PAORC Confronts Legal Uncertainties
Committee seeking outside help to codify external police review
By Carol Berg-Caldwell & Randy Prince
Behind schedule and still saving the hardest for last, Eugene’s Police Auditor Ordinance Review Committee (PAORC) wrapped up its Jan. 22 meeting with a brief discussion of the toughest problem it aims to solve: concurrent investigations.
The concurrency issue is in the national news; note the scandal surrounding disgraced Illinois Gov. Blagojevich, who is facing federal criminal prosecution for corruption. The Illinois state Legislature is working to remove him from office by impeachment. Federal authorities are refusing to allow them, or the governor, to interview anyone who is part of the federal criminal prosecution.
Locally, Lane County prosecutors exercise this same prerogative. Investigations and evidence gathering connected to non-criminal proceedings (processing of misconduct complaints) has been deferred until the criminal cases are finished. Concurrent investigations were blocked in the May 30 EPD tasering incident, which involves both criminal charges against demonstrators and citizen complaints alleging police misconduct.
Interim Auditor Dawn Reynolds told PAORC that the former district attorney (Doug Harcleroad) repeatedly failed to provide an explanation of his position. She supported inviting the current DA (Alex Gardner), to a PAORC session to explain his office’s stand against concurrent investigations. One committee member opposed that idea, fearing polarization and unpleasant dialogue. Others also opposed giving the DA a significant block of time, but expressed the concern the group would be pacified by an onslaught of legal jargon. However, all agreed they needed to hear from a neutral authority. The city attorney couldn’t help; he said he was unable to provide a legal opinion. The committee then tasked Interim Police Chief Kerns and Interim Auditor Reynolds with recommending the appropriate expert(s) to advise the group.
PAORC was decisive concerning potential misconduct allegations against a police chief. Would the department’s top manager be subject to the same accountability as his or her subordinates? The existing protocols do not address what to do if a chief is the subject of a misconduct complaint. The city attorney minimized the concern, describing actions such as ex-Chief Lehner’s withholding a citizen complaint from auditor oversight as simply a “misinterpretation” of policy. He said the city manager’s oversight was sufficient. PAORC members did not agree. They formulated an oversight process for complaints against a police chief, who normally determines punishment for misconduct. The city manager would apply the appropriate discipline.
The city attorney was more successful in persuading the committee there were problems with #11 on former Councilor Bonny Bettman’s list of 18 items, the proposal to require present and future city councils to “adequately fund” the Police Auditor/Civilian Review Program. Bettman’s intention was to prevent a city manager or council averse to external oversight from crippling the program through budgetary shenanigans. However, case law severely limits the degree that future elected officials can be bound to instructions by their predecessors. The matter was not finalized, but the committee was leaning toward a simple recommendation that future councils fund the program.
At its next meeting, Jan. 29, PAORC plans to move on to the next two points and review the city attorney’s wording of the six proposals agreed upon at its Jan. 13 meeting.
Carol Berg-Caldwell and Randy Prince are members of Communities for Ethical Law Enforcement (CELE). PAORC meets at 5 pm Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, in the McNutt Room of Eugene City Hall. Access full meeting webcasts through the Mayor’s link at eugene-or.gov; reports and video coverage at www.YouTube.com/user/PictureEugene