Judge Simon, unimpressed with idea of dismissing lawsuit, or of unmonitored agreement, gives parties two more weeks to get it right

The Skanner, March 25, 2014

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon

A final decision on the proposed settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Portland has been pushed back to April 14.

At the hearing, reported in The Oregonian, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon said he wanted an annual review of progress on the agreement, designed to resolve a finding that Portland Police Bureau had violated the rights of people with mental illness.

Simon told the parties he did not want to end the federal lawsuit against the city immediately. Instead he told the court he favored putting it on hold and requiring annual progress reports. According to The Oregonian, Simon told the court:

“I am not satisfied with the prospect that three-and-a-half years can go by with the court hearing absolutely nothing on how substantial compliance is progressing.”

Lawyers for the city and the Justice Department had asked Simon to dismiss the suit and accept the settlement. And they raised concerns that if the judge did not dismiss the case, the settlement would be open to challenge, from the police union.

Simon allowed the parties two weeks to find a solution that would allow for the annual progress reports to the court.

Rev. LeRoy Haynes from the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, said advocates are pleased that the judge intends to remain involved.

“Judge Simon will have an opportunity to raise concerns and questions at these annual reviews,” he said. “Having Judge Simon continue giving oversight will add strength to the agreement, and allow for correcting any problems.”

Haynes said the coalition will continue to play a role through the five years, reporting its view on progress or problems to the judge.

“We think the hearings are essential to the fulfillment of the agreement and to further plans to change the culture of the police bureau as well as its policies and procedures,” Haynes said.

He said he hopes citizens will tell city commissioners that the annual review is important.

Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch said he would have liked to see changes to the agreement that reflected concerns raised by the community at a Feb. 18 and 19 court hearing. And he welcomed the annual review.

“Otherwise the community is shut out of this process.”

A community advisory board will be created, he said but the Department of Justice is the monitor.

“We were originally hoping for the Compliance Officer Community Liaison’s quarterly reports to go to the judge,” Handelman said. “But something is better than nothing and it looks as if we’re heading to something.

“There’s tremendous potential for things to get better, but I’m still skeptical,” Handelman said.

Next steps for the agreement:

  • City attorneys will report back to Portland City Council.
  • The parties will return to court April 14, probably with an agreement that will include the annual report to Judge Simon.
  • The city will hire a Compliance Officer Community Liaison. Applications are currently under consideration.