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DOJ Attorneys Claim Portland Riot Response Is Proof Police Aren’t Abiding By Reform Settlement

Portland, OR – The federal government has accused the City of Portland and its police force of failing to abide by the provisions of a 2014 police reforms settlement.

The settlement called for reforms to the PPB’s training, oversight, supervision, and use-of-force policies, as well as finding ways to conduct investigations into allegations of police misconduct more quickly and restructuring police crisis intervention services, The Oregonian reported.

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys have demanded the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) produce a specific correction plan regarding how they will report, analyze and investigate use-of-force incidents, according to The Oregonian.

U.S. Attorney Jared Hager alleged that officers’ handling of use-of-force incidents during the six consecutive months of rioting that took place in downtown Portland over the summer of 2020 is evidence that the PPB is not abiding by the conditions of the 2014 court order.

“Over the summer it was revealed to us and for the city, the community and to the world really, that there is a systemic failure to implement some of the terms of the settlement agreement,” Hager declared.

The DOJ concluded in February that the PPB failed to meet four of the key reforms listed in the order, The Oregonian reported.

“Having failed the system for investigation of force at the front end, you starve the accountability system on the back end,” DOJ senior trial attorney Jonas Geissler alleged.

They have demanded the city produce data, evidence, and a clear plan outlining how they will comply with the settlement requirements, The Oregonian reported.

Civilian employee Mary Claire Buckley, who oversees the PPB’s Office of Inspector General, said the DOJ attorneys’ demands to “write up” a plan have never been required in the past.

Buckley noted the PPB was so inundated during six solid months of rioting, looting, and attacks on police that took place over the summer that they simply didn’t have the manpower to complete all the paperwork required under the settlement, The Oregonian reported.

Data collection reports are supposed to be completed by PPB officers anytime they use force, to include explaining what action they took and why.

Such reports are supposed to be done at the end of a shift, but officers were so busy dealing with the chaos on the streets, those reports were rarely completed on time, The Oregonian reported.

PPB supervisors also generally failed to complete after-action reports for each officer’s use-of-force incident within the mandatory 72-hour timeframe, the attorneys said.

Buckley argued the department barely had enough manpower to respond to the riots.

“We were overwhelmed by the unprecedented protest activity,” she said, according to The Oregonian. “No other city in this country had 171 straight days of protest activity.”

Instead of their typical 40 use-of-force reports per month, the PPB was dealing with as many as 3,000 in June of 2020, Buckley noted.

“It was not that the bureau didn’t have a system. It’s not that we deliberately didn’t do the work,” she said, according to The Oregonian. “It was just that there was so much of it that we couldn’t keep up.”

But Hager blew off Buckley’s points, arguing instead that “holding officers to account” is “at the core of the settlement agreement.”

The DOJ attorneys also said the PPB is obligated under the settlement to hold public meetings at each of its three precincts, The Oregonian reported.

They reminded city officials that the federal government “reserves its right to seek enforcement of the provisions of this Agreement if it determines that PPB or the City have failed to fully comply with any provision of this Agreement,” which could involve both sides appearing back before a federal judge.

“Ultimately, we can’t force the city to do anything. Only the judge can,” Hager said, according to The Oregonian. “If the rubber hits the road, that’s ultimately what the department can do.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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