April 20, 1985: Portland's first female police chief falls from grace…

The Ruby Dragon sells crystals, chakras, sage for smudging rituals—everything to meet your metaphysical needs. The owner of the Morro Bay, Calif., shop is a trained crystal healer, color therapist and Reiki master teacher. She also was a cop once, best known as the first female police chief in Portland—or any large American city, for that matter.

It's been a winding road for Penny Harrington.

The city hailed Harrington as a hero for knocking down gender barriers when Mayor Bud Clark named her chief in January 1985. He pushed her out 17 months later after one of the most tempestuous periods in the Portland Police Bureau's history.

Harrington, then 42, had fought her way up to the rank of captain, in part by filing sex-discrimination cases against the male-dominated bureau.

As chief, Harrington called for long-overdue changes. She cut back the drug and vice squads to increase neighborhood patrols, and introduced the idea that officers should spend less time responding to calls and more time talking to citizens. (Her strategy didn't have a name then, but today it's called community policing.)

Harrington also wanted the bureau, with its history of tension with the black community, to cut down on the use of excessive force.

The national media loved Harrington, and Hollywood vied for the rights to her story.

It didn't take long to unravel. On April 20, 1985, Lloyd "Tony" Stevenson, a 31-year-old security guard, former Marine and father of five, went to play video games at the 7-Eleven at Northeast 3rd Avenue and Weidler Street. When a shoplifter fled the store, Stevenson helped two clerks collar the thief. Stevenson then got into a fight with a witness. When the cops arrived, they zeroed in on Stevenson, who was black.

Officer Gary Barbour wrapped his arm around Stevenson's neck from behind. The so-called carotid artery, or "sleeper," hold cuts off circulation to the brain. Stevenson passed out and died.

The death stunned the city. And then it got worse. The day of Stevenson's funeral, two white officers, Paul Wickersham and Richard Montee, sold T-shirts to fellow cops from the East Precinct headquarters parking lot. The shirts featured a stencil of a smoking handgun along with the message "Don't Choke 'Em, Smoke 'Em."

Harrington called for firing Wickersham and Montee over the T-shirt incident, and Clark agreed. (The two cops eventually got their jobs back. An inquest found Stevenson's death criminally negligent homicide, but Barbour and another officer involved were never charged.)

The rank and file turned against Harrington. She eventually gave her enemies all they needed to get rid of her.

In March 1986, Harrington revealed that her husband, Gary Harrington, himself a Portland cop, was under investigation for tipping off a suspected Old Town cocaine dealer about an ongoing drug case. (The Harringtons denied the allegations.)

Under pressure, Clark ordered an independent review. A three-member panel, all men, concluded Gary Harrington had tipped off the drug suspect. But the panel went further, and on June 2, 1986, released a report that ripped Penny Harrington for many of her management decisions as chief.

Clark, who had lost control of the situation, told Harrington he was going to demote her. She quit instead. As he left their meeting, Clark saw she was crestfallen and tried to think of something to say that would lift her spirits. "Tits up," he told her.

Harrington sued the city and lost. She went on to lead the National Center for Women in Policing and write a memoir. She divorced Gary, eventually settled in Morro Bay and opened her crystal shop.

She says her interest in the metaphysical came as part of her own healing.

“It was really hard as the first woman chief to fail,” Harrington says. “But what happened in Portland gave me more credibility elsewhere. People understood what happened to the city’s first female chief and that they had put me through the political meat grinder.”

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