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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Shootings, Texts, and Lies: 2014's First Batch of Police Review Board Reports Just Came Out

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Jan 8, 2014 at 2:43 PM

Every year, in January and July, the Portland Police Bureau releases redacted reports from its Police Review Board—a revolving panel made up of city investigators, cops, and citizens that's charged with making recommendations on discipline in police misconduct and use-of-force cases.

And this month's batch (pdf)—posted as non-searchable file with no announcement on a hard-to-reach corner of the bureau's website sometime this afternoon—might be the juiciest yet.

Several of the reports cover police shootings—including some recommendations that find fault with an officer's actions in those incidents, like in the Billy Wayne Simms shooting in 2012. And there are also some findings in the text messaging scandal that forced out former civilian services director Mike Kuykendall, Chief Mike Reese's top confidant.

Let's hit the highlights!

• In two of the 16 cases (with related files combined), the review board unanimously recommended firing two cops for not telling the truth about the misconduct allegations they were facing. (One of those clearly ties to Joseph Hanousek, who retired before he could be punished for covering up an accidental discharge of his gun and stalking a neighbor with the bureau's computer system.)

• And in one other case, the board unanimously moved to fire a cop whose conduct was seen as so reckless for so long as to put the bureau on the brink of a "tragedy". The allegations heard by the board concerned dangerous foot pursuits and a shoddy investigation. That was only the beginning, however.

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Did those cops get fired? We got a spreadsheet last year that showed Reese willing to defy the PRB. The board reports don't mention final discipline—whether Reese adds or subtracts something, or whether the city's two police unions successfully challenge the discipline and win a reduced punishment. Reese refused to keep supplying that data. That could change under code reforms under review.

• A claim that an officer used excessive force against a man in a mental health crisis at Providence was ruled unproven, but by a 3-2 vote. The board, however, unanimously agreed the officer taunted and provoked the man, "adding fuel to the fire," and didn't have a plan for how to de-escalate a situation that could have turned violent.

That's a big deal, since the bureau and city has been rapped by the feds for its excessive use of force against people with mental illness. The officer was recommended for a one-week suspension... but not very convincingly. His actions were strongly condemned as a "disservice" to the bureau and there were suggestions he wouldn't change.

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• I was maybe the only reporter, back when the cops announced they shot at Joshua Baker in 2012, to ask whether they actually shot him or not. No one in the bureau actually said so definitively, but reporters elsewhere all wrote that he was shot. He was not.

Baker was fired at 17 times but never hit. He was wounded some other way not made clear in the PRB reports. The officers who shot him were found in policy.

• In other police shootings from 2012, the board said detective Travis Fields was in policy when he shot Michael Tate outside his Aloha apartment during a warrant arrest gone awry, but the board said Fields should be debriefed for not handcuffing Tate sooner.

(I'll have more later, but I'm headed to city council for a hearing... so check back in a few.)

Officer Justin Clary's 2012 shooting of Billy Wayne Simms, as Simms drove off from a 7-Eleven in St. Johns, sent Simms' car crashing into an apartment building across the street. The board agreed unanimously that Simms was in policy—he was mindful his backdrop, only hit the car, "was focused and did a great job"—although three members wanted to debrief him, thinking "there is something to be learned from this incident."

The board was less charitable in its findings on another cop, Sergeant Anthony Christensen, expected to take the lead at the scene after Simms was tracked to the 7-Eleven. Unanimously, the board felt Christensen, an Army veteran, had failed bureau policies on deadly force and overall performance, arguing he should have done more to plan for, and de-escalate, the confrontation that ensued. He was recommended for command counseling.

• Captain Mark Kruger, accused of making life terrible for a subordinate, Lieutenant Kristy Galvan, involved in his discipline case for Nazi-era signs in a city park, was unanimously exonerated of the claim. That was the case that set off the text messaging scandal that sank Kuykendall's tenure with the bureau.

The board did argue, however, that Kruger should get a talking to for his use of profanity in front of staffers. And overall, the board seemed to be holding its nose. "Several" of the allegations against Kruger "came down to one person's perspective vs. another's."

Galvan, since demoted back to sergeant since she was a probationary lieutenant, was recommended for a letter of reprimand. The board decided she didn't have to get into the infamous text exchange with Kuykendall where the two took turns cracking Nazi and Auschwitz jokes about Kruger.

The board didn't do anything about Kuykendall. Absent changes currently under consideration by the city council, the city's review board and Independent Police Review Division lack jurisdiction over civilian bureau employees. Kuykendall at the time was in charge of internal affairs—a huge role in the bureau.

• The board decisively cleared officers in three other police shootings: a 2012 incident in which a 17-year-old running from a traffic stop, after being seen with a gun, had been shot by a handgun; the 2013 shooting of Merle Mikal Hatch; and the 2013 shooting of Santiago Cisneros III.

• Sergeant Jeff McDaniel was cleared in a 4-1 vote for his role pepper spraying Liz Nichols during an Occupy Portland rally in November 2011. Nichols lost an excessive force suit against the police bureau last summer.

The four members who cleared McDaniel all decided he acted reasonably. But that lone dissenter was equally as strong in his or her opposition.

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• An officer accused of harassing another police employee over that employee's appearance and perceived sexual orientation was unanimously recommended for a letter or reprimand.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the police officer faulted by the review board in the Simms shooting. The post, before it was edited, also described an incorrect pepper spray case. The Mercury regrets the errors.

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