Police chief issues video message linking officer injuries to settlement concerns

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Nov. 8, 2012

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese sent a video message to his police bureau officers about an unusual spate of officer injuries in the last week.

He said he recognizes his officers are concerned about the pending negotiated settlement between the city and federal justice officials, which includes changes to the bureau’s use of force and Taser policies.

“Your safety is a top priority for me personally,” Reese told his force. “And it’s been hard on all of us this past week to see and hear about officers injured while doing their best to resolve these incidents.”

Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner said officers are very concerned about being “second guessed” regarding their use of force. Turner said he believes the increase in police injuries since the Justice Department’s settlement was announced last month “is not coincidental.”

In the chief’s video, Reese provides a summary of each incident, starting with the Oct. 30 confrontation downtown in which a man pulled a dagger and shoved officers who he said were investigating a possible drug offense or car prowl. Officer John Billard suffered significant injuries, the chief said, and is now recovering at home.

On Nov. 2, Officers Tequila Thurman and Chad Phifer narrowly escaped injury when they made contact with two men in a vehicle in the downtown Safeway’s basement parking garage. According to Reese, one of the officers noticed narcotics in the vehicle and started to talk to the driver. The driver grabbed onto one officer as he started the vehicle. The officer was able to get out of his grasp as the driver put the vehicle in gear. The vehicle struck other cars and poles in the basement garage and the side of a police car.

On Nov. 3, North Precinct officers Justin Clary and Mark McGlaughlin responded to an assault at a gas station, and ended up in a violent struggle with the suspect. Their use of the pepper spray, batons and Taser stun gun were ineffective, the chief said. Once cover officers arrived, the suspect was Tased again and surrendered.

Later that day, the chief spoke of the protest near Holladay Park and the Lloyd Center that resulted in the controversial police pepper spraying of marchers.

Reese said it turned violent “when marchers turned in coordinated movement to directly confront” a line of police officers. The chief said multiple bicycle officers were knocked off their bicycles when “multiple rows of people used wooden barriers to ram at” a line of bicycle officers.

Police used pepper spray against the marchers.

On Wednesday, about 20 high school and community college students gathered outside Portland City Hall to protest the officers’ use of the chemical during Saturday’s march.The teens said they were marching alongside several hundred demonstrators when at least 10 teens were hit with pepper spray while attempting to turn onto Northeast 14th Avenue from Halsey Street.

Police said the crowd did not have a permit to enter the roadway. Officers deployed the spray after demonstrators used wooden shields to confront them, police said.

“I’m relieved all the officers involved in these incidents are going to be okay,” Reese said in the video. “It is a reminder that though we have a relatively peaceful city, there are times violence can occur.”

The chief also spoke of the Molotov cocktail that was hurled at a North Precinct patrol car in the precinct’s parking lot earlier this week. There were damage to the car, but no officers were injured.

“I know you are keenly aware of the Department of Justice settlement discussions, and have concerns about what that means to our policies, training and practices surrounding use of force,” Reese said.

The chief continued, “I want you to know that I support your daily work in the tough situations that officers respond to and the need to use reasonable force to take people into custody or to keep our community safety.”

He added, “Your safety is a top priority for me personally,” and urged officers to stay safe and cover each other on their emergency calls.

Turner, who leads the Portland police union, said he was dismayed that no street officers were involved in helping the bureau provide input to proposed revisions to the bureau’s use of force policies.

“We have a rash of injuries to officers in incidents that probably could have been resolved more efficiently if officers weren’t so concerned about being Monday morning quarterbacked,” Turner said. “We believe the proposed use of force policy will hinder officers from using tools that are available to them.”

Getting to know Tequila Thurman

Doorstepped: Defendant Allegedly Tasered Three Times, Beaten By Cops, Trying To Open Her Own Front Door, Portland Mercury, February 2, 2009.

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Vancouver man wins $11,250 after illegal search by Portland police officer, Oregonian, November 7, 2012