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Task force will aim to 'foster an informed, solution-oriented dialogue' to remove bias

PMG FILE PHOTO - After revelations of police misconduct have surfaced over the past two months, the city of West Linn will be creating a police department oversight task force.After placing Police Chief Terry Kruger on leave, the city of West Linn continues its diversity and equity efforts in the police department and beyond as a response to the racially-charged 2017 arrest of a black man that plunged the West Linn Police Department (WLPD) into a national scandal earlier this year.

At a virtual City Council meeting Monday, April 13, community member Kathy Selvaggio spoke on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of West Linn — a group that formed after new and damning details of Portland resident Michael Fesser's arrest came to light in February — and applauded the city for its response to the scandal.

Selvaggio said she hoped the city's independent investigation of the arrest and surrounding circumstances would be truly independent and broad enough to extend beyond employees at WLPD. She also noted investigators should have the power to subpoena witnesses and turn any potentially criminal evidence over to prosecutors.

Other investigations by local, state and federal authorities into the Fesser arrest are also underway.

Selvaggio also mentioned that the concerned citizens group had recently spoken with Fesser and learned that he was disappointed that the city did not seem to be following through with supposed commitments to tie West Linn with Fesser's own southeast Portland community.

To settle Fesser's discrimination lawsuit against the city (along with a $600,000 payout from the city's insurance provider to Fesser), he and his family met with Kruger, Mayor Russ Axelrod and other city officials last month. At a community meeting following his talk with city officials, Fesser told citizens he wanted to work with the city to bridge the racial divide that exists in West Linn.

Fesser's feelings on West Linn's follow-up to his initial meeting have not been confirmed beyond the account given by Selvaggio.

Axelrod said that his plans to meet with Fesser again, along with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, had been disrupted by the coronavirus crisis. He also said he would reach out to Fesser again this week.

During Monday's meeting, Councilor Jules Walters presented an outline for a police department oversight task force. Such a task force has been mentioned by councilors numerous times since the scandal overtook the city two months ago.

"This incident did not happen in a vacuum and the sentiments behind it —racism, cronyism, and systemic prejudice — are things that need to be brought to light and eradicated," Walters wrote in the task force overview.

Walters said she'd like the task force to have eight-to-14 members to "foster an informed, solution-oriented dialogue to remove all systems of racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance,

homophobia, transphobia, gender discrimination, and any other form of bias from our government and police force."

This task force would create a police department oversight "entity" according to Walters.

Councilor Teri Cummings suggested that the oversight should extend beyond the police department to other areas within the city because the "attitudes of cronyism and that sort of thing possibly permeate the city systemically."

Councilors are to supply feedback to Walters' ideas and identify members for the task force next month.


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