<<A proposal for a new police oversight panel approved by voters almost three years ago will come before the Portland City Council on Aug. 31.
Council members are already signaling it may be in trouble.
After the George Floyd protests, 82% of Portland voters in November 2020 approved the creation of a new police oversight board that could investigate, discipline and even fire police officers who engaged in misconduct. And the new panel would be funded by an amount equivalent to 5% of the Police Bureau’s budget, about $12.5 million.
The ballot measure, spearheaded by then-Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, came at a time when Portlanders wanted greater police oversight. There was fresh impetus for change: Portland police officers regularly used excessive force against protesters downtown that summer.
And the city had a poor record historically of policing the police. The U.S. Department of Justice reprimanded the Police Bureau in 2014 for using excessive force against people with mental illness, leading to a settlement agreement under which the bureau still operates.
“This was something the community had been asking for for well over 20 years,” Hardesty says. “And the political will lined up with the people’s demand in the fall of 2020.”
But three years later, things have changed.
“There’s nothing the city is more concerned about right now than public safety,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a May 17 presentation by the 20-member Police Accountability Commission that’s crafting the plan for the new oversight panel. “And if people feel that we’re messing with public safety, or in any way weakening it, they will react.”>>
<<Members of the City Council have shown a willingness this year to revisit ballot measures already approved by voters. They changed the allocation of money from the Portland Clean Energy Fund, and two of them took an unsuccessful swipe recently at the 2022 measure to change Portland’s form of government.
Observers think signals from Wheeler and his colleagues about police oversight are ominous.>>
<<In 2020, Portlanders and the City Council wanted fewer cops and greater scrutiny of those it had. Today, the city faces a public safety crisis.
<<It was in that changing environment that the 20 members of the Police Accountability Commission met 150 times in the past two years to draw up a blueprint for the new police oversight panel.
The new board will replace the current oversight panel, Independent Police Review. Critics say IPR, which has a $3 million annual budget, is toothless.
That’s because the police chief and police commissioner—currently, Wheeler—ultimately decide whether there has been officer misconduct and, if so, determine the punishment. The Police Bureau is engaged throughout the investigatory process, and some complaints are given to the bureau to investigate internally.>>
<<Commissioner Hardesty proposed Measure 26-217 to replace IPR with a better-funded, community-led board that could investigate more complaints and would also have greater authority to discipline and fire police officers found guilty of misconduct. That’s the primary difference: The new board will have the power to find guilt and impose discipline.
After the PAC wraps up its work Aug. 31, the City Council has 60 days to make changes before sending the plan to the U.S. DOJ for review (it must comply with the 2014 settlement agreement). Any part of the plan not explicitly mandated by Measure 26-217 is fair game for alteration.
Parts of the commission’s proposal appear to have rubbed the City Council the wrong way. The group proposes a 33-member board, for instance. That’s unusually large for a decision-making panel, and it’s the largest police oversight board that WW could find in any other major city in the country. (San Diego has a 25-member board.)>>
<<Another novel idea: Members could be paid up to $7,400 annually and provided free mental health care. (Members of public boards and commissions are rarely paid more than a nominal amount to cover expenses.)>>
<<Ten percent of the board’s overall budget, the commission recommends, should be spent on board members. That could include child and dependent care, therapy and personal security if a member feels unsafe. The board would hire a director, and the commission recommends creating a new bureau with up to 56 staff.
Determination of wrongdoing under the new plan would be in the hands of citizens—not the police officer’s bosses. The board would use the standard of proof of a preponderance of the evidence. That means an officer could be found guilty if more evidence than not suggests the officer engaged in misconduct.
Cops found guilty of wrongdoing by the board could appeal to a secondary panel, also made up of board members. So can citizens who lodge complaints.
Wheeler warned the commission in May that it needed to be careful about overreaching and losing public confidence.
“When it comes to police oversight, we’ve seen specific examples where police oversight boards have exploded in spectacular style due to a loss of legitimacy,” he said.
Parts of the proposal—such as the size of the board and its level of involvement in investigations—were not explicitly laid out in the ballot measure, and are therefore subject to change.
But there were provisions that can’t be changed. No police or their immediate family, for instance, are allowed on the board. Neither are former cops. Under the terms of the measure, the City Council, which appoints board members, should prioritize applicants with lived experience of police discrimination. Applicants should be racially diverse, and the board should also include members impacted by addiction and mental illness.
Of particular concern to the City Council is the board’s authority to subpoena testimony and compel the production of documents.>>
<<“My concern is that if this is not seen as a balanced, fair approach to police accountability, it will quickly be seen by the public and by our employees as an illegitimate process,” Wheeler said. “Then we’ll have a major mess on our hands.”
PAC members assured the council they had conferred with law enforcement, including the Portland Police Association, and that officers would retain the due process rights they currently have.>>
<<All five members of the City Council laid out their concerns in a June 9 letter to the PAC, urging the group to make recommendations “based on accurate information and distinguishing between statements of perception and statements of fact.” (The commission says it plans to update its plan “based off of council feedback.”)>>
<<Current Police Accountability Commission co-chairs Dan Handelman, Seemab Hussaini, and Charlie Michelle-Westley say they “are confident that City Council will thoughtfully evaluate our recommendations and the reasons behind them, because our recommendations will create a system that will serve all Portlanders fairly.”>>
<<A Portland jury ruled against right-wing media figure Andy Ngo Tuesday, Aug. 8 in a lawsuit seeking damages from antifascist activists for two separate attacks.
After nearly a week of hearing testimony from witnesses, watching video footage and hearing from defendants, jurors concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to fault them for the attacks.
Ngo is a prominent right-wing social media personality and editor at large for the Canadian-based Post Millennial website, which has often featured conspiracy-laced stories and been accused of spreading disinformation. He filed a civil complaint in 2020 seeking damages from Portland activists for their alleged role in two separate assaults of Ngo that he said ultimately aimed to suppress his media coverage. The complaint was later amended to include additional claims and plaintiffs.
What Ngo has portrayed as his journalistic work largely consists of publishing anti-antifa, Islamophobic and transphobic tweets and articles to his sizable Twitter following, along with disseminating the arrest records and personal details of left-wing demonstrators.
Ngo’s antics have landed him on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch lists.
Ngo’s lawsuit for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress laid the blame on six people, as well as Rose City Antifa. The lawsuit initially included a RICO claim against Rose City Antifa, but the charge and defendant were dismissed from the case after it was determined the group isn’t an organized legal entity subject to being sued. Ngo initially sought $900,000 in damages, to compensate for medical bills, lost income, and emotional distress.
In court, Ngo said he grew up in Portland and later moved away to attend UCLA. He moved back and started work on a graduate degree at Portland State University, where he joined the staff of the PSU Vanguard student newspaper and took an interest in journalism. Ngo was later terminated from the Vanguard for alleged ethical breaches. He told the jury he wanted to platform voices that were often ignored in mainstream media.
Around 2018, he began reporting on the city’s protest movement. He eventually began accompanying right-wing groups like Patriot Prayer—a group known for instigating violence against antifascist protesters.
Ngo said he eventually became a direct target of assault.
“I’ve been the victim of an ongoing campaign of hate and death threats because of my reporting on violent extremists in the United States organizing their political ideology,” Ngo told the jury.
Attorneys for the defendants named in Ngo’s lawsuit noted Ngo is known for driving online hate and harassment toward antifa protesters and activists, often by posting their names and mugshots online for scrutiny and potential doxxing.
Ngo alleged the people named in his lawsuit were directly or partly responsible for physical attacks on him–one of which took place at a gym in May 2019 and another which took place after a gathering in downtown Portland in May 2021, on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
With three named defendants defaulting in the case, and one settling out of court, a jury found the two remaining defendants, John Hacker and Elizabeth Richter, not liable for the attacks on Ngo.
The trial, which lasted nine days, was marked by unusual security measures and privacy protocols. Ngo could be seen roaming the court’s hallways with a plainclothes private security guard, wearing glasses and a mask anytime he left the courtroom.
Citing ongoing security concerns, Judge Chanpone Sinlapasai barred the public from being able to observe the case inside the courtroom, ordering them to instead watch a live recording in a separate area. An attorney in the case said the judge also barred both legal teams from discussing even basic facts about the trial to anyone until long after the trial was scheduled to conclude.
Attorneys for Ngo argued Richter and Hacker were among a group that despised Ngo for his coverage of Portland protests and sought to suppress his coverage. Defense attorneys for Richter and Hacker noted Ngo’s reporting has led to the local activists, including Richter and Hacker, being doxxed and threatened.
In court, Richter’s attorney, Cooper Brinson, characterized Ngo as “a provocateur that manufactures controversy.”
Brinson argued Ngo was a polarizing, controversial figure who was recognizable, particularly to activists who blame him for stoking conspiracies and misinformation.
Ngo’s legal team argued Richter and Hacker were partly responsible for causing assaults on Ngo, one of which left him badly beaten and hospitalized in 2021.
Hacker, a Portland-based activist who told jurors he often attended protests to observe police, film and photograph, described an incident in 2019 at a 24 Hour Fitness center in Portland. Hacker spotted Ngo and poured water on him while standing near a stairwell above Ngo. He confronted Ngo over what he said was distasteful and irresponsible media coverage of a recent protest that left an acquaintance seriously injured by a known white supremacist. Ngo pulled out his cell phone to record the interaction with Hacker, against gym policy, and Hacker smacked the phone out of Ngo’s hand.
Gym staff eventually intervened and revoked Hacker’s membership.
In court, Hacker said he’s been the frequent target of doxxing by Ngo, which has led to threats against him and his family, as well as photos of his home published online. At one point, Hacker said one of Ngo’s followers obtained his child’s phone number. He said Ngo’s reporting over the years has caused harm to him and many activists in Portland.
Hacker admitted he reacted out of anger that day at the gym, telling the jury he regretted his actions.
“I don’t think it was appropriate. I wasn’t thinking,” Hacker said. “I was just like, ‘I hate this guy. Fuck this guy.’”
Hacker said the gym incident was “a ridiculous way to resolve grievances” and apologized to Ngo in court.
While Hacker acknowledged his role in the 2019 incident, he and his attorneys said he doesn’t seek violence against political foes and wasn’t responsible for a group that jumped Ngo in 2021.
“He works on progressive causes. He feeds the hungry. He protests ICE…” Michelle Burrows, Hacker’s defense attorney, told the jury, describing a man who’s overcome a near-death crash that left him severely burned and now fights for causes he believes in.
Hacker said he sees himself as anti-fascist, but doesn’t identify as antifa, calling it “a pejorative used by far-right movements to discredit the movement.”
Ngo’s legal team argued the attacks made him unsafe and diminished his ability to continue providing on-the-ground coverage of Portland protests, thus interfering with his ability to draw revenue.
Defense attorneys noted records documenting Ngo’s income were incomplete, but showed he drew about $462,000 in royalties from a 2018 book deal and continues to draw $5,000 to $6,000 a month from a Patreon account. Ngo has also amassed paid subscribers to his Twitter page and maintains a legal fund with the Center for American Liberty that had “at least $200,000 in it” at one point.
Regardless of damages sought, attorneys said the defendants didn’t provoke or engage in Ngo’s assault in 2021.
On May 28, 2021, Ngo showed up to a gathering downtown at Chapman Square, where activists were commemorating the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death. Ngo attempted to blend in with the antifascist crowd, to gain access for filming and reporting. He showed up in black bloc attire, with goggles and a Black Lives Matter flag. At some point, Ngo was recognized and called out.
He was then chased by a group of people and punched, kicked, and beaten, eventually getting away and seeking cover in The Nines hotel nearby.
Richter later caught up with Ngo at the hotel and taunted him, attorneys said. The assault was reported to police, who later testified that a lack of evidence prevented criminal prosecution of any suspects involved.
While defense attorneys condemned the 2021 attack on Ngo, they said neither Hacker nor Richter took part in the assault, nor did they instruct others to attack Ngo.
“She wasn’t there. She didn’t follow him. She didn’t hit him… touch him,” Brinson, Richter’s attorney, told the jury.
Hacker said he spotted Ngo that night in 2021, but had no part in the attack, and had moved toward a different block when Ngo was being assaulted.
“My client is not responsible for the bad things that happened to Mr. Ngo that day,” Burrows, Hacker’s attorney, told the jury.
Burrows said the harm caused to Ngo and the targeted online harassment faced by parties in the lawsuit can be traced to the current American political climate.
“I’m having a hard time in this case, wondering, who took the high road here? Who really is the villain?” Burrows said. “What the real villain is, I think, is what we’ve become in this country, that we can’t anymore, have different viewpoints on anything, so instead of just yelling at each other, or having combative politicians waving the flag in Congress, we have people go out in the street, and we have people throwing tear gas, spraying bear spray, and having to wear gas masks.”
Immediately following the jury’s verdict, Ngo’s legal team moved to have the verdict dismissed, on the grounds that Hacker acknowledged his 2019 interaction with Ngo and apologized for it, but the judge didn’t allow it.
It’s unclear whether the judge will order Ngo to pay the legal fees of the defendants he tried to sue.
Ngo took to social media and his Patreon fundraising account later Tuesday, calling the verdict “disappointing.”>>
<<Remember back in 2021, when members of the Portland Police Bureau announced that the traffic enforcement division had been effectively dismantled, and only a single cop was patrolling the streets (thereby giving people the go-ahead to speed and drive dangerously to their hearts content)? Well! During Monday’s contentious press conference about the shocking rise in traffic deaths, police Sergeant Ty Engstrom came out and admitted that the department’s 2021 announcement was a politically motivated lie to scare City Council into increasing police funding during the Black Lives Matter protest movement. Here’s the direct quote Engstrom said to Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland:
“We needed to create a stir to get some change, to get them [city council] to fund us back up. And I mean, that’s the honest truth. I know, that could make things more dangerous. I don’t know. But at the same time, we needed some change.”
So did this disingenuous messaging lead to the spike in traffic deaths, including the 13 people who were killed last month alone? IT DIDN’T FUCKING HELP.>>
<<As more and more deadly traffic crashes have taken place on Portland’s streets over the last few years, the resulting promises from local politicians have become commonplace, and are increasingly scrutinized by advocates.
Portland transportation leaders gathered August 7 at a press conference to address the recent uptick in deadly traffic crashes. They were joined by protesters who made it clear: empty platitudes are no longer enough.
After 63 people died in traffic crashes in 2021—the most in more than 30 years—leaders at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) called it a “new and unexpected circumstance requiring our focus and attention.”
When 2022 saw 2021’s record-high number of traffic crash fatalities repeated, PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps called for a renewed focus on safe, slow driving.
Despite pledges to improve safety, 2023 looks to be on a similar trajectory. Forty three people have died in traffic crashes this year so far. Of those, 13 deaths took place in July, making it the deadliest month on Portland’s streets in decades—and possibly ever.
Without political will or sustainable funding for infrastructure overhauls, Portland transportation leaders have turned to police enforcement and urge residents to help enact a “culture shift” on city roads. But as people in Portland continue to fall victim to traffic violence at record rates, local officials face a constituency fed up with what they see as hollow words from leadership and no tangible results. >>
<<In a statement to KATU, PBOT spokesperson Hannah Schafer said speed and driving under the influence “continue to be the two biggest factors we see out in the streets in terms of what causes crashes in our city.”
Mapps echoed that message at the August 7 press conference.
“Every Portlander is horrified by the carnage that we see on our streets,” Mapps said. “[I’m here today] to remind Portlanders that there is hope. We can reduce traffic deaths here in Portland by driving slower, driving sober, and building safer roads.”
Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Sergeant Ty Engstrom, a veteran member of the newly-reinstated PPB Traffic Division, also urged road users to use caution to protect themselves and others. He said there has been a “culture change” on the streets over the last few years, starting at the beginning of the pandemic, and increased police enforcement is one way to turn the tide.
“People feel entitled on our roadways. All motorists, all pedestrians, all bicyclists… it seems like we’ve forgotten how to use these roadways together safely and to share them,” Engstrom said.
He was met with backlash from the audience for what they deemed to be a false equivocation between people walking, biking, and driving cars, the latter of whom are responsible for the vast majority of traffic crash injuries and fatalities.
Transportation advocates agree there needs to be a “culture shift” on Portland’s streets. They just don’t know if it’s enough to rely on traffic cops and individual road users to enact it.
In May, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell announced his plan to reinstate the bureau’s dormant traffic division, which had been slashed in 2020 due to budget constraints and a staff shortage. The move was lauded by Mapps, who made increased traffic enforcement a key priority when he took over PBOT in January.
Engstrom said a limited team of traffic cops has been working overtime since May to make sure Portland’s streets are safe.
“We have officers who are supposed to get off at 3 am…[saying] they have to stay late until four or five o’clock in the morning to process more drunk drivers and get them off the streets,” Engstrom said at the August 7 press conference. “They choose to stay late to process drunk drivers and make sure they’re held accountable, and not just get their car towed away and walk off with a friend or something.”
It’s likely too soon to measure the impact of the partially-reinstated traffic division. But given the surge in crash fatalities over the last few months, some people question the efficacy of relying on traffic cops to stop dangerous drivers. Engstrom said PPB is working on bringing new officers to the traffic beat so they can increase the work.
“We will bring more traffic officers out of the precincts and back to where they belong to help process DUI drivers, get these speeders off the roadways, and strongly combat the dangerous driving behaviors that are taking place,” he said.
After the press conference, Engstrom told BikePortland that due to low staffing levels, part of PPB’s current traffic enforcement strategy is to “try and make [themselves] look bigger than perhaps [they] really are” by advertising their work on social media and placing cops in strategic locations to increase visibility.
The move flies in the face of PPB’s past approach to traffic enforcement. Engstrom previously promoted a message that because the division wasn’t staffed, Portland’s streets were essentially lawless. He admitted the framing was to “create a stir” so they could get more funding from the city.
“I know that could make things more dangerous. I don’t know. But at the same time, we needed some change,” Engstrom told BikePortland.
Many transportation advocates believe such situations are exactly why police officers shouldn’t be the sole means of traffic enforcement. They think the city should utilize automated speed cameras more often, which can be implemented and processed by non-police city staff, so they don’t rely on PPB’s staffing levels—or its political whims. Automated speed cameras are also seen as a more equitable way to enforce traffic laws, as police presence often leads to worse outcomes for people of color and other marginalized communities.
The presence of more, visible speed cameras could also help send a message to drivers that their actions are being monitored.
Sarah Iannarone, director of transportation advocacy nonprofit The Street Trust, encouraged more automated enforcement at the August 7 press conference.
“‘Slowing the flock down’ makes for cute signage,” Iannarone said, referencing PBOT’s signage instructing drivers to follow the speed limit. “But we need a serious statewide public health campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of high speed driving. We also need to enforce speeds in a way that does not disproportionately harm BIPOC or low-income community members. This includes significant investments in automated traffic enforcement.”
But whether with police officers or traffic cameras, advocates like Iannarone say enforcement is just one tool in the much larger toolbox necessary for preventing fatal crashes. The bigger picture calls for system wide change.>>
<<To Iannarone and other advocates, enforcement mechanisms and calls to action aren’t enough for a “transformation” of Portland’s transportation system. They call for a “safe systems” approach to preventing traffic crashes, which revolves around designing streets that account for individual mistakes like reckless or drunk driving.
The approach is utilized by programs like Vision Zero, which aims to stop all traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets. The city of Portland committed to the Vision Zero pledge in 2015, but traffic crashes have only increased in that time.
A recent Multnomah County Public Health Data Report looking at the county’s traffic-related fatality trends also calls for such an approach.
“Our discussion of a safe system approach in this report is intended to shift the conversation from individual responsibility to roadway design and policy choices that turn inevitable human errors into deaths on our roadways.”
The county report points out that traffic fatalities disproportionately impact unhoused people, people of color, and low-income populations, largely the result of past segregation and displacement.”
The report suggests implementing “safe pedestrian spaces, appropriate lighting, and slower speeds” to “reduce the likelihood and severity of crashes.” >>
<<But what’s the plan for systemic investment? To PBOT leaders, the city’s failure to meaningfully implement “safe system” and Vision Zero policies on Portland’s streets can be mainly chalked up to one thing: there’s no money for transportation infrastructure. Transportation funding woes are present at both the local and state levels, serving as a major barrier to traffic safety.
At a July PBOT Bureau Budget Advisory Committee (BBAC) meeting, then-interim bureau director Tara Wasiak said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to advance infrastructure projects in the wake of deadly crashes as PBOT’s budget shrinks.
“The amount of discretionary funding available for quick-build projects is decreasing. As our budget problems grow, our ability to respond and make real concrete changes to our streets is diminished,” Wasiak said.
“The problem is that as revenue declines and city council forces us to cut our budget, we simply don’t have the money to make the changes to our streets that we know we need.”
Wasiak referenced the recent deadly crashes as a “heartbreaking reminder of what’s at stake when we don’t fully fund our transportation system.”>>
<<Three Portland police officers who fatally shot a suspected gunman in last month’s Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital shooting and lockdown have been identified.
Officers Justin Thurman, Timothy Hoerauf and Seth Wingfield opened fire on 33-year-old PoniaX Kane Calles, formerly known as Reginal Kane Jackson, after a chase that ended in Gresham Saturday, July 22.
The incident marked the second officer-involved shooting of 2023 and the second fatality by police. Portland Police Bureau (PPB) released the names of the officers Aug. 6.
Officer Thurman has been with PPB 16 years and is assigned to the bureau’s East Precinct. Officer Hoerauf has 12 years with PPB and is part of Specialized Resources Division, while Officer Wingfield has been with PPB seven years and currently works in the North Precinct.
Each officer is still on administrative leave while the incident is investigated by the East County Major Crimes Team and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.>>
<<The Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office has released the names of the police officers involved in an armed confrontation with a 19-year-old Kelso resident that left him in “critical but stable” condition on Aug. 1.
Investigators say the two Kelso Police Department officers – Sgt. Aaron Marthaller and Officer Jeff Brown – each fired three rounds from their duty pistols, striking Daniel Madden “twice in the arm, once in the chest and once in the head.”
According to Kelso police, Madden was involved in three hit-and-run collisions that morning, hitting cars at 900 12th Ave., a sign at 1000 S. 8th Ave., and a vehicle and fence at 800 Vine St.
Witnesses told Kelso police Madden, who lives in the block where the first hit-and-run was reported, had a gun. Officers spotted his vehicle at the residence and, while they were in front, Madden came out the front door.
Surveillance footage shows Madden had concealed a pistol in his right hand behind his back and refused to show his hands.
Investigators say he then brandished the gun and began walking toward the officers when he was Tased to no effect. The officers say Madden kept walking toward them and pointed a gun at one of their heads from about three feet away.
After the two officers fired, critically wounding Madden, they rendered aid and rushed him to an area hospital.
According to the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Marthaller has 14 years of law enforcement experience, including 11 years with KPD and three with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Officer Brown has 26 years of law enforcement experience with KPD.>>
<<COPS WILL FINISH BODY-CAM TRAINING BY YEAR’S END: The Portland Police Bureau is moving quickly to roll out body-worn cameras in the wake of the compromise reached this spring among its union, the city and the U.S. Department of Justice over policies governing their use. The bureau plans to train officers in the Central Precinct and gun violence response team on use of the cameras this month, according to a “joint status report” filed in federal court on Aug. 8. The city’s training, which focuses on circumstances in which the cameras should be used, will happen “either concurrently or close in time” with training by Axon, the manufacturer, on how to use the new technology. The remaining officers will be trained on the new policy during “fall in-service training,” which will be completed before the end of the year. The training, as well as the continued rollout of the program following a 60-day pilot, is contingent on approval by the Department of Justice, which took the city to court a decade ago over the Police Bureau’s use of force against people with mental illness. The Portland Police Association and city officials long disagreed whether police should be allowed to review body-camera footage before writing a report. They came to a compromise earlier this year to “avoid the delays and uncertain outcomes of interest arbitration,” resulting in the new policy: It requires officers give a recorded account of what happened before reviewing video in cases where someone is injured or dies.>>
<<Brondalyn Coleman, the former chief operating officer for Brown Hope, filed a lawsuit against the racial justice nonprofit and its CEO Cameron Whitten on July 17 in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Coleman alleges Whitten directed her to fire an employee for refusing to meditate; demanded she and other employees and board members use the psychoactive drug ayahuasca; told her to sign tax documents she believed “concealed potentially unlawful activity”; and told her he intended to fire an employee who was “too white.” Coleman, who joined Brown Hope in September 2021 and earned a salary of $93,000, says when she pushed back against Whitten, who also demanded she carry an “angelite stone crystal with her at all times for religious or spiritual purposes,” her relationship with the CEO deteriorated and he fired her in January 2023.
Coleman is seeking $5 million in damages. Whitten’s response: “Brown Hope has a deep love and commitment to all the people of Portland, and that definitely includes our current and former employees. We are currently beginning a mediation and restorative justice process for anyone who has concerns.” His board chair says an outside investigation found allegations against current staff “legally unsubstantiated.” An Oregon Department of Justice investigation into Brown Hope continues.>>
<<Brondalyn Coleman, the chief operating officer for Brown Hope, filed the suit on July 17 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
In her lawsuit, Coleman alleges Whitten directed her to fire an employee for refusing to meditate; demanded she and other employees and board members use the psychoactive drug ayahuasca; and told her to sign tax documents she believed “concealed potentially unlawful activity.”
“Plaintiff was concerned that the tax report camouflaged unlawful actions, potentially including the falsification of business records and/or misappropriation of state or federal funds, and that signing or filing the tax documents might constitute illegal acts potentially including the falsification of business records and/or tax fraud,” the lawsuit says.
Many of the allegations Coleman makes provide more detail to a document presented to Brown Hope’s board that previously surfaced last December.
One allegation that’s new: Coleman, who is Black, says Whitten wanted to fire an employee for being “too white.”
“In October 2022, Mr. Whitten questioned a management employee of a multiethnic/multiracial background about her ethnicity and race,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Whitten then complained to plaintiff that this employee was ‘too white to be in leadership’ and stated to plaintiff that he intended to fire the employee for being ‘too white.’”
Coleman, who joined Brown Hope in September 2021 and earned a salary of $93,000, says when she pushed back against Whitten, who also demanded she carry an “angelite stone crystal with her at all times for religious or spiritual purposes,” her relationship with the CEO deteriorated and he fired her in January 2023. Coleman is seeking $5 million in damages.>>
<<The consultant whom Multnomah County hired to coordinate one of its highest-profile initiatives, the development of a sobering and detox center, has a checkered background—at Multnomah County.
The consultant is Julie Dodge, the county’s former interim director of behavioral health. Dodge resigned under a cloud from her high-level position at the county last year only to be rehired immediately on a no-bid consulting contract to lead a project so critical that Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson is directly overseeing it herself.
The project: the behavioral health emergency coordination network, also called BHECN. That unwieldy acronym has become shorthand for the lengthy, expensive and, so far, unsuccessful quest to replace a downtown sobering center that closed at the end of 2019. Even as the county is awash in money, it has struggled to make progress (“Surprise Intervention,” WW, July 19).
The shuttered detox center, run by the nonprofit Central City Concern for the Portland Police Bureau at 444 NE Couch St., served as a drop-off point for people experiencing extreme intoxication. For nearly 40 years, police and a roving CHIERS van brought people there instead of jails and hospital emergency rooms. In the 1990s, the facility served as many as 20,000 people a year. Now, it serves none, which helps explain why some of the most visibly intoxicated Portlanders occupy the same urban landscape daily.>>
<<Last year, the city of Portland solicited interest from contractors who might want to run a new version of the sobering center. When nobody responded, Multnomah County, the city’s partner in the Joint Office of Homeless Services, took over the project.>>
<< Julie Sullivan-Springhetti confirmed that the county’s complaint unit investigated Dodge. The result: “Discipline was imposed,” Sullivan-Springhetti says.>>
<<“They did identify two incidents of microaggressions toward Frederick on my behalf,” Dodge says. “I accept responsibility for those. As we know with microaggressions, intent and impact are often very different.”
Dodge says the conflict with Staten was an aberration and she underwent coaching from HR after the finding.
Dodge resigned from her $167,325 county position Dec. 16. On Jan. 2, records show, the county signed Dodge to a $225-an-hour, no-bid consulting contract to develop BHECN.
Sullivan-Springhetti says there’s nothing inconsistent about the county imposing discipline on Dodge after a race-based complaint and then hiring her to work on a project that promotes racial equity.
<<Normally, county contracts above $10,000 require competitive bidding, but in Dodge’s case, the county used a “sole qualified contractor exemption” that allows no-bid contracts of up to $150,000.
Unlike some state agencies and the Oregon Legislature, the county has no revolving-door rules to prevent former employees from being rehired as consultants—it even provided Dodge with a county email address for her work on BHECN.>>
<<In May, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell distributed an all-office memo, recently obtained by WW and first reported by The Oregonian, asking his officers to stop blaming prosecutors for the lack of “police action.”
Facing public outrage over slow response times and increased crime, cops have publicly pointed fingers at the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, saying conditions on the street are the result of prosecutors’ reluctance to press charges.
That, Lovell said in the May 4 memo, “is completely unacceptable.” “This undermines our relationship with criminal justice partners,” he explained, “and sends the message to the community that the system is unresponsive to their needs.”>>
<<Lovell says he often receives complaints from the community about police passing the buck. “Officers are telling complainants that there is absolutely nothing they can do for them, or that the problem is the result of someone else’s decisions,” Lovell writes.>>
911 IS A JOKE
<<Gresham city leaders are putting pressure on Multnomah County to fix its slow ambulances.
“Take immediate action to rectify this dire situation,” reads a letter sent by Mayor Travis Stovall on July 28 to the county Board of Commissioners. It’s signed by Stovall and the six members of the Gresham City Council.
A shortage of paramedics has led Multnomah County’s ambulance provider, American Medical Response, to be unable to staff all its ambulances, causing delays and even “Level 0,” a term for times when no ambulance is available. As WW reported earlier this year, Multnomah County has been at Level 0 for around 10% of calls.
The letter from Gresham leaders calls out the consequences. “On April 5, 2023, AMR was again at level zero for a significant portion of the shift. This resulted in a suicidal call being put on hold for an entire hour until AMR became available for transport. Moreover, our first responders found themselves in line behind five to six other calls for an ambulance, leading to critical delays in emergency medical care.”
The letter goes on to say that experts believe the county’s “outlier policy requiring ambulances to be staffed by two highly trained paramedics should be revisited, replaced, or repealed.”
The county disagrees. Dr. Jonathan Jui, the medical director of the county’s emergency medical services, believes the two paramedic policy is necessary to provide the best possible care for critical patients. He told WW in June that although the slow service was not “optimal,” there had been no “adverse effects.”>>
<<After months of worsening ambulance response times, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson announced Wednesday that the county will begin issuing penalties to service provider American Medical Response for “performance issues.”
“My patience is exhausted. AMR’s ambulance response times are unacceptable and they have not met performance metrics in months, requiring that we take action,” Vega Pederson said in a statement. “We tried working with AMR to improve this situation without success.
“As a result, we’ve informed AMR today that we will be exercising our contractual authority to levy penalties for their ongoing non-compliance. We’re also reserving our right to levy penalties for prior non-compliance. In addition, we’re piloting two programs to help address management of the current increased 911 medical call volume and considering other solutions.”
KGW investigative reporter Evan Watson has been closely following the issues with AMR’s response times, reporting in June that Multnomah County dispatch had logged 6,300 “Level Zero” incidents since January.
In all of those cases, dispatchers had zero AMR ambulances available to respond to a 911 call.
In July, AMR outlined its plan to address these performance issues, which extend to other counties in the Portland metro area. At that time, the company said that it was short 38 paramedics from the complete staff of 275 needed in Multnomah County.
Though slow response times have been an issue throughout the area, AMR has pointed to Multnomah County’s policies in particular as a barrier to reaching adequate staffing levels. The county requires that both members of each ambulance crew be paramedics, which are better-trained and typically higher-paid EMS workers, when other counties in the area allow for crews to include one paramedic and one EMT.
According to Multnomah County, AMR said in a staffing improvement plan submitted in June 2022 that it could fix its issues with performance by taking several actions. In May of this year, the county launched a pilot program to send ambulances with EMTs to lower-acuity calls. Regardless, county officials said, AMR’s response times have not improved.
“In its actions today, the County Health Department notified AMR that it expects the ambulance company to meet the response times required by the County’s contract in August,” the county said. “Failure to do so will result in monthly fines for its August performance being collected in September.”>>
<<Staff shortages and delayed response times have been an ongoing issue for American Medical Response, the sole ambulance provider in Multnomah County for nearly three decades.
On Wednesday, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson announced that she will begin issuing penalties to AMR due to ongoing performance issues.>>
<<The county says AMR response times to 911 calls have worsened month by month since the COVID-19 pandemic. AMR has told the county that they have been unable to staff the ambulances needed to meet the time standards of their contract.>>
<<Multnomah County announced Wednesday it plans to start issuing monthly fines to American Medical Response, the company that provides ambulance services for much of the Portland metro area.
County officials said ambulance response times have been getting worse, driven by difficulties staffing paramedics, despite efforts to address the problem.
AMR is supposed to meet an industry standard performance target of responding to 90% of life threatening calls within eight minutes in urban areas, according to its contract with Multnomah County. AMR hasn’t met that target in since March 2022.
Instead, ambulances are arriving late to critical emergencies around 30% of the time.
Last summer, AMR created a plan to increase staffing to address slow response times. That hasn’t worked, according to the county.>>
<<Multnomah County Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell has asked for two independent investigations of this year’s “extremely distressing” string of deaths in Multnomah County jails.
Six people have died in Multnomah County custody as of Aug. 2, the sheriff’s office has said, and now Oregon State Police and the National Institute of Corrections will review the cases.
State police will examine Multnomah County’s investigative processes for in-custody deaths. The institute will go further by assessing the facilities, operations, policies and services of the sheriff’s office.>>
<<“Should OSP and NIC identify areas of improvement at the conclusion of their respective assessments, we welcome their recommendations, and we will share them with the public when it is appropriate to do so.”>>
<<Two people died by suicide in the Multnomah County Jail this summer. And while the recent spike in deaths — six between May 2 and Aug. 1 — is the biggest seen in 15 years, the risk of suicide among people in custody is ever-present. As many as half of the deaths in Pacific Northwest jails are due to suicide.
In a conversation with Dave Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud this week, Multnomah County Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell said that people are spending a longer time in jail and facing more severe charges these days. The dissolution of social ties during long jail stays can be extremely stressful, she said.
“We have mental health resources in our corrections facilities,” Morrisey O’Donnell said. “We have corrections counselors as well that are available to provide resources to our adults in custody.”
She said it has become increasingly important to make sure people in custody have access to those resources and that jail deputies know how to spot warning signs that someone in custody may be having suicidal thoughts.
She added that it’s incumbent upon leaders in the sheriff’s office to ensure “that our deputies have the training for suicide prevention and intervention [and] that they can help assess and make recommendations if they’re in a housing area, working with adults in custody where they have a concern.”
People in county jails have been charged with a crime, but not convicted. They are still innocent under the law.
Letter to the O:
<<Recently, local media have published reports revealing that future funding for the Portland Street Response is in jeopardy (“Portland Street Response’s future hangs in balance: ‘I feel like it’s about to implode,’” June 23). An experience I had on my way to church recently prompts me to come to the group’s defense.
As I approached my church in Northeast Portland, I encountered an unhoused young man who was in obvious distress. Shirtless and shoeless, with pants falling down, he seemed confused. He also had an injured right arm and swollen hand. I called 911, described the situation, and asked for Portland Street Response. Within about 15 minutes the team’s van arrived. A young male EMT and a young female staff member immediately engaged with the injured man in a respectful manner, introducing themselves and learning his name. After talking with him they left with him, presumably to arrange treatment for his hand and to get other help.
I was impressed by their actions and their demeanor, both of which were helpful to the man in distress. I hope our city leaders think twice before they cut back this important service. It is a significant resource in our struggle to address the mental health and physical issues of homelessness.
David H. Groff, Portland>>
<<On Wednesday morning, officers from the Union Pacific Railroad Company Police Department went to each tent and handed out pieces of paper with a notice to vacate. People camping illegally on railroad property are now required to remove their camps immediately or they could face criminal trespassing charges.
The notice says that camping anytime along the tracks is a hazard to the trains, a safety risk for homeless people and an unwarranted liability to the railroad. It goes on to say that people “are required to remove all trash and rubbish they have caused to be on Union Pacific Railroad Property.”>>