Portland, U.S. Justice Department Plan More Hearings in Wake of Dismal Oversight Report

Mayor Ted Wheeler says he remains “optimistic that we are making substantial progress.”

City and federal attorneys converged this morning in Courtroom 15B of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse to gauge Portland’s progress in reducing the use of force by police against protesters and people with mental illness. The city is bound by a 2014 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice after the feds found a “pattern and practice” of using excessive force against the mentally ill.

After a two-hour hearing in front of a judge, during which officials and advocates offered vastly different interpretations of the DOJ’s latest assessment of the city’s progress toward upholding the agreement, everyone tentatively agreed to meet again later this year.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he remains “optimistic that we are making substantial progress.”

In fact, both the federal government and an independent assessor found the city was doing significantly worse, pointing to an increase in police violence against people with mental illness and an inability to acknowledge and address the city’s failures during the 2020 George Floyd protests.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said she was “profoundly disappointed.”

“I’ve lost faith in the city attorney, I’ve lost faith in the DOJ,” she added. “I think the city has lost all interest in actually being held accountable,” she added.

It is now the eighth year of federal oversight of the Portland Police Bureau. The Department of Justice’s concerns initially focused on the bureau’s treatment of people with mental illness, but has expanded to its ability to monitor and address officer misconduct, particularly during the 2020 protests.

The bureau has yet to resolve many of the federal government’s ongoing concerns. Department of Justice attorneys pointed to 30 paragraphs of the 2014 settlement agreement where the city was not yet in full compliance.

The independent assessor said only 23 paragraphs were out of compliance, but that was still six more than last year.

One of the findings by the Department of Justice was that the number of violent encounters between the police and people with mental illnesses increased.

It also criticized the Police Bureau for excusing “out-of-policy conduct” by its specialized crowd control team during the 2020 protests.

There were eight shootings by Portland police officers last year, many involving people with mental illness. This year, there have already been four. Seven occurred in 2012, the year the Department of Justice sued the city, according to a database kept by Portland Copwatch.

One of the men killed last year was Robert Delgado, who was shot in Lents Park. He was playing with a replica gun and appeared to be in the midst of a mental health crisis.

“I cannot believe we are still here begging for change,” his sister, Tina Delgado, told the court.

At one point during this morning’s proceedings, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon threw up his arms and said, “You can’t get rid of me, it seems.”

He turned to the city attorney, Robert Taylor.

“As much as some of you want to.”