Portland accuses DOJ of moving cops accountability goalposts

August 10, 2022 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The city of Portland has accused the U.S. Department of Justice of stating incorrect information and misinterpreting police programs while negotiations continue about how to bring Portland back into compliance with a police use of force federal settlement agreement.

City attorneys responded in July to the Justice Department’s sixth periodic assessment with a line-by-line rebuttal claiming the Justice Department is moving the goalposts or simply wrong, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. OPB obtained a copy of the rebuttal through a public records request.

The Justice Department declined to comment to the media outlet.

“The city believed, until recently, that the parties were working under a common understanding of the requirements of the Settlement Agreement,” the city’s response to the DOJ says. “This year’s Compliance Assessment Report, however, revealed numerous areas where a difference in the parties’ understanding led to a DOJ finding of only ‘partial compliance’ with particular provisions.”

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The rebuttal was delivered in a closed-door meeting July 28, one day after the city and federal prosecutors updated U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon on the city’s progress in implementing agreed-upon changes. Ahead of that court appearance, the city filed a response to the Justice Department focusing on areas where the city had been successful.

Now, Portland city attorneys say the Justice Department is shifting requirements. For example, the Justice Department said the city was in only partial compliance with a section requiring the Portland Police Bureau’s Behavioral Health Unit Advisory Committee to advise the bureau on interactions with people in mental health crises. The Justice Department said the city had failed to follow through on a commitment to have the committee review actual police encounters rather than simply advise on policies and training methods.

“DOJ now interprets the stated goal of the paragraph as requiring BHUAC to review the violent encounters themselves. The city disagrees with that interpretation.”

To be freed from the settlement agreement and the accompanying federal oversight, Portland must be found in compliance and remain in compliance with the settlement’s terms for one year. The city in February 2020 was found in compliance for the first time since the agreement took effect in 2014.

But the Department of Justice and the independent group overseeing the agreement, found the police bureau’s forceful response to racial justice protests later that year exposed significant shortcomings and the city fell out of compliance.

City attorneys also said in other sections of their rebuttal that federal prosecutors’ facts were wrong. In the July 27 court appearance, the Justice Department tentatively conceded it may have erred.

“We measure compliance based upon data presented to us,” said Jonas Geissler, the federal prosecutor overseeing the settlement agreement. “If there is an error we are pleased to correct it.”

Geissler said they plan to conduct a more in-depth audit of the cases in question.