After shelling out $3,500 to an anti-war protester, the City of Portland is preparing to review its practice of tossing demonstrators in jail for minor infractions.
Over the past year--one marked by anti-war and anti-Bush demonstrations--many civil-rights lawyers have complained that local protesters have been wrongly taken into custody for minor violations, such as jaywalking and failing to produce identification.
Until recently, the city has defended its policy of selective enforcement. But last month Richard Rosenthal, Portland's cop watchdog, said the Police Bureau needs to review its practices, which have generated numerous complaints and at least one monetary settlement.
At issue are (a) whether demonstrators should be subjected to a night in jail for infractions typically handled with an on-the-spot citation and (b) whether failure to state a name is enough justification for an officer to put someone behind bars.
Both questions arose on March 27, when cops approached Brent Was on Southeast Belmont Street after the ex-Marine walked up to a group of fellow war protesters in an intersection. When a policeman asked Was for his ID, Was refused and was cited for interfering with a peace officer and taken to a holding cell, where he was held until after midnight (see "Operation Jaywalk Down," WW, April 9, 2003).
Civil-rights lawyer Spencer Neal says police can ask your name if they have reason to believe you committed a crime. But if you refuse, he says, they can't haul you to jail if the offense itself wouldn't result in jail time.
Police Bureau spokeswoman Sgt. Cheryl Robinson says failure to identify yourself is considered an infraction, which is not subject to jail time. Was, however, was charged with interfering with a peace officer, which, she says, could lead to detainment.
Was' attorney, Mark Kramer, argued that his client's only "interference" was not providing his name. What's more, he notes, police kept Was in jail even after identifying him when his wallet was confiscated.
Kramer asked for $5,500 in damages for his client. In mid-April, the city and Was settled on $3,500.
That's not, however, the end of the story.
Last month, Rosenthal, director of the city's Independent Police Review Division, sent a letter to Kramer regarding a complaint Was had filed against the officer who arrested him.
Rosenthal noted that because the officer was acting on orders from a commander, he couldn't be faulted. He told Kramer the commander's instructions were developed after conversations with city attorneys and county prosecutors.
But, he added, given the city's settlement with Was, "the Police Bureau needs to reevaluate whether officers, in the future, should issue 'interfering' citations when faced with a protestor (or a pedestrian) who refuses to provide identification upon request," he wrote.
Rosenthal, who is out of the office this week, promised to convene a meeting next month but didn't provide any details. It appears, however, he envisions a private chat rather than a public forum. If so, he may get another battle from Kramer.
"IPR is a public entity; therefore, it is under an open-record public-meetings law," he says. "In my opinion, it ought to be an open meeting."