Image source: Portland.gov
The city of Portland accused the US Department of Justice of releasing incorrect information and misinterpreting police programs.
Meanwhile, the two sides are continuing negotiations on how they can bring Portland back into compliance with a federal settlement agreement about the police use of force.
In July, city attorneys responded to the Justice Department sixth periodic assessment with a line-by-line rebuttal that claims the Justice Department is moving the goalposts or simply wrong.
Media outlet OPB obtained a copy of the rebuttal through a public records request.
“The city believed, until recently, that the parties were working under a common understanding of the requirements of the Settlement Agreement,” said Portland’s response.
“This year’s Compliance Assessment Report, however, revealed numerous areas where a difference in the parties’ understanding led to a DOJ finding of only ‘partial compliance’ with particular provisions.”
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On July 28, the forceful rebuttal was delivered in a closed-door meeting.
It was delivered one day after the city and federal prosecutors updated US District Court Judge Michael Simon on the city’s progress in implementing agreed-upon charges.
Before the court appearance, Portland filed a more upbeat response to the Justice Department that focused on areas where the city was successful.
Portland city attorneys have been saying that the Justice Department is shifting its requirement.
The Justice Department said that Portland was only in partial compliance with a section that required the Portland Police Bureau’s Behavioral Health Unit Advisory Committee to advise the bureau on interactions with people in mental health crises.
The department said the city failed to follow through on a commitment to have the committee review police encounters instead of advising on policies and training methods.
The city released a memo regarding the Department of Justice.
“BHUAC is consistently performing those duties, and has been since 2016 – reviewing policies, procedures, and training methods,” the memo reads.
“DOJ now interprets the stated goal of the paragraph as requiring BHUAC to review violent encounters themselves. The city disagrees with that interpretation.”
Portland must be found in compliance and remain in compliance with the settlement’s terms for a year in order to be free from the settlement agreement and the accompanying federal oversight.
In February 2020, the city nearly accomplished that when it was found complying with the terms for the first time since it went into effect in 2014.
The Department of Justice and the independent group overseeing the agreement found the bureau’s forceful response to racial justice in 2020 exposed significant shortcomings with the bureau’s commitment to its use of force policies.
The city fell out of compliance not long after.
Prosecutors statements and rebuttals
During the periodic assessment, prosecutors claimed the city failed to hold officers accountable for uses of force that didn’t follow police guidelines.
In one case, the Justice Department said the bureau rescinded discipline on seven occasions.
The city rebutted the claims, saying, “That is incorrect, and it is unclear why DOJ would arrive at this conclusion.”
“An inquiry by DOJ to the City would have clarified this before it was treated as a compliance issue.”
In the July 27 court appearance, the department conceded it may have erred.
“We measure compliance based upon data presented to us,” said federal prosecutor Jonas Geissler, who was overseeing the settlement agreement.
“If there is an error, we are pleased to correct it.”
He also said they plan to conduct a more in-depth audit of the cases in question.
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Portland took issue with the department’s claims that the police’s K9 unit had a “find and bite” policy as opposed to the “find and bark” policy.
The compliance report cited two instances wherein the prosecutors allege that a police dog tracked a suspect and bit them.
The city “strenuously disagreed” and said the order to bite was appropriate, as confirmed by follow-up investigations.”
Portland is not alone to deal with the Justice Department shifting its expectations for agreements with local police.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell held a press conference last week wherein he said that the consent decree in place has made the officers’ jobs more difficult.
“It seemed like the goalposts would move every time our officers demonstrated real results,” she said.
“That it would move every time, keeping us in this consent decree, and I challenged that from day one.”
Portland attorney accuse US Justice Department of moving goalposts on police accountability