Police oversight group, COAB, holds first meeting

OPB News, April 3, 2015

The downtown parking garage where Brad Morgan died.

The downtown parking garage where Brad Morgan died.

Portland has a new police oversight group, the Community Oversight Advisory Board. It’s made up of five police officers and 15 citizen volunteers, including people living with disabilities and mental illnesses.

The group is part of a legal settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which had found a pattern of excessive use of force by officers, particularly against people with perceived mental illness.

In an often-tense first hearing Thursday night, the Community Oversight Advisory Board invited members of the public to describe their experiences with Portland police.

Shelly Ann Hall was among those who called for more oversight of the police. Hall described losing her son Brad Morgan in 2012.

Morgan had called 911 from the roof of a downtown Portland parking garage, saying he was suicidal. Police dispatched to help tried to talk him down, but shot and killed him when they believed he was reaching for a gun.

“All he wanted was help. He didn’t want to die. And he had an 8 month old son. I can’t go home and hug my son every night. I have a daughter I can go home and hug, but where’s my son,” Hall said.

She said she had talked him down from a building roof during an earlier crisis and she wishes they had walked away and called her. A grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the police officers who were involved.

Other people came to share positive experiences, including tavern bartender Ohana Bowling. She thanked the officers in her neighborhood who help her when customers get out of hand

“I have seen the officers come in just as a couple guys who want to get a cup of coffee before work, I have seen them come in to do their job,” she said. “I have seen them come in to try to make some kind of contact with the people from this community that they patrol to get to know them before they have to get to know them.”

Camille Elmore, the daughter of retired assistant chief Dorothea Elmore and Captain Vince Elmore, called for a more civil conversation.

“I’m not sure, as a young person, if we’re going to change if we’re going to leave this room feeling the way we do, and expect to accomplish anything,” she said. “I see that there is a lot of injustice going on with police brutality against men and women of color. On the other hand I see that there are a lot of incidents that require the police. And we can’t deny that.”

A dozen or so police officers attended the hearing, including Chief Larry O’Day. The Community Oversight Advisory Board will meet again April 9.