With the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) now at work on the RCMP shooting of Greg Matters, it is worth reconsidering an In-Sights article written in 2011. Following appointment of Richard Rosenthal as IIO chief, sources advised me that his record as Portland’s police watchdog was tarnished by a too-cozy relationship with law enforcement personnel.
The Prince George homicide of Greg Matters is the first test of BC’s new IIO. It seems not to be an auspicious opener. Thursday, 250 News reported IIO Independence Questioned:
…The IIO team members have been making full use of resources of the RCMP, including conducting interviews at the North District headquarters, home of the ERT unit which was involved in the incident.
…The use of local resources also includes the use of the RCMP’s forensics experts.
…With IIO investigators working so closely with the RCMP, using their experts and in some cases their vehicles, the question of independence in this investigation comes to the forefront…
The following is my piece from December 2011:
A decade ago, Richard Rosenthal left the Los Angeles prosecutors’ office to lead Portland’s new Office of Independent Police Review. L.A. Deputy District Attorney Jim Cosper said it was a good choice. However, attorney Stephen Yagman, remarking also on Portland’s selection of police chief Mark Kroeker, had the opposite view,
Portland’s loss is L.A’s gain. Portland has become a toxic waste dump for Los Angeles law enforcement.
Rosenthal had been a key prosecutor in the Los Angeles Ramparts police scandal where many officers were accused of unjustified shootings, beatings, lying under oath, stealing, dealing drugs and planting evidence.
According to Willamette Week:
…the Rampart probe today is widely viewed as a fiasco. None of the convictions has held up on appeal. Attorneys, including prosecutors, have attacked its handling, saying only a fraction of the likely police misconduct has been punished.
The Portland weekly also wrote:
Charles Lindner, a past president of the L.A. criminal defense bar, says Rosenthal has tremendous legal skills and high integrity, but may be too quick to believe authority figures like judges–or police.
Richard tends to believe the good guys, or the guys who are supposed to be the good guys,” Lindner says. “There’s a sense among my colleagues that he doesn’t ask the hard follow-up questions. I think if he sees [misconduct] he will be tenacious in going after it. The question is, will he see it?
Rosenthal’s 2001 salary in Portland was $67,000 (equivalent to $82,500 in 2011). When he departed for Denver in 2005, he earned $89,000 ($99,600 in 2011 dollars). His new Colorado position paid $110,000 at the start ($123,000 in 2011 dollars). His salary in British Columbia is said to be $210,000, an amount that will be far higher after pension costs, relocation and other expenses.
Predictably, Rosenthal’s near four year term in Portland was controversial. He was critical of the official responses to police shootings and exposed other officer wrong-doing but five members of his citizens’ Independent Police Review committee resigned, saying Rosenthal was too cop-friendly. Asked to name his major achievements in Oregon, Rosenthal included one that seems incredibly modest. It was:
the creation of a “management information system where complaints don’t get lost anymore.”
I contacted Dan Handelman of portlandcopwatch.org who had these views on British Columbia’s first independent police monitor:
Mr Rosenthal’s tenure here was mostly characterized by his efforts to minimize the power and authority of our system’s Citizen Review Committee, a 9-member panel whose role includes hearing appealed complaints of police misconduct. Rosenthal helped create the original rules for the CRC, then started rewriting those roles to minimize the citizen body’s impact within two months.
Within a year, when a high-profile case came before the body (involving an indigenous Mexican day laborer who was beaten by police after being 20 cents short of fare, then shot and killed two days later inside a mental hostpital), Rosenthal and other city officials told the CRC that if they wanted to hold a hearing, it would happen with no staff or other support from Portland.
Shortly after that, he worked with the Auditor (who oversees our system the Independent Police Review Division, or IPR) to change the ordinance so that the CRC members would no longer be able to choose new volunteers for their Committee. Then, after the first (and only) case that was appealed past CRC to City Council, Rosenthal took the side of Internal Affairs and the Police Bureau rather than supporting the CRC. This led to 5 of the 9 members resigning.
His shut out of the general public was not limited to the CRC; when we at Portland Copwatch asked for copies of the case files being reviewed at the CRC’s public meetings, Rosenthal agreed to give just one copy to the entire community (which Portland Copwatch accepted, but demanded that such paperwork be shared with all).
To his credit, he did also ask Council to add review of lawsuits (tort claims) into the IPR’s authority. (And, it’s my understanding that he welcomed his power in Colorado to participate in officer involved shooting investigations, even though he and the Auditor fought to keep shootings cases out of both the IPR and CRC’s purviews when he was in Portland.)
While things have improved in many ways since his departure, some of the issues are clearly institutional. We are currently about 5 weeks into a process of trying to expand the CRC’s powers and duties based on recommendations made in December 2010. There were at least 18 proposals about improving IPR and CRC, but the current Auditor and IPR Director only put 4 of them into their proposed new ordinance.
Overall, I hope that the community members in Vancouver who are interested in police accountability and oversight are able to fully participate in whatever system you have in place there now, and if not, that they work with Mr. Rosenthal and whoever oversees his program to ensure that the public can be part of holding police accountable.
Our system, while termed “Independent,” still relies on police Internal Affairs investigating other police accused of misconduct. IPR provides some over-the-shoulder review, and occasionally releases information to the public in an effort for transparency, but the more citizens can do that makes a system truly independent and that reflects community concerns the better.
Readers will note a considerable difference between the information reported here and that provided by Postmedia, doing its usual Liberal cheer-leading. For example:
Rosenthal gained a reputation as a no-holds-barred critic of police abuse of force in Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado after he set up police oversight units in those cities.
…He exposed the Rampart scandal, a corruption case that led to charges against 70 Los Angeles police officers in the Rampart division’s anti-gang section.
Other than preventing the watchdog’s investigation of past tragedies, the first warning signs that Rosenthal is hired to be a paper tiger were happy statements of senior police officers at the press conference introducing our new ‘independent’ police monitor. A person such as Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA, would have been appropriate if independence and public trust were true goals. Reported by Ian Bailey at the Globe and Mail:
“It’s a great day for policing,” [RCMP Acting Commander for BC Fraser] MacRae said.
The head of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police noted the organization unanimously asked the government to create this kind of operation three years ago. “I’m happy we have arrived,” said Peter Lepine, also chief of the West Vancouver Police Department.
“[Mr. Rosenthal] brings the right skill sets, the right talents, the right desire and the right attitude to his office,” he said. “What’s important here is public confidence.”
Read about Portland policing in 2004, while Rosenthal was monitor, from In-Sights’ State sanctioned violence.
William T. Grigsby, 24, was shot by bullets 13 times, hit 22 times with beanbags and Tasered four or five times, after running from Portland police. Although he was unresponsive after numerous shots were fired, police made no effort to provide medical aid, even when one officer noticed that it appeared Grigsby was “bleeding out.”
Thirty-seven more minutes passed as officers fired rounds at him from a Sage 37 mm projectile-launcher, a police dog bit and dragged him, and officers fired two additional Taser rounds at Grigsby, who hadn’t moved for nearly an hour. Medics pronounced him dead at the scene. The medical examiner found that immediate medical care probably would have prevented Grigsby from bleeding to death because none of his wounds was immediately fatal.
‘Morale went downhill fast,’ former employee says of police watchdog, Katie DeRosa, Times Colonist, February 7, 2015
Accounts from 11 former investigators and employees paint a picture of the Independent Investigations Office as a dysfunctional organization, where workers were bullied or talked down to by chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal, who they say showed little confidence in his staff to investigate police-involved shootings or serious injuries. Most spoke to the Times Colonist on condition of anonymity either because they signed confidentiality agreements for a severance package or because they fear backlash that would limit future job opportunities.