Jo Ann Hardesty, having helped the AMA organize a Portland march to commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, flew to Washington, D.C. the following day to moderate a national panel, convened to rupture the school-to-prison pipeline.
Portland journalist Timothy Flanagan then prompted Roger David Hardesty to respond to an article on the failure of the City of Portland to discipline Officers Richard Montee and Paul Wickersham who – as police homicide victim Lloyd D. Stevenson was being interred in Willamette National Cemetery – flaunted fellow officers’ misconduct. Montee and Wickersham were fired for selling t-shirts which alluded to Stevenson’s strangulation death at the hands of fellow officers. Shirts read: ”Don’t Choke ‘Em. Smoke ‘Em.” The subtext conveyed was that shooting death be preferred policy to choke holds. The city later re-hired the officers.
The half-century perspective of Dr. King’s work, and review of Stevenson’s 1985 homicide, spurred me to comment on the ongoing legacy of police violence toward African Americans. In addition to racial profiling, we in Portland have a history of killing unarmed people of color who are not engaged in criminal conduct.
The City of Portland is Culpable
When one takes a generations-long perspective, it becomes apparent that it is for good reason that The City of Portland stands accused in U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Findings: it is the City that fosters unconstitutional patterns and practices. The framing of reform demands must shift: calls for police accountability divert our attention from systemic, entrenched policy decisions by Portland City Councils … reinforced over decades.
The City governance structure itself is culpable for the subversion of justice. Though policies at Multnomah County and the State of Oregon, described here, perpetuate denial of checks and balances that would end unlawful practice, Portland Police have – for decades – been the product of civilian authorities who negotiate contracts for the delivery of services. Illegal use of force continues because the City refuses to investigate such crime: they continue to rely on police Internal Affairs’ self-exoneration. The People share blame, in failing to demand of candidates any pledge to replace the failed Independent Review Board with citizen oversight. The People have not used their inherent power to demand authority and subpoena powers, to make criminal cases against city employees who routinely break the law … with such tragic and costly consequences.
Montee and Wickersham set a precedent in ’85. They employed an arbitration process the City negotiated, to escape all sanction for their misconduct. The grievous ruling in their case forms part of the basis for all subsequent rulings … by a variety of arbitrators, over a series of city administrations. Every ruling on out-of-policy use of force has been an exoneration. It is the City that has never introduced an effective means of establishing civilian authority. Police complicity (as an institution) is merely that their union has successfully – and repeatedly – negotiated for contract provisions that prevent members from being held accountable for illegal and immoral conduct. Long-term, institutionalized injustice is as much due to Portland City Council Members who fear the political consequences of alienating a body that can effectively organize, that is likely to fund a candidate who will run against them.
The City of Portland stands accused of civil rights violations. Hoping to avert their own sanctions before a Federal case goes to trial, they now engage in selecting a Civilian Oversight Accountability Board (COAB). It is a failure of the Civil Rights Division that, though The People are victims of the City’s failure to protect our civil rights, The People will not directly elect members to the COAB. The Department of Justice will permit the perpetrators to choose who holds them accountable; it stands silent as the City proceeds without hearings to determine what authority this board will require to end historic injustice.
Long-term perspective illuminates how the City has failed to heed their own series of consultants, let alone repeated demands from organized community leaders who’ve pressed for true reform since Stevenson’s homicide. Long-term perspective shows historical investment in failed oversight (the Independent Police Review Board was a temporary solution when introduced). It is unconscionable to proceed in hiring the COAB Liaison without first allowing The People to demand this new board be constituted with the power to actually reform the body that convenes them.
Here is Roger David Hardesty’s reply to Mr. Flanagan’s article on the City of Portland’s failure to discipline Montee and Wickersham for their out-of-policy actions following the killing of Stevenson:
Mr. Stevenson (31) was so much more than a victim of police homicide, but his strangulation, at the hands of officer Gary Barbour reminds us how little has changed. It should be reported that, not only was the father of five unarmed, he was also not engaged in criminal activity. Until police arrived to abuse him, based solely on their perceptions that he was not of their race and was ‘the biggest guy around’ at a chaotic scene, Mr. Stevenson – a security guard – was a productive member of society, willing to take risks to foster improved livability in his community. A customer in a store, Stevenson had been asked by the merchant to intervene with a shoplifter until police could respond.
A public inquest ruled Stevenson was the victim of negligent homicide. Twenty years later, the City of Portland failed in the same way: police prevented or failed to provide medical care to James Chasse … who would also die as a result of their extra-judicial killing of an unarmed man, not engaged in criminal activity.
The message to the African American community, following the (by some accounts, all-white) Grand Jury’s acquittal of white Barbour and his white partners in crime, included the observation that the all-white County Attorney did not employ the Grand Jury system to seek justice. Anyone who reads transcripts of these sham proceedings will know they are conducted so as to present a scenario where police lies are presented as fact; differing accounts by civilian witnesses are portrayed as untruths.
Following the failure of the Grand Jury to indict Barbour, then-Mayor Clark called for a “healing process.” Apparently that process has never become a panacea to police misconduct.
The message to police was more egregious. Even though the inquest jury established negligent homicide (a fact-finding process the County has since abandoned), the County Attorney was able to shield his co-workers from criminal prosecution. The City of Portland has ever since employed the same Arbitration process, one that has overruled every attempt by civilian authorities to give even the lightest sanction – termination – to violent offenders.
Knowing full well that the Independent Police Review Board (initially proposed as a temporary solution to the City’s ongoing failure to establish oversight of police misconduct) fails in its mission; it is not in contemporary policy discourse to establish a body that is independent of what the DoJ last year termed the City of Portland’s ‘self-defeating accountability system.’ You will not hear the City’s current Police Commissioner seek a means of subverting the ‘Internal-Affairs-exoneration-to-fake-Grand-Jury-trial pipeline,’ by giving subpoena power to any external agency. Triers of fact will still be denied the fruits of any independent investigation when they perpetuate systemic injustice that has gone on for generations.
Your readers should be alerted that the City is now rounding up insiders to populate a Citizen Oversight Advisory Board. According to Councillor Saltzman, backroom deals have already been struck to decide who will become decision-makers on a board the City cobbles together as a preemptive attempt to avoid trial for employing police to violate your constitutional protections. Commissioner Fritz is in charge of hiring the group’s liaison with police and the DoJ … and there has been no public discussion as to whether this civilian board has the authority or power to actually reform Portland City Council and the police culture that allows modern-day versions of Montee and Wickersham to flaunt race-based homicide as standard operating procedure.
Jo Ann Hardesty, Principle Partner at Consult Hardesty, was unable to get the Democrat-led, Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee to bring legislation forward for debate in the last session. Senate Bill 779 would have required Oregon’s Attorney General to appoint a lead investigator when police use deadly physical force: “To try the case, the AG shall appoint an attorney not employed by the office of the District Attorney in the county in which the incident occurred.”
The People should now be vigilant. Though a proposed settlement between the DoJ and City of Portland called for a proportion of COAB members to represent ‘the community,’ the pre-emptive response now under way is likely to result in city insiders choosing one another to look at police … at the exclusion of the actual culprits.