| Mark Kroeker could feel the heat at a July 1 forum on the police shooting of Kendra James but had no idea that within two months Derrick Foxworth would have his job. |
IMAGE: STEPHEN VOSS
Speculation that Mayor Vera Katz had lost patience with the chief had been circulating for almost a year. But his handling of the controversial fatal police shooting of the African-American woman at a traffic stop on May 5 seems to have been what caused Kroeker's negatives to hit critical mass, leading to the sudden collapse of his chieftaincy.
City Commissioner Erik Sten says his sense is that Kroeker's performance at a July 1 community forum discussing the James incident "was the beginning of the end for the chief."
At the North Portland forum, Kroeker seemed stiff and evasive, and the event was viewed as a debacle for the Portland Police Bureau. Cops later complained that they were hamstrung by an us-vs.-them format that Katz negotiated with the Albina Ministerial Alliance.
Sten was so unimpressed by the chief's performance that he fired off an email to the mayor, saying, "It's time to do something bold with the police...it's going to take some strong action to get things back on track."
Katz never responded, but she didn't need a cryptographer to crack this code. City Hall back-channels were soon full of the news: Sten now felt it was time for Kroeker to go.
Besides setting off Sten, the Kendra James forum also sparked the wrath of Commissioner Randy Leonard, who watched a videotape of the proceedings. Leonard says the chief, in trying to be "diplomatic," failed to provoke an honest discussion of James' level of responsibility in her own death.
Katz says there was no single event that precipitated her decision to remove Kroeker, but the new anti-Kroeker bent among her colleagues--specifically, the two whose instincts she most trusts--could not have helped the chief's odds for survival.
Katz has told people she planned to remove Kroeker sometime this fall after negotiating a graceful-exit storyline. The timeline got bumped up when former Commissioner Mike Lindberg entered the picture.
An informal adviser to the chief, Lindberg was disappointed by Kroeker's handling of the James affair and had heard that Sten and Leonard were even more upset. The growing anti-Kroeker sentiment in City Hall was in the forefront of his mind on Wednesday, Aug. 27, as he prepared for a prearranged coffee with the chief.
After discussing the chief's future with both Leonard and the mayor, Lindberg warned the chief to expect her to ask for his resignation the following Tuesday.
Lindberg and the mayor say the chief was given a chance to negotiate a graceful exit, but Kroeker must have missed that part of the chat, as evidenced by his Aug. 29 press conference, which portrayed the mayor as a back-stabbing liar.
Kroeker's sudden, ugly departure ensured that he never would be able to prove himself to Portlanders, as his confidants say he'd long hoped to do.
For Sten, the Kendra James hearing was a microcosm of Kroeker's tenure: a sincere, well-meaning guy trying to do the right thing but doomed to failure.
"He was well-intentioned at that hearing," says Sten. "And it just fell with a thud."