Letter to all mental health advocates: DOJ v PDX settlement mediation

Eds note: This letter was sent to all major Portland-area treatment providers two weeks ago.  There was no response.

We are writing to bring you up to date on another step in the the continuing lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice, which seeks to compel police reforms and bring an end to a pattern of excessive, unnecessary force in Portland Police encounters with persons diagnosed with, or thought to have, mental illness.

Currently a proposed settlement agreement, outlining a package of remedial measures by the City of Portland, has been submitted to the court, and the parties have a chance to comment.  Details and disagreements will be worked out in formal mediation. Given the divergent interests at the table, there will be substantial revisions, and the final settlement will completely satisfy nobody. However, it’s also likely to contain much that is positive from each party’s point of view.  And if the agreement satisfies the DOJ, the lawsuit against the city could be dismissed or tabled contingent on successful follow-through with promised reforms.

As you may know, our group, the Mental Health Association of Portland, has been a member organization of the AMA Coalition on Justice and Police Reform for many years. Judge Michael Simon has granted the Coalition amicus status in the mediation. This is roughly equal to intervenor status, which was awarded to the Portland Police Association, but the AMA Coalition is not a party to the suit, and would not be allowed to appeal a decision by the court.  The Mental Health Association of Portland has contributed to the Coalition’s response to the section of the settlement on changes to Portland’s community mental health system.

The mediation itself will be secret. The AMA Coalition – which includes several churches, Sisters of the Road, Disability Rights Oregon, Portland Copwatch, ACLU Oregon, Oregon Action, Jobs with Justice and Basic Rights Oregon – will be represented by its steering committee. The members are not mental health advocates; their concerns center on police training and accountability.  They do, however, understand mental health solutions are prominently featured in the settlement, and are willing to bring forward the responses we provide.

There are about 40 distinct ideas on mental health reform included in the settlement.  It is likely that many of these will be present, in some form, in the final settlement agreement. They are not all good ideas, however.  A couple are worthwhile; others simply affirm existing resources; the balance range from implausible to insulting. It appears the author(s) were well-intentioned, inexperienced, and in all aspects, sympathetic to police concerns.

The mediation will happen in late April and May, after police union contract negotiations have concluded.

Mental Health Association of Portland has several concerns about the settlement.  Our responses emphasize:

1.  Inclusion of persons with mental illness.  The wide community of persons who are likely to be in a mental health crisis must have the opportunity to provide worthwhile input at every point, including a meaningful presence on committees and substantial participation in development of policies and procedures.

2.  Transparency.  All newly formed and ongoing police services around mental health crisis must be non-secret and easily available to the public, including contact information for key players, public meeting information, minutes, training curricula, and outcome data.

3.  Crisis services.  We agree resources for mental health crisis are insufficient, and there is a need to develop one or more walk-in crisis centers.  We suggest these centers should be peer-run and peer-staffed.

These are challenging ideas, but not impossible.  You probably have some ideas as well. There are many stakeholders in the mental health and addictions service community who will not be at the table.  We suggest those persons contact the negotiators, by visit or letter, as soon as possible.

The proposed settlement agreement may be downloaded here: http://tinyurl.com/anur3cu

Mediator: Paul De Muniz, PDeMuniz@willamette.edu (More information about De Muniz: http://tinyurl.com/cywrjeu)

The DOJ’s counsel: Jonas Geissler, Jonas.Geissler@usdoj.gov, Adrian Brown, adrian.brown@usdoj.gov and Billy Williams, BWilliams3@usa.doj.gov

The PPA’s counsel: Anil Karia, anil@miketlaw.com

The City’s counsel: Jim Van Dyke, Jim.VanDyke@portlandoregon.gov and Ellen Osoinach, Ellen.Osoinach@portlandoregon.gov

The AMA Coalition will be represented by its steering committee: Rev. LeRoy Haynes, allentemple@qwestoffice.net , Rev. T. Allen Bethel, pastortallen@aol.com , Dan Handelman, copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org , Joanne Hardesty, joannhardesty@gmail.com , and its lawyer: Shauna Curphey, scurphey@curpheylaw.com

We hope this information is helpful.