City attorney had argued deadlines to ensure compliance are 'not the Portland way'

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Mayor Charlie Hales wants the council to approve an effort to block the city from having to report more than once a year to a federal judge on police oversight. In an unusual move, Mayor Charlie Hales is escalating the city's legal assault on the federal judge overseeing the city's compliance with a federal police oversight agreement — causing critics to cry gamesmanship.

Hales is asking the council to authorize a writ of mandamus — essentially an appeal — blocking U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon from requiring the city to report back on its progress in re-establishing a citizens oversight board to monitor the city's 2014 settlement.

A writ likely would go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Interestingly, the resolution offered by Hales doesn't limit the city attorney to challenging the additional hearing. It also indirectly attacks Simon for allowing public comments at a court hearing on Oct. 25, some of which attacked city employees.

Click here to read the proposed City Council resolution

A response issued Friday by the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform agreed that some of the comments were inappropriate, but accused the city of "using this unfortunate incident to change the narrative and take the focus off of" the city's failure to comply with parts of the agreement. "AMA … continues to oppose the City's delays and reluctance to move forward with the community's proposals."

Hales' office did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

For the last two years, Simon has presided over the 2014 agreement in which Portland officials accepted outside oversight in response to what federal prosecutors called a pattern of police violating the civil rights of mentally ill people.

It's hardly a secret that the city perceives Simon as overly sympathetic to police critics. Some observers view Hales' resolution as an effort to get the judge to back off on pressuring the city to fulfill the settlement it agreed to two years ago — or lay the groundwork to get him removed from the case altogether.

"I think they don't like having to be responsible to a higher authority," said Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch.

The AMA Coalition statement questions the city's claim that the judge can't order the city to report on its progress more than once a year. The judge ordered the city to file a report on its progress by Dec. 2, and show up at a Jan. 31 hearing as well.

Simon has repeatedly expressed his willingness to take action to enforce the settlement if the city does not make the required progress on police reforms, all but inviting the federal government to file a motion that would let him step in.

At the Oct. 25 hearing, the city argued that the deadlines advocated by the judge and the federal government to report back are not how the community of Portland operates, and could contribute to hasty solutions with unintended consequences.

"We respectfully disagree with the United States' position that what needs to happen are deadlines," Deputy City Attorney Ellen Osoinach argued in an Oct. 25 hearing. "'In 30 days we will come back to you; in 90 days we will come back to you.' That's not the Portland way."

When that argument was unsuccessful, five members of the City Council and elected Auditor Mary Hull Caballero signed a letter expressing their "unanimous condemnation of the behavior permitted to occur" at the Oct. 25 hearing, referring to testimony allowed by Simon.

The letter raised "concern of partiality and the City's ability to receive fair treatment from this court."

Under pressure from Simon and the U.S. DOJ, the city has made major changes to officer training and how the police bureau tracks and investigates the use of force. The most glaring area where the city has not complied with the settlement has to do with community oversight, according to court filings.

The federal settlement was supposed to be overseen by a Community Oversight Advisory Board set up to work with consultants tasked with monitoring the bureau's compliance.

However, that board has been crippled by infighting and the city's failure to fill vacancies on the board, as well as police critics' disruptions of board meetings. Late on Friday the city filed a report in federal court saying it is working on redesigning the board. Among other things, the city is contemplating closing regular board meetings to the public — an apparent response to the disruptions.

The AMA Coalition expressed the hope that Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler will take a more cooperative approach upon taking office, saying it "is concerned that the City is refusing to comply with the Judge's order."