Today, the United States won court approval of a settlement agreement to reform the ways in which the Portland Oregon Police Bureau (“PPB”) interacts with individuals with actual or perceived mental illness. The agreement was entered jointly by the United States and the city of Portland, Oregon, with the approval of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (“AMA Coalition”) and Portland Police Association (“PPA”). The agreement addresses constitutional claims in a civil action filed by the United States pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. In today’s order, the court approved the agreement with the requirement that the parties appear for periodic hearings to provide the court progress on implementation of the agreement.
The agreement requires changes—many of which PPB has already begun to implement—in PPB’s policy, training, supervisory oversight, community-based mental health services, crisis intervention, employee information systems, officer accountability and community engagement and oversight. The agreement also calls for innovative new mechanisms for ongoing community involvement in the implementation of reforms. In addition, the agreement establishes an independent compliance officer and community liaison (“COCL”), who will be responsible for synthesizing data related to PPB’s use of force, reporting to the city council, the Justice Department and the public and gathering input from the public related to PPB’s compliance with the agreement. Finally, the agreement lays the framework for a community oversight advisory board (“COAB”), which will be a crucial mechanism for civil engagement in the reform process.
“We are committed to continuing to work with our partners in the community throughout the reform process to ensure full implementation of the settlement agreement,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran for the Civil Rights Division. “We applaud the city’s efforts to implement portions of the settlement agreement during the pendency of the litigation. We are pleased to provide the court information about reforms through ongoing periodic hearings. We are also appreciative of the continued collaboration with the AMA Coalition and the participation of the PPA to resolve these issues to enable the entry of the settlement agreement. We look forward to the positive changes that these civil rights reforms will bring about for the people of Portland.”
“Today’s decision is the culmination of significant work on the part of all parties to reach such a groundbreaking resolution for the citizens of Portland ,” said U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall for the District of Oregon. “We are very grateful to the court for entering this order, and look forward to continued collaboration with the city of Portland, the Portland Police Bureau, the Portland Police Association, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform , and all citizens of Portland to ensure the letter and the spirit of this agreement are upheld.”
The United States’ complaint followed an investigation, launched on June 8, 2011, and conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon. The investigation focused on whether PPB engages in unconstitutional or unlawful policing through the use of excessive force, with a specific focus on the use of force against people with actual or perceived mental illness or in mental health crisis.
In a September 2012 findings letter detailing the outcome of the 14-month investigation, the Justice Department found that most uses of force by PPB officers were lawful and reasonable, but it also found reasonable cause to believe that PPB engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, in certain contexts. Following the release of the findings letter, the United States and the city engaged in settlement negotiations resulting in the settlement agreement, which the city council voted to approve. The city fully cooperated with the United States throughout its investigation and was eager to address problems identified in the United States’ findings letter regarding Portland Police Bureau’s policies, practices, training and supervision through entry of the settlement agreement.
On Dec. 17, 2012, the United States initiated a lawsuit against the city and, with the city’s cooperation, concurrently filed a joint motion asking the court to approve the negotiated settlement agreement and conditionally dismiss the case. Specifically, the United States’ complaint alleged that PPB engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force on individuals with actual or perceived mental illness by: (1) too frequently using a higher level of force than necessary; (2) using electronic control weapons (“ECWs”), commonly referred to as “Tasers,” in circumstances when such force is not justified, or deploying ECWs more times than necessary on an individual; and (3) using a higher degree of force than justified for low-level offenses.
Both PPA and the AMA Coalition subsequently moved to intervene in the suit, seeking to join the case as parties and objecting to the proposed settlement agreement. The court partially granted PPA’s motion to intervene and granted the AMA Coalition enhanced amicus status, allowing the AMA Coalition to participate in the litigation. The court then ordered all parties to mediation to attempt to resolve PPA’s and the AMA Coalition’s objections to the settlement agreement. Such mediation efforts have resulted in a memorandum of understanding with PPA and a separate agreement previously reached with the AMA Coalition.
Following a fairness hearing on the settlement agreement, the court previously found that the settlement agreement is substantively fair, reasonable and adequate. The court found, however, that it needed a procedure to receive information on the city’s implementation of reforms on at least an annual basis. In today’s ruling, the court required the parties and COCL to file quarterly reports with the court and required the parties to appear for periodic hearings to describe to the court the progress being made toward achieving substantial compliance with all provisions of the settlement agreement and any obstacles or impediments toward that end, and to respond to the court’s questions on these issues.
The assigned attorneys in the United States Attorney’s Office in Portland were Bill Williams, Adrian Brown and David Knight. From the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., the assigned attorneys were Laura Coon, Jonas Geissler and Michelle Jones.