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TEN YEARS LATER, WHAT HAS THE DEATH OF JOSE MEJIA POOT MEANT FOR PORTLAND?

Martin Gonzalez and Dan Handelman reflect back on the changes in the Portland Police regrading the anniversary of 10 years to the day, (April 1)since day laborer Jose Santos
Victor Mejia Poot was shot and killed by Portland Police Officers responding to
a 9-1-1 call while he was in inside a mental hospital. Specific Demands were made by the community back then, ten years later, we are still waiting.
TEN YEARS LATER, WHAT HAS THE DEATH OF JOSE MEJIA POOT MEANT FOR PORTLAND?

by Martin Gonzalez and Dan Handelman

Today, April 1, 2011 marks 10 years to the day since day laborer Jose Santos
Victor Mejia Poot was shot and killed by Portland Police Officers responding to
a 9-1-1 call inside a mental hospital. Such an anniversary seems a good time to
examine where we were as a City then and what has changed.

Mr. Mejia did not have a mental illness, but rather was suffering a seizure
from epilepsy when he found himself 20 cents shy of bus fare two days earlier.
Officers called to the bus dragged Mr. Mejia out and reportedly beat him. Once
released from jail, Mr. Mejia, a Native American from the Yucatan peninsula who
did not speak English nor much Spanish, confused and penniless, was
misdiagnosed as having a mental illness and brought to Gateway center on March
30, 2001.

Two days later, a staff nurse called the police after Mr. Mejia got out of his
room and allegedly threatened staff with a pencil. Officers responded,
including the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained officer who knew how to
de-escalate a situation. Mr. Mejia was returned to his room without incident. A
few hours later, he got out again, the nurse called again, but the CIT officer
was no longer on duty. The officers who responded confronted Mr. Mejia, who
allegedly grabbed the aluminum push rod from a door, and they shot and killed
him.

To its credit, the City put together a series of forums to hear from the
community about what they would want to see changed. The community had put
forward a list of 10 demands for the City, the police and for Tri-Met.

However, a few steps taken drove the wedge between community and police
further: Chief Mark Kroeker awarded two of the officers involved in the
shooting with medals; then, community members seeking to appeal the finding of
"no misconduct" for the beating on the bus were prevented from using the City's
Citizen Review Committee by administrative declaration of the Independent
Police Review Division director, the City Auditor, and the City Attorney.

Since then, the hospital settled with the family and closed its doors; the City
settled with the family for a small amount of money and an agreement to conduct
at least one hour of CIT training and training about epilepsy for all
officers, and the agreement to buy less lethal weapons as an alternative
to firearms.

So what has changed at the Portland Police Bureau?

One of the community demands that grew out of the incident was to get CIT
training for all officers. That happened, but not until after the death
of James Chasse, Jr in 2006.

Among the ten specific demands from the community forums after Mr. Mejia's
death was the creation of a citizens police review board and changes to
deadly force policies. The IPR was created in 2001 and strengthened some
in 2010; however, it still falls short of community expectations for a
strong oversight body. In 2008, Chief Sizer changed the use of force
policy to encourage officers to use the least force necessary; that new
rule is clearly up to interpretation as officers have been involved in 9
shootings since January of 2010. It is certainly a healthy change,
however, that there have been no awards given out for controversial
shootings in recent years, and that current Chief Mike Reese called the
number of shootings "unacceptable" and pledged to find ways to avoid
future incidents. Another demand was for diversity training, which has
been offered to officers with mixed success and little input from the
community.

Looking at other demands from 2001, the community wanted strict standards for
officers dealing with individuals with disabilities, hiring officers to reflect
the size of Portland's Latino population, and for the City to pass an ordinance
against police brutality. On these points, we are still waiting.

Martin Gonzalez was the coordinator of the Justice for Jose Mejia Poot
Committee and currently sits on the Portland School Board. Dan Handelman
participated in the Committee and is a member of Portland Copwatch.

Portland Copwatch(a project of Peace and Justice Works)
PO Box 42456Portland, OR 97242
503-236-3065 (office)
503-321-5120 (incident report line)
 copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

 http://www.portlandcopwatch.org

Bottom Line Summary 02.Apr.2011 13:55

Den Mark, Vancouver

Bottom line summary: what has changed?
Answer: almost nothing.

It's not like the baseline was acceptable, & community activists simply wanted improvement. It's that the baseline was & has been totally UNacceptable, & improvement requests should not have had to be made in the first place. They should have been givens.

Be humane! What a concept!

Mejia Poot's murder was unspeakably revolting.