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May 19th, 2010 WW Editorial Staff | News Stories
 

Cop Out

Inside the battle among mayor Sam Adams, police chief Rosie Sizer and commissioner Dan Saltzman.

     
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This story was reported by Beth Slovic, James Pitkin, Nigel Jaquiss and Henry Stern

The SparkNotes version of what went down last week in City Hall goes something like this:

  • Item 1: On Monday, May 10, Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Rosie Sizer blew up like Jon and Kate. The issue? Adams claimed his new budget would not push sworn officers out the door. Sizer publicly disagreed.

  • Item 2: At virtually the same time, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Adams’ appointee to run the Police Bureau, was immersed in settlement talks over the high-profile 2006 death of James Chasse Jr. while in police custody. The next day, May 11, the city announced a city-record $1.6 million settlement with Chasse’s family.

  • Item 3: On Wednesday, May 12, Adams fired Sizer, ending her 25-year career two months before she was planning to retire. Adams also sacked Saltzman as head of the Police Bureau less than one week before Saltzman would learn whether he’d been re-elected.

  • Item 4: On the night of May 12, Portland police fatally shot a 25-year-old African-American man during a Lloyd District traffic stop after he allegedly shot an officer twice in the legs. He was the third citizen killed by police in less than four months. (See “Shots Fired,” below, for more.) Responding to the latest shooting scene were newly installed Police Chief Mike Reese and Adams, who named himself the new police commissioner hours earlier.

Any one of the above items would have been huge news by itself. Together, they combined to create a political casserole of intrigue, tragedy, tumult and rancor that Portland has not seen in years.

“I’ve never seen this convergence of events,” says Mike Lindberg, who served on City Council from 1979 to 1996. “It’s one of those stories you can’t believe is all happening at the same time.”

So what really took place behind the scenes during one of the most bizarre stretches at City Hall since Adams pondered resigning last year after he admitted lying about his relationship with legislative intern Beau Breedlove?

And what’s likely to happen going forward in a building with enough gossip about who said what to whom and when to make Heidi Montag blush.

For the past five days, we’ve tried to piece together events. Here is what we found:

Big-city police departments often create problems for elected officials.

“It’s part of the nature of the police chief’s job,” Lindberg says.

If anybody should know that, it’s Adams, who was chief of staff for more than a decade to then-Mayor Vera Katz. Her tenure included dealing with tumultuous Chief Charles Moose and Katz’s sacking of Chief Mark Kroeker.

“I hired three chiefs in 12 years,” Katz says. “And there were a lot of others before that.”

But the cop shop hasn’t troubled City Hall this much since at least 1981, when two Portland cops dropped dead opossums in front of an African-American-owned restaurant called the Burger Barn.

Even the pornographic emails former Chief Derrick Foxworth sent civilian Police Bureau employee Angela Oswalt in 2000—costing him the chief’s job in 2006—read like nursery rhymes compared to the real-life trauma this city has endured from its police force over the past year.


ROSIER DAYS: Chief Rosie Sizer when Mayor Sam Adams made Commissioner Dan Saltzman Sizer’s new boss. IMAGE: chrisryanphoto.com

It’s almost as if Adams knew what was to come in 2009, when he took the office of mayor. He became the first Portland mayor in nearly 30 years to surrender supervision of the volatile Police Bureau to another commissioner.

Commissioner Randy Leonard, Adams’ closest ally on the five-member council and a former president of the Portland firefighters’ union, yearned for the job of managing the police.

But Adams wouldn’t give it to Leonard. Sizer—who had been installed in 2006 as chief by previous Mayor Tom Potter and who, at the time, was very popular—said she would quit rather than work for Leonard.

So Adams asked Saltzman, an engineer by training and the longest-serving city commissioner, to take on the cops.

Saltzman and Sizer got along well, with Saltzman occasionally rushing out of council meetings to take calls from her on his gray Treo, which served as his Police Bureau hotline.

And in the early months of 2009, the primary criticism of Sizer was that the internal police investigation into James Chasse’s Sept. 17, 2006, death had taken far too long. Chasse, a mentally ill man, had died in police custody (see “Three Years Gone,” WW, Sept. 16, 2009).

But last November, Officer Chris Humphreys—one of the cops at the scene when Chasse was arrested—was videotaped shooting a beanbag at a 12-year-old girl on a MAX platform. The tape strengthened the impression that in Humphreys the Portland police had a “thumper,” a cop whose judgment about use of force was suspect.

Saltzman stripped Humphreys of his gun and badge, placing him on administrative leave.But Saltzman reinstated him to a desk job after hundreds of officers marched on City Hall on Nov. 24, many wearing T-shirts that read, “I am Christopher Humphreys.” That reversal made Saltzman look weak and indecisive.

And then, in the first three months of 2010, tragedy struck twice. On Jan. 29, police fatally shot Aaron Campbell, an African-American man who turned out to be unarmed when he was killed in the parking lot of a Northeast Portland apartment complex. On March 22, an officer killed Jack Dale Collins, a mentally ill homeless man who was waving an X-Acto knife at Hoyt Aboretum. A spate of reports about road-rage incidents by off-duty cops followed, including a pair that forced the April 19 resignation of the police union president, Scott Westerman.

Insiders say Saltzman and Sizer maintained a good working relationship amid the turmoil, meeting at least once a week, and talking three or four times a week.

But by the middle of April, the tension between the cops and average Portlanders had grown.

Joyce Mathews, a 63-year-old retired social worker from Southwest Portland, says she’s lived in Portland since she was 6 years old and has never seen relations between police and citizens this strained.

“I’ve never seen it this bad. It’s at the point where it needs to stop now,” says Mathews, who is African-American. “I don’t trust the mayor’s office, [and] I don’t trust the police department.

“I don’t want this to turn into L.A., but that’s where we’re headed,” she continues. “This has turned into hatred. We shouldn’t have to feel hatred for our city leaders.”

In the middle of all this was Sizer, who found herself alienated from the union and facing nonstop criticism from Leonard. He spared no opportunity to take a swipe at her, even working around her with City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade to write an ordinance strengthening oversight of police by giving City Hall’s Independent Police Review Division a greater role in the most controversial police investigations.

Sizer, who declined to comment for this article, wasn’t the only one facing an unhappy union; Sgt. Peter Simpson, editor of the police union’s Rap Sheet, blasted the City Council as well in the newsletter’s April edition.

“Regular people ask me every day how things have gotten so crazy in Portland,” Simpson wrote. “They ask what is wrong with the City Council and the Chief’s Office and why they seem to fight while officers are painted as demons. I have no answers for them. I suppose we’re in a place where everything is nonsense. Wonderland.”

Adams, however, ignored the tumult. He showed little public interest in the Police Bureau and its problems. The exception came when he met with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who visited Portland twice for a rally and press conference after the Campbell shooting.

Instead, the mayor focused for the most part on redevelopment of the Rose Quarter, reinventing the sit-lie ordinance and finding money to jump-start a bike plan for the city.


(left) THICK BLUE LINE: The police union protests at City Hall on Nov. 24. IMAGE: Tom Martinez (top right) SAD SCENE: James Chasse Jr. lies on the street on Sept. 17, 2006. IMAGE: Jamie Marquez (bottom right) AARON CAMPBELL (l) and JACK DALE COLLINS (r). IMAGE: Multnomah County Sheriffs Office

The relationship between Adams and Saltzman has always been frosty.

Neither is cuddly. Saltzman can be awkward in conversation, and they come from different backgrounds. Saltzman’s family owns a lot of Portland property and he’s earned degrees from two elite East Coast schools—Cornell and MIT. Adams grew up poor (he filed for bankruptcy in 1990 when he was working as political director of the Oregon House Democratic Caucus) and dropped out of the University of Oregon, though he later finished his degree.

But Saltzman has largely been a loyal colleague to Adams as mayor. Not only did he agree to take the Police Bureau but he kept the Major League Soccer deal alive by providing a decisive third vote a year ago. Saltzman has a reputation as a no-nonsense commissioner who does not seek publicity.

“He played things straight, didn’t play a lot of games,” says former City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, who served with Saltzman from 1999 through 2005. “I liked working with him.”

And when the Beau Breedlove scandal threatened to sink the mayor in January 2009, Saltzman stood by Adams, even when Leonard said Adams “seemed detached from reality.”

“I was the only city commissioner to stand up and say, ‘Sam, get back to work,’” Saltzman says.

Still, the relationship between Saltzman and Adams has never been close. And it grew worse in February, when Saltzman introduced a resolution to help fund the bike plan by tapping utility license fees.

Adams didn’t like the fact that Saltzman introduced the proposal without first checking with him. And in Portland, where there are few things more politically popular than bikes, he didn’t like the appearance that Saltzman, not he, was the stronger bike advocate.

Adams responded with a new proposal that called for putting even more money on the table, to dwarf Saltzman’s idea.

His proposal would fund bike lanes with millions from Saltzman’s own Bureau of Environmental Services, which is responsible for the city’s sewers.

Before introducing his idea in council, Adams shared it with everyone except the two people who most needed to know: Saltzman and the bureau’s director, Dean Marriott.

“It’s complete news to me,” Marriott told WW in February after Adams proposed using sewer dollars.

Saltzman traced Adams’ unhappiness with him to that moment.

“I’ve heard people tell me about this mean side of Sam before, but I’ve not really witnessed it or experienced it myself except for a couple of situations recently,” Saltzman says. “One was the sewer/bike issue.”

Whether it was petty maneuvering or skillful politics, the Adams-Saltzman rift was widening well before last week, when Adams snatched the Police Bureau from Saltzman right before his re-election bid.

The irony is that if Adams had simply waited a couple of months, Sizer’s departure would have taken care of itself. In March, Saltzman says Sizer told him over a cup of coffee at Tree’s restaurant across from City Hall that “she was ‘so done with this job.’”

She had been chief for nearly four years, and was being ground down. It wasn’t just the police shootings and the ongoing carping from Leonard, she told Saltzman. It was also the small stuff that annoyed her, like when City Council scheduled a hearing on new police oversight rules without waiting for her to return from a law enforcement conference in the U.K. Saltzman objected to the timing, and with support from Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish, a second hearing was held when Sizer returned. Saltzman asked her to delay a formal retirement announcement until after the May 18 primary. He told WW last week, “I’m already spending a lot of time talking about police issues,” and, “I didn’t want [Sizer’s retirement] to be a focus of the campaign.”


THE HANDOFF: Then-Mayor-elect Sam Adams announcing in 2008 that Commissioner Dan Saltzman would be police commissioner. Chief Rosie Sizer looks on. IMAGE: chrisryanphoto.com

Adams says Sizer had told him she planned to retire but had given him no specific timetable. Yet he insisted on shoving her out himself last week.

The mayor said his decision reflected a cumulative effect of all that’s happened at the Police Bureau over the past year.

But the canning didn’t occur after a 12-year-old girl got shot with a beanbag, or over the fatal police shootings of Campbell or Collins.

Adams did it after Sizer publicly humiliated him.

“I realized I had a chief of police and a commissioner I could not work with,” Adams said Monday, May 17. “She had crossed a line.... In two decades I had never seen anything like that before.”


STAND AND DELIVER: Commissioner Dan Saltzman with Deputy City Attorney Jim Rice announcing the Chasse settlement on May 11. IMAGE: WW Staff

By city charter, the mayor’s proposed budget must be presented to City Council for adoption.

Adams is an old hand at budgets, having prepared nearly a dozen of them when he was Katz’s chief of staff. This year, as mayor, he faced declining revenues and the need to trim the city’s operations by $5.3 million in ongoing spending compared to last year.

On Wednesday, May 5, he invited representatives of the Police Bureau to his office to discuss potential cuts in their $141 million budget.

Sizer didn’t come to the May 5 meeting; she sent three assistant chiefs instead. Neither did Saltzman, who ran the bureau, nor his chief of staff, Brendan Finn. They sent a staffer, police liaison Shannon Callahan.

Adams proposed cutting the positions of 25 sworn officers. Of those positions, nine were supposedly already vacant. Even then, it wasn’t as though 16 cops would immediately lose their jobs, Adams thought. The mayor expected the number of layoffs would be far smaller due to attrition over the coming weeks. But when they learned of the cuts Adams wanted, Sizer and Saltzman began to steam because the cuts went deeper than they expected, and because of faulty budget assumptions they blamed on the mayor. Upon analysis, they learned that the planned cuts for the Police Bureau were far greater than those for the Fire Bureau.

“Part of my concern about the proposed police cuts was the disproportionality,” Saltzman says. “Fifty of the 115 positions proposed to be eliminated were in the Police Bureau.” Saltzman adds that the mayor’s spending plan included a $379,000 fireboat that Leonard had pressed for over Saltzman’s objections. In addition, Leonard’s Water Bureau faced no layoffs.

“When I heard nobody was getting laid off in Water,” Saltzman says, “when the Fire Bureau is getting everything—including the fireboat, [which] I’ve been opposed to from the start, and we have no place to put it—I thought Randy was ghostwriting the budget with Sam.”

“I understand Dan’s upset,” Leonard responded May 17. “But I think it’s unfair of him to cast aspersions my way because of his interactions with the mayor. And they’re baseless—untrue.”

Sizer called Saltzman on Sunday night, May 9, to tell him her plans to hold a press conference the next day about the mayor’s budget. He says he supported the idea because he agreed with the police chief’s conclusions.

Adams says Saltzman never told him about Sizer’s plan, a move Adams considered “sandbagging.”

“There’s no other explanation,” Adams said.

At 11 am on May 10, Sizer gave a press conference on the 14th floor of the Justice Center in which she said the mayor’s assertion that his budget would only require a few layoffs in the cop shop was bull. Sizer said her analysis concluded that 25 sworn officers would lose their jobs and that the mounted patrol as well as the cold-case homicide unit would be eliminated. (It’s unclear whose version is right. But on Tuesday, May 18, Adams announced a re-jiggered budget that restored funding for the 25 sworn officers, mounted patrol and cold-case unit by focusing in part on “administrative reductions and cuts in overhead.”) At the very same time Sizer was giving her news conference, Saltzman was meeting with city attorneys and insurance representatives at the federal courthouse a block away, hashing out a settlement in the Chasse case, which was scheduled to go to trial next month.

Tom Schneiger, co-counsel with Tom Steenson for the Chasse family, says the settlement conference had been scheduled weeks in advance.

When Saltzman left around lunchtime to attend other community meetings, the case remained unsettled.

“The way it started off Monday, I didn’t think it was going to get resolved,” Saltzman says.

At 4 pm he met with Sizer at Central Precinct after his other community meetings. He then went home. That’s when Adams finally reached him to say he had been trying to contact him about Sizer’s press conference. “He was really upset about a three-hour window in which he couldn’t reach me on Monday,”says Saltzman. “He asked, ‘What am I to make of this?’ and ‘What’s your strategy?’ He was fixated on why it took three hours for me to get back to him.”

Adams says he too met with Sizer, but says she began the hourlong meeting with a joke and that he kept pressing her for answers to his questions.

“I felt like I had to bring her down to reality,” Adams says.

As for his conversation with Saltzman, Adams says Saltzman told him he didn’t agree with the mayor’s budget.

“I said, ‘Now that I understand I’m cutting deeper than I thought, I don’t agree with my budget,’” says Adams.

At 5:09 pm Monday, Adams released a statement that now appears to have been a hidden threat. “I will review how this happened and make sure we enact changes,” the mayor wrote, referring to the confusion over the police budget and the way Sizer and Saltzman went about communicating their dissatisfaction with it.

One day later, Adams’ review was apparently done. He decided to fire Sizer, yank Saltzman and install as the new police chief Mike Reese, a longtime favorite of Leonard’s.


(left) ROCK OUT: Mike Reese and Randy Leonard perform together last year. IMAGE: Mike Ryerson (right) CHIEF CONCERN: Fish says he told the mayor he respects the new chief, but that “there was a community expectation that we would do a national search for the next chief.” IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

Reese is a 52-year-old Portland native who coaches seventh-grade girls’ basketball and plays lead guitar in a rock band called the Usual Suspects (Leonard sang with Reese’s band last year as part of a fundraiser for Transition Projects).

Leonard is a huge Reese fan. He points out that he has seen Reese at the front window of Central Precinct filling in for a staffer who called in sick, or filling a patrol shift for a sick officer.

“Those observations may sound like ordinary examples of what the public thinks all police officers should do regardless of their rank,” Leonard wrote WW in a May 16 email, “but Mike Reese is the only police commander that approaches his job in the way he does…and I might add always without self-promotion or looking for photo ops.”

Adams called Reese on Tuesday, May 11, at about 10 am and asked him to come down to City Hall to meet with him.

“He indicated that he was going to make changes,” Reese recalls. “He asked for my ideas for a direction for the Police Bureau.”

Adams said he came away impressed with Reese’s knowledge and composure. He then had discussions throughout the day, between unrelated meetings on other topics, with his highest-ranking staffers, such as chief of staff Tom Miller and his deputy, Warren Jimenez, as well as City Hall veteran Judy Tuttle, who was Adams’ deputy when he was Katz’s chief of staff. The mayor called Reese later that evening when Reese was at his daughter’s piano lesson and offered him the job in a five-minute conversation.

“It was shocking,” Reese says. “I was surprised when I was called and didn’t expect this type of transition to the next chief.”

The mayor told none of his City Council colleagues Tuesday night. That’s perhaps surprising in the case of Leonard, given his connections to Reese and Adams. Leonard, however, was largely out of reach in the second week of a honeymoon vacation with his new wife, Kathryn Whalen.

“The most important reason I support Mike is that he will be nobody’s pawn,” Leonard says, “...not mine, the mayor’s, the police union’s or any special interest group in the city...of which there are many and each of [who] will pressure him to view the world through their own special prism.”

Already, Reese has made significant changes in police leadership, purging Sizer favorites like Assistant Chief Brian Martinek and Leslie Stevens, head of the bureau’s Office of Accountability and Professional Standards.

Wednesday, May 12, began as usual at City Hall with the council’s regularly scheduled 9:30 am meeting. Leonard wasn’t there because of his honeymoon. Saltzman missed the meeting because of a doctor’s appointment.

The council session was devoted to making May Mental Health Month. Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish spoke at length about personal experiences, Fritz from her profession as a psychiatric nurse and Fish as the relative of someone with mental illness. Adams was more succinct. A third-grade class from a Christian school came and listened to the end of the meeting. Adams asked the students what they thought of City Hall, then rushed out of chambers to prepare for a noon press conference at which he would announce his decision to fire Sizer and Saltzman.

Adams told Fish about one hour before the press conference.

“He was not seeking advice or input,” Fish says. “It was a done deal.

“I told the mayor I had a lot of respect for Mike Reese—whom I’d worked with on homeless and housing issues,” Fish says. “But I also told him there was a community expectation that we would do a national search for the next chief.”

Adams informed the city auditor, Griffin-Valade, at 11:20 am of his decision because she needed to issue an executive order authorizing the change in police leadership.

Shortly before noon, Adams brought Sizer and Saltzman into his office for brief visits at separate times.

Saltzman was returning from his doctor’s appointment when Adams called down to Saltzman’s office and told his scheduler to send Saltzman, along with chief of staff Brendan Finn, up one floor to the mayor’s third-floor office. This was unusual, Saltzman says, because Adams would typically come down to Saltzman’s office.

The mood was chilly when Saltzman and Finn entered Adams’ personal office.

“We did not shake hands. I took his cue on that. Normally we might have,” Saltzman recalls. “He said, ‘I’m reassigning the Police Bureau and replacing the chief to take it in a new direction.’”

“I said, ‘You’re doing this a week before the election?’ He gave some obtuse answer about budget law,” Saltzman says.

When asked to recount her conversation with Adams and the timing, Fritz pauses at length.

“He’s the mayor. He gets to do that,” Fritz says. She added, of Saltzman and Sizer, “Here we have two great people who have done wonderful work. That is a loss of expertise.”

After the press conference, Adams and Reese marched downstairs to the auditor’s office for Reese’s swearing in.

“The mayor made that decision and asked me if I would be willing to step in,” Reese told WW. “And I am.”

“In my view, Sam didn’t have a choice,” Leonard said May 17, after returning to City Hall. “He was being openly challenged by the police chief, and then had a commissioner in charge that wasn’t advising her appropriately.”


THE DAY AFTER: The mayor and his police chief meet with leaders in the minority community on May 13. IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

A tumultuous end for a police chief isn’t that odd. Sizer is the 10th chief in the past 25 years. She got the job in 2006 from then-Mayor Tom Potter, himself a former police chief, after Derrick Foxworth was demoted. But even an Adams stalwart like former Mayor Katz questions her protégé’s timing.

“There may have been other options,” Katz says.

As for Reese, he learned how tough the top spot was hours after he got the job when police fatally shot 25-year-old Keaton Dupree Otis later that night during a traffic stop near Lloyd Center (see “Shots Fired,” below), after Otis allegedly shot Officer Chris Burley in the legs.

At 3 pm Thursday, May 13, Adams and Reese met in the Rose Room in City Hall with more than two dozen minority leaders, including Marcus Mundy of the Urban League of Portland, several members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, gang outreach workers, and representatives of the Asian, Hispanic and Native American communities.

Adams said his goal was to have a “frank, open discussion” of the incident, but those in attendance quickly found he had few answers for their questions.

Roy Jay, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, pressed Adams and Reese for basic details that had not yet been released, such as the man’s name, whether he was wanted on previous warrants or whether he owned the car he drove.

Reese’s explanation of what happened contributed to an air of exasperation in the room. Police followed the victim initially because “he didn’t want to make eye contact” with an officer, Reese said. After the man allegedly made a number of lane changes and turns without signaling, an officer pulled him over.

“There were profanities coming from the car,” Reese said. “He was not compliant.”

The racial subtext of the meeting was evident. Reese, a graduate of North Portland’s Roosevelt High, was eager to ingratiate himself. He told the audience, “I grew up in your neighborhood.”

After audience members asked questions about why officers involved in shootings are not compelled to give statements immediately, why it takes so long to identify shooting victims and whether the police had legitimate reasons to pull him over, Reese somewhat testily reminded questioners that the dead man had shot an officer twice.

Jay and the Native American Youth Association’s Nichole Maher in particular noted that the same group met in the same room under similar circumstances 11 months earlier. In response to city requests then, the audience members provided lots of input about police interaction with minority youth. Maher said City Hall and police had ignored that input.

“Why should we believe you’ll listen this time?” Maher asked Adams and Reese.


QUESTION & FEW ANSWERS: Mayor Sam Adams takes notes as minority leaders question a third fatal police shooting this year. IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

In the days following Adams’ decision, a number of people have speculated about Adams’ motives. One theory is that he was simply being vengeful, a personality trait that those who know him say he wears with ease.

Just ask Mary Volm, ironically one of Saltzman’s opponents in the May 18 election. She’s not exactly a disinterested observer given that she took a lead role in the first effort to recall Adams. But nearly 20 years working as a city spokeswoman gives her institutional memory.

“What I know about Sam Adams is that he demands loyalty,” says Volm, whose tenure as a city spokeswoman overlapped Adams’ time as Katz’s chief of staff and his first term on City Council running the city’s Office (later Bureau) of Transportation.

“As long as you are doing what he wants, he will treat you OK,” Volm says. “Don’t ever question or ask. He sees that as insubordination.”

A second theory is that Adams, with the recent crumbling of a second recall effort against him, felt the timing was right to exercise a little muscle and show the city and council who was really boss. Now that his name definitely won’t appear on a ballot until 2012, Adams can make decisions without worrying about immediate electoral implications.

“I didn’t choose the timing,” Adams says, rejecting the notion that he’s been liberated by the April failure of opponents to gather enough signatures to put a mayoral recall on the ballot. “I couldn’t ignore the fact that they [Sizer and Saltzman] had blown off a mayor. It’s not the fact that I’m the mayor. He’s the police commissioner and she’s the police chief. And I needed folks in those positions who had my basic trust.”

Theory No. 3 is that by removing Sizer and replacing her with Reese, Adams makes the police union happy—a group that can help him win re-election in 2012.

It’s most likely that the truth lies in some combination of all three theories. At the same time, Adams’ move comes at some risk. He has created one enemy on the five-member council and put the rest of the commissioners on notice to watch their backs.

Adams has also angered some powerful people with long memories. Of course there’s Saltzman, who says Adams’ actions were “extremely vindictive” and made a lie of Adams’ claim that he wanted to see Saltzman re-elected.

One of Saltzman’s close allies is his former chief of staff, Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen, who many believe wants to return to City Hall as mayor.

Another is Mark Wiener, the powerful political consultant who’s been employed by both Adams and Saltzman. (Wiener’s wife is Aisling Coghlan, who preceded Cogen as Saltzman’s chief of staff.)

“I refused to believe he would do such a thing,” Wiener says of Adams removing Saltzman as police commissioner less than a week before the election. “Obviously I was mistaken about that. I think the way he did it was despicable.”

Asked last week if he’d challenge Adams in 2012, Saltzman said, “I have no doubt I could do the job.”

“I’m definitely more open to running today,” he said, “than yesterday.”

Now that Adams oversees the cop shop, it’s still unclear which of his bureaus—transportation, planning and sustainability—he will hand off to other commissioners. But it’s a virtual certainty under his leadership that the Police Bureau will not be crisis-free, because no one can tell when the next police shooting or controversial case will pop up.

The political risk? That the next crisis will show him to be an uncertain leader. The political reward? That the mayor demonstrates to Portlanders that he can manage the bureau most fraught with potential peril.

Other than the hiring of Reese, Adams reveals no firm plans for the bureau other than his being a more visible face when there is a tragedy.

He does say he hopes the bureau will gain more trust with communities of color.

“This is not like any other assignment,” Adams acknowledges. “There’ll be bumps along the way, I’m sure.”

Shots Fired


KEATON OTIS. IMAGE: Courtesy of katu.com

The grainy 51-second video doesn’t show much, but the audio is clear and compelling.

Officers surround a car in Northeast Portland near the Lloyd Center. The sound of a spring release indicates Tasers firing twice. Then 25-year-old Keaton Otis dies in a hail of at least 20 gunshots.

This tragedy struck just over six hours after Mike Reese was sworn in as the city’s new police chief May 12. And what’s left is a third fatal shooting this year—this one leaving an officer wounded and further deepening the rift between cops and their critics in the community.

Both sides are disturbed by what happened after police say they pulled Otis over for multiple traffic violations.

To some cops who watched the video posted on the Web, the footage was a clear sign officers are placing themselves in greater danger after shooting unarmed civilians like James Jahar Perez in 2004 and Aaron Campbell on Jan. 29. In both cases police said they believed the men were reaching for guns.

In last week’s encounter, the video has an officer yelling three times, “He’s going for something!” Cops fired their Tasers, yet police say Otis got off at least two shots before he died.

Officer Chris Burley, hit once in each leg, was released from the hospital last week. Several cops tell WW that faced with hostile community reaction, it’s inevitable some officers will hesitate to use deadly force—even when they’re at deadly risk.

“I’ve heard from a lot of officers now—they’ve got this doubt,” says Officer Tom Brennan, a nine-year veteran. “Thank God for Officer Burley the wounds he received weren’t mortal. They just as easily could have been.”

From the community’s side, the shooting was just as disturbing. It was the third fatal police shooting in Portland this year. All involved men who suffered mental-health problems. Police say Portland had only one fatal shooting by police each year in 2007 and 2008, and none in 2009.

At a May 17 press conference, the Rev. LeRoy Haynes of the Albina Ministerial Alliance said it’s possible another cop shot Burley. Reese has declined to answer more specifics about the case pending the outcome of the investigation.

Haynes also questioned why gang cops stopped Otis. Police said there was no evidence he had gang affiliations.

“Was it a pretext stop? Was it because they felt he was a gang member?” Haynes said. “There are a great deal of questions that we cannot yet answer.”

At a May 13 news conference, Reese said officers were in the area to prevent gang crime. Reese said the cops were already following Otis when the alleged traffic infractions occurred.

Otis’ parents, Felesia and Joseph Otis, said their son suffered a mood disorder diagnosed in 2004. Their statement was gracious and cannot be said to widen the rift between cops and the community.

“We want you to know about our son and the struggles he had later on in his life so that others will not travel his path,” they said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Officer Burley and other officers involved.”—James Pitkin


FACT: Reese transferred Brennan to the property room after Brennan reported a heated encounter last year between Sgt. Kyle Nice and a homeless man. Nice, who was involved in the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr., is now under investigation for a separate road-rage case. Brennan remains in professional exile.
 
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