Nation - Oregon Portland police chief fired following settlement City paid $1.6 million to settle wrongful death lawsuit

By William McCall

Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Portland Mayor Sam Adams fired the city's police chief Wednesday, a day after the city agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of a mentally ill man in police custody.

Adams said at a City Hall news conference the factors that went into his decision were "cumulative" but that he made up his mind Tuesday night and met with Police Chief Rosie Sizer on Wednesday morning.

He praised Sizer for her four years as chief, saying she "has accomplished some remarkable reforms" at the Portland Police Bureau.

But the mayor added: "Too often though, the reforms have come after, or in reaction to, failures at the bureau. I want to put the bureau on a more proactive reform path."

Adams named Mike Reese, the Central Precinct commander, as the new chief, effective with the announcement.

Reese was only a few hours into his new job when a traffic stop near a Portland shopping mall erupted in gunfire early Wednesday evening, leaving a man dead and a police officer wounded.

A man inside a car began struggling with officers during the traffic stop, pulled out a handgun and shot an officer, said police spokeswoman Detective Mary Wheat. Officers returned fire and killed the suspect, she said. The officer's injury was not life-threatening.

Adams said Sizer would take her remaining vacation time until she can officially retire on July 15 to preserve her full benefits.

Sizer could not immediately be reached for comment following the announcement.

The mayor also said he would take over immediately as police commissioner, a traditional role for the Portland mayor but one that Adams had delegated to City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

On Monday, Sizer criticized the mayor's proposed budget, and was joined by Saltzman. Adams said Wednesday the dispute over the budget "forced the timeline" of his decision to fire Sizer and take over as police commissioner. He did not elaborate.

Adams also said budget cuts in many social service agencies are forcing Portland police officers to act as social workers, and they will have to take on more of that role as a practical matter.

"We are overwhelmed with the demand for services," Adams said. "That's the reality. They are the first responders. And with $2.8 billion in anticipated additional cuts from the state budget, I wish I could say that's going to change, but it's not."

Jason Renaud, co-founder of the Mental Health Association of Portland, said police in Portland are following a national trend.

"Cops are social workers," Renaud said. "They manage people with mental illness and addiction problems every day. They don't bring down bank robbers and murderers every day."

On Tuesday, Saltzman announced the $1.6 million settlement in the police custody death lawsuit and made a public apology to the family of James Chasse Jr., who died in September 2006 after he was tackled by officers on a street corner, breaking 16 ribs and puncturing his lung.

Chasse, 42, suffered from schizophrenia, and his family sued the city, Multnomah County and an ambulance company. The county settled for $925,000, and American Medical Response settled for a reported $600,000.

Two Portland officers involved in the arrest were disciplined, and Sizer launched a reform program for dealing with the mentally ill that includes 40 hours of crisis intervention training for all officers.

Sizer also has had to deal with the fallout from the death of an unarmed young black man who was shot in the back by a Portland officer with a rifle during a standoff in late January.

Aaron Campbell's death sparked a protest march on City Hall and a confrontation with Adams by leaders of Portland's black community, followed by a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who called the police shooting "an execution."

Reviews are under way by the U.S. Department of Justice and the police bureau.

Adams said Wednesday he wants to improve relationships between police and the entire community, but especially minorities.

Published: Fri, May 14, 2010