The Justice Department of the United States reported recently at the end of an official examination that the Portland Police Bureau engages in a pattern of police brutality. We are now in the midst of public negotiations regarding the response by the City of Portland to these findings, a response mediated by a federal judge. Neither the Department of Justice nor the City of Portland proposes any essential change to the municipal mechanism now in place which oversees possible cases of police brutality, the so-called citizens review committee.
So, how is the so-called CRC doing? Does it provide real oversight of brutality by Portland police officers? A decision made public today can give citizens a good idea of its actual, as opposed to its planned, effectiveness.
Some time ago the bicycle rider Craig Maynard was confronted on the streets of Portland for the reason of the lack of a rear reflector on his bicycle. As the reader knows, this action was probably harassment, but even so the worst — or most that Maynard should have received was a written warning. In fact Portland police officer McDonald gave Maynard a broken elbow. When McDonald brought a complaint before the Citizens Review Committee it was adjudicated as “unproven” because there was only the victim’s statement to support the claim.
Internal Affairs failed even to interview Officer McDonald in this case; twice the Committee requested Internal Affairs’s undertaking to interview McDonald; twice IA refused to do so. Regulations governing the conduct of the police oversight committee do not require the compliance of IA to a CRC request for further investigation.
On the third request, a request made with the explicit approval of the Office of the Mayor, IA did interview officer McDonald, who — to his credit — admitted he did break Maynard’s elbow.
And the final decision of the Citizens Review Committee? “Unproven.”
So a bicycle rider is stopped for some petty oversight and the police break his elbow. He reports the police broke his elbow. The police officer in question admits he broke the elbow. And the official committee decision on police brutality: “unproven”.
Such a result need not surprise the reader, for in its report the Department of Justice spoke of the “byzantine” police oversight mechanism having the effect primarily of discouraging any action being taken to acknowledge or to counteract the police brutality it was instituted to combat. The Maynard case is only the latest in a very long series of denials of palpable fact by the Citizens Review Committee.