The U.S. Department of Justice, the city of Portland and the Portland Police Association will go to trial to argue the merits of last fall's scathing report by the DOJ that said police engage in a pattern of excessive force against the mentally ill.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon said today during a scheduled summary conference that he'll likely set a trial date for the DOJ case for summer 2014.The trial will first focus on the facts in DOJ's report, released in September 2012. It will give the city and the police union a chance to defend against whether or not Portland's cops have actually engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive violence.
Attorneys for the Department of Justice asked that the union be left out of the arguments, saying the settlement is only against the city.
"The city is accountable to make the changes, not the union," Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrian Brown said after the conference.
But Simon said he is inclined to allow the Portland Police Association to be part of the trial. (The parties may still reach an agreement on the settlement outside of court).
While both the city and the union are both named as defendants, it's clear they don't see eye-to-eye on many of the issues and remedies in the DOJ settlement.
The city and the police union are negotiating a new contract right now. There are signs negotiations are stalled—and the biggest hangups are likely over DOJ-mandated changes such as establishing a disciplinary guide and eliminating the rule that gives officers involved in shootings 48 hours to consult with union lawyers before giving a statement.
Simon says that, because it is a bench trial, "he'll be able to handle it" if the proceedings get "cumbersome."
First briefings on the case will be due on Oct. 21, and oral arguments will be Dec. 3, Simon said.
The DOJ and the city reached a 74-page settlement in October. But the PPA and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform both asked to be parties to the settlement.
Also at the conference, the city and the Albina Ministerial Alliance said they had come to an agreement.
The Albina Ministerial Alliance has agreed not to object to the settlement, but added in a press release that the group remains concerned about police use of force; community input on police training; and the Citizen Review Committee's "deferential standard of review and oversight into officer-involved shootings and deaths."
"We are moving in the right direction and are cautiously optimistic that changes will take place," AMA chairman LeRoy Haynes says in the release.
Update 3:01 pm: Mayor Charlie Hales issued a statement on the trial date.
“I am pleased the court provided such clear guidance to all parties regarding next steps in the City’s and U.S. Department of Justice’s draft Settlement Agreement.
Both the Justice Department and the public are expecting us to change practices in our Police Bureau. We are doing so, and will continue to do so, because they are the right things to do. I believe that, by setting a potential trial date a year in the future, the court is expressing trust in our continued focus and action.
The result will be the same whether commitments are codified in a Settlement Agreement or in City Policy: we will demonstrate continuous commitment to civil rights in the Portland Police Bureau.”