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By Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 20 February 2013

Former Mayor Sam Adams at the press conference where the Department of Justice findings were released, and the settlement announced. Behind Adams (from left) Department of Justice Attorney Thomas Perez; U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall; Portland Police Chief Mike Rees

A federal judge has ordered the Department of Justice, the City of Portland, Portland Police Association, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance to enter mediation to try to resolve differences on reforms to police policies.  U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon also plans to hold a Fairness Hearing where the public can testify either in person or by video.

The parties must first try to agree on a mediator. If they can't agree, each party may submit up to three possible mediator names to the court. If the parties can't agree on the reforms, the Department of Justice can seek a court order to enforce them.  

"Our challenge in the past is that the city tends to pick mediators that always side with the police," said JoAnn Hardesty a member of the Albina Ministerial Alliance. "So we're definitely going to be looking at how broad the pool of mediators is that we can pull from."

The city and justice officials filed a settlement agreement Dec. 17, at the same time as the Justice department filed its complaint against the city, based on an 18-month investigation into Portland Police Bureau.

The justice department concluded that Portland police engaged in a "pattern or practice" of violating the civil rights of people with mental illness, or those thought to have mental illness.

The settlement required changes to police use of force and taser policies, along with stepped up crisis intervention, training, supervision, accountability and discipline procedures. The city estimates the settlement will cost $3.5 million to implement.

Portland Police Association opposes the settlement on the grounds that it undermines the union's collective bargaining rights. The judge granted the association the right to be a legal party with a right to intervene in some of the reforms, based on an earlier Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals court ruling that recognized that settlements like these may affect collective bargaining agreements.

The Albina Ministerial Alliance wants more public input, on the grounds that the settlement fails to address concerns about racially biased policing, and does not include adequate oversight to ensure the agreement works.

Judge Simon denied the Alliance legal standing to intervene in the case, ruling that the public interest is represented by the federal government. But he granted the coalition enhanced friend of the court status, ensuring that the AMA will have "a seat at the table," throughout the negotiations.

"The Court recognizes that the AMA Coalition has dedicated significant time and resources over many years to identifying possible issues and solutions concerning the Police Bureau and its alleged practice of using excessive force," the judge said in his 20-page ruling. "The AMA Coalition has extensive community outreach, a deep understanding of the issues, including those raised in this lawsuit, and an important perspective to bring to the remedy phase of this action. The Court believes that the AMA Coalition can provide a valuable voice at the table during these proceedings."

Hardesty said she was not surprised by the ruling on the police union because of the previous appeals court decision. She said she was disappointed that the AMA was not given the same level of intervention rights, but pleased that the AMA will be a party in the case and allowed to present legal arguments.

"What's wonderful about what the judge did today, was that he gave the AMA an enhanced amicus status, which means that in court appearances and in negotiations the AMA would have standing," Hardesty says.

 "So that's really good news. That hasn't happened in any other community around the country.  It's really precedent setting for community groups who want to put pressure on the Department of Justice."

Hardesty said she's also apprehensive that the volunteer-powered alliance will find it difficult to keep pace.

"The federal government has enormous resources at their disposal," she says. "The City of Portland has enormous resources at their disposal. The Portland Police Association has enormous resources at their disposal. And here we are, the AMA – all voluntary, this community driven effort that has to match the intensity of large entities."


Feb 28: All parties must report to court whether they have been able to agree on a mediator. If not all parties may submit three names of mediators.  

March 5: Court will hold a brief status conference to address any remaining issues concerning mediation, including confirming the appointment of the mediator, if needed.

April 5: Final date for mediation to be completed.

April 8: The parties must file a joint status report with the Court, detailing the outcome of the mediation.

April 19: If no mediated agreement can be reached, parties must file briefs.

May 3: Court will hold hearing on whether or not the Portland Police Association collective bargaining agreement has been impacted by the settlement and if so what remedy should be applied.

No date has yet been set for the fairness hearing, but the Judge Simon said he wants to ensure as many people who wish to testify can do so.

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