Naming names when Portland cops beat up on the mentally ill

Column by Steve Duin of The Oregonian, September 16, 2012

Roll call!

Acting Sgt. Mathew Delenikos, responding to a report that an Old Town irregular was spitting on cars, pepper-sprayed Aaron Ferguson then fired his Taser four times when Ferguson refused to be handcuffed.

Officer Joshua Sparks four times fired his Taser at a naked and unarmed diabetic undergoing a medical emergency.

Called to an Old Town apartment for a welfare check, Officers Chad Phifer and Kevin Allen repeatedly punched and tased the incoherent Samuel Serrill because, like Ferguson, he wouldn’t offer his wrists up for handcuffs.

Officer Richard Storm punched Fausto Brambila-Naranjo seven to 10 times in the face when Brambila-Naranjo, who’d been standing in the rain for more than an hour, kicked at Storm and missed.

Finally, Officer Gedemynas Jakubauskas uncorked a beanbag round at a 42-year-old man with a history of mental illness, and Officer Kevin Wolf jolted the guy with his Taser when he refused to interlace his fingers.

We’re naming names because the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t in a 14-month investigation that re-established that Portland police engage — present tense, sports fans — in “a pattern or practice of unnecessary or unreasonable force during interactions with people who have or are perceived to have mental illness.”

That gave Chief Mike Reese sufficient cover to argue, “What we’re talking about today is about process and systems, not about police officers. … They’re not the ones to blame.”

Yes. They. Are. And the refusal to say so is just one of the bizarre disconnects between the investigation’s acidic conclusions and the DOJ’s everything-is-groovy press gala.

The investigation uncovered “deficiencies in policy, training and supervision.”

It spotlighted the bureau’s reckless use of Tasers and the beat-downs endured by unarmed individuals who did not exhibit threatening conduct.

The review of “hundreds of police reports revealed that rarely was the use of force found to be out of policy, even when the force used was clearly excessive.” Investigators found “persistent deficiencies” in those reports and criticized the bureau’s Byzantine and “self-defeating accountability system.”

And in an especially egregious footnote, DOJ decried “the callous attitude toward officer violence” displayed by the training division’s decision to celebrate Officer Chris Humphreys‘ infamous 2009 deployment of a beanbag gun on an unarmed, 12-year-old girl.

Few of these conclusions will surprise anyone who has been paying attention in recent years.

In releasing the report, you might have thought Amanda Marshall, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, and Tom Perez, from DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, would have been apoplectic.

No, they bordered on apologetic.

Never mind the symbolism of staging the group hug in the bureau’s conference room at the Justice Center. Marshall was hard pressed to utter a critical word about the bureau, gushing instead over the response of Reese and Mayor Sam Adams to the 42-page critique:

“They immediately asked, ‘Where can we go from here?'”

Perez was even more effusive. He thanked Reese and Adams for their “remarkable cooperation” with federal investigators — they had a choice? — and insisted, “They have not waited for a report to implement reform. The reform has been ongoing.”

That’s headline news to the pastors, attorneys and mental-health specialists who have been talking to that brick wall for years.

But I guess I should cut Reese a little slack. When DOJ investigators told the chief his training officers were showcasing Humphreys’ ability to subdue a rowdy 12-year-old, Reese ordered them to knock it off.

As the Department of Justice makes clear, cops are often the first and only responders when there are gaping holes in the state’s mental-health safety net.

While the demands on police are brutal, those demands don’t justify the brutality that has become all-too-common practice for Portland cops — Delenikos and Sparks, Phifer and Allen, Storm and Jakubauskas and Wolf — in dealing with the mentally ill.

And when Reese and union president Daryl Turner continue to insist all individual officers are blameless, I’m at a loss to understand why Marshall and the feds believe change is in the wind.