinking Portland's relationship with an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force—a controversial 2011 reunion that spilled from the Mohamed Mohamud bombing case—capping a punchy hearing on whether city council should accept Chief Mike Reese's annual report on the JTTF.

The comments came before Hales reluctantly gave his assent to the report, notwithstanding his concerns, saying it fulfilled the technical requirements laid down by the city two years ago.

"I am very skeptical of the process of entanglement of our police bureau, which should be focused on peacekeeping in the community, with the work the FBI does in addressing global terrorism," Hales said, promising to weigh not only the report but also "larger questions" on whether working with the JTTF is "wise, good public policy, and cost-effective for the police bureau."

In a moment of modest intrigue, Hales found himself the deciding vote after Commissioners Amanda Fritz (silenced last year while asking questions) and Steve Novick both emphatically voted to say no. Hales, for the record, actually cast the first vote against the JTTF more than a decade ago, when he was a city commissioner.

The document is mostly built on Reese's personal assurances that our cops haven't been asked to violate Oregon's strict civil rights laws during the course of their case-by-case work with the feds. It details only the number of investigations our cops helped with ("at least" one this year, outside of Portland) and gives no details about the nature of those investigations or how many officers or hours the police bureau spent on them.

Both Novick and Fritz found those omissions troubling. They also weren't necessarily buying the chief's blanket assertion that giving those details would jeopardize terrorism cases.

Novick wondered whether a report was even worth releasing if those details couldn't be provided. Why not just have a public forum instead of a report that essentially says the same thing every year. In a bid to better understand, he repeatedly tried to pin the chief down on how, exactly, giving those details would hurt cases. But Reese wouldn't budge off his talking points.

"If I talked about that in council," the chief said, "it might provide information about how those investigations would be compromised."

Fritz, early on, seized on information that the chief has been advised by a deputy city attorney, David Woboril, who, despite not having government security clearance, has been made privy to many of the details Fritz and Novick were seeking.

"If you can have that information without having security clearance, why can't I?" she asked Woboril.

Just like they did last year, activists also filled the council chambers to complain and remind everyone about the FBI's checkered (and many would argue ongoing) history of violating the rights of political activists (like anarchists? ahem...) and African Americans and Muslims.

Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch picked up on the curious phrasing in what seemed the only concrete number in the report, that Portland cops participated in "at least" one terror probe in the past year.

"That is not a number," Handelman said.

David Fidanque of the ACLU of Oregon said that, yes, although his organization gave its tacit blessing to the city's 2011 reunion with the feds, it was based on the assumption that more information would be produced.

After making a similar speech last year, he said, "this year's report is virtually identical and has some of the same failings and lack of detail."

Kayse Jama, of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, appreciated the words of Reese, saying he found him an honorable man. But he also said mere trust "is not good enough."

"I am not confident that we can trust the relationship is going to more open into our public," Jama said. "You need to not accept this report and we should all re-examine our partnership with the FBI."

Some of the strongest condemnation of the FBI came from civil rights attorney Greg Kafoury.

"The Portland Police Bureau's organizational bonds with the FBI should be terminated. The FBI is our domestic secret police," he said. "The FBI has paid instigators at mosques all over the country trying to incite Muslim men to say or do something stupid."

Kafoury detailed a list of the FBI's sins, including working with local cops to take down Black Panther chapters and engaging in black-bag jobs as part of COINTELPRO.

"If tomorrow, a lawyer's office or activist's office is burglarized in Portland, and the burglars are caught by our police, would a phone call invoking national security lead to a quiet release? Or would the agency be told to tell it to a judge?"

"You should reject it," says activist Joe Walsh. "It doesn't give the information we were guaranteed a year ago. Say to the chief of police: 'Go back and do your job. Tell us what went on.' All of you should know. Because you're our representatives."

Jason Kafoury, Greg Kafoury's son and also a civil rights attorney, mentioned something I'd reported on a year ago, in the aftermath of the Occupy park protests: In a case he was working with Walsh on, a cop testified that officers had been sent undercover to peace demonstrations.

"That happened before we were part of the JTTF," he said. "It's 100 percent just 'trust us,' and give a stamp of approval."

After the long day at council, Hales said it was clear based on the "awkward" hearing on the JTTF report that the city has yet to really determine if the amount of scrutiny and oversight Portlanders demand is compatible with the FBI.

Said the mayor, "we're not there yet."

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