Portland’s City Council approved a settlement during a Feb. 6 meeting that would clear the record of a cop who was fired in 2017 for racist remarks made three days after a Portland Police Bureau officer fatally shot 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.
The vote to approve the settlement, which passed 4-1, came a week after Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty made comments on the public record about the exact nature of the statements leading to the city’s decision to fire PPB Sergeant Gregg Lewis.
According to the full termination letter released by the office of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, three other sergeants present at a Feb. 12, 2017 roll call reported Lewis for telling officers to “go out and shoot black people.”
Because of disciplinary standards established during 2016 police contract negotiations between the Portland Police Association and the city, PPA was able to challenge Lewis’ firing. Under the advice of city attorneys, the City Council opted to avoid the cost of a legal battle and instead pay off Lewis to ensure he was not reinstated after a lost arbitration case.
Hardesty, who was the sole vote in opposition to the settlement, said city attorneys and a staffer from the mayor’s office repeatedly told her the settlement was “the best deal we’re gonna get.”
“I asked the city attorney, right here in my office, ‘What’s the worst that happens if we go to arbitration and lose?’” Hardesty said.
According to Hardesty, the difference between the $100,000 paid to Lewis and the cost of a lost arbitration case amounts to approximately $8,000.
“I think a $108,000 settlement would send a strong message, because at least we fought for what was right and not what was just convenient for the city,” Hardesty said. “It may save $8,000 in taxpayer money, but it ruins the credibility of the city council and police officers who are sworn to protect and serve.”
As reported in Portland Mercury, commissioners who voted in favor of the settlement pointed to the potential costs of a legal battle with arbitrators and the importance of ensuring Lewis would not work for the city again.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, commenting on what she called a “flawed system” the week before the vote, said there were no good choices available.
“The public blames us, and to a certain extent that’s reasonable,” Eudaly said. “But our power has been bargained away.”
Commissioner Nick Fish said he would vote in favor of the settlement to save taxpayer money and ensure Lewis would not work for the City of Portland again.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz also emphasized the importance of keeping Lewis off the police force, according to a report by The Oregonian.
In an interview, Hardesty acknowledged the city’s poor track record in arbitration cases but said the cost savings were minimal, and Lewis can now get a job somewhere else.
“My fear is quite frankly, that there’s nothing to prevent him now from going to work in Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village or Salem,” Hardesty said.
In addition to the payout from the city, Lewis will have his firing erased from the record and show a retirement date of Dec. 8.
Commissioners on both sides of the vote raised concerns with the disciplinary standards incorporated into the most recent police contract negotiations.
“What I know is that the [PPB] negotiators are expert negotiators,” Hardesty said. “And the ones that negotiate on behalf of the public and the city seem to be brand new and not have any clue of how to make sure the public gets their best interests met.”
Fish also made comments to the mayor about the inadequacies of the the city’s legal team when going up against PPA attorneys, according to Portland Mercury. “I believe in the process, but I also believe in a fair fight,” he said.
Hardesty appeared at a listening session last year facilitated by Margolis Healy, whose comprehensive campus public safety review is currently behind schedule.
“[Margolis Healy CEO Steven Healy] appeared to be one of those drive-by consultants,” Hardesty said. “After a tragedy, he comes in, gets paid a bucket-load of money, he makes some recommendations and off he goes to the next tragedy. It would have been much more impactful to have hired someone locally who really understood the dynamics of the fight to put armed police at PSU.”
Hardesty suggested students concerned about campus safety issues model themselves after the students at Portland Public Schools. While Hardesty was being sworn in during her first day on City Council, PPS students protested outside City Hall against an agreement to have more police officers on public school campuses.
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