PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Portland city leaders are frustrated over a potential settlement with fired Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Gregg Lewis, but they say it’s the best option on the table.
According to newly released records from Lewis’ overall discipline letter, provided to FOX 12 by Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office, Lewis was speaking at a roll call on Feb. 12, 2017, when another officer brought up a newspaper article on the deadly shooting of Quanice Hayes by Portland Officer Andrew Hearst.
That officer was “dismayed” at the comments section, where someone wrote, “PPB kills black people, but only injures white people.”
According to the records, that’s when a fellow officer heard Lewis say, “Well, let’s just go out and kill all the black people.”
Another officer remembered Lewis’ words slightly differently, reporting that he told officers to “go out and shoot black people,” according to those records.
Another version of Lewis’ statement was reported as “if they are black, just shoot them.”
According to the records, when Lewis was interviewed by an Internal Affairs investigator about his comments, he admitted making the disparaging remarks but defended the context of his statements, saying:
“For the – the couple of days prior to that, we had been talking about some statements that were in the media regarding officer-involved shootings and when we shoot a person of color, we kill them, and then when we shoot a person – a white person, a Caucasian person, we only wound them. So there had been these ridiculous statements in the media about the decisions we make when we shoot people. So these conversations had gone on right before roll call in the locker room, there had been conversations about that particular topic. So, as we were just getting finished, I remember saying, and I thought it was kind of humorous, in light of these stupid conversations in the media, so, you know, unless it’s a black guy, then we just shoot them…. The conversation about if it was a black guy, we would just shoot them, is inappropriate and, as a supervisor, I should have been aware of that and thought a little more plainly about what it is I was saying and the message I was delivering and how it was received… Having had time to look at this, I understand that somebody could take offense to this, but I was just trying to highlight this ridiculous stuff that was in the media, bring people back down to the ground, the officers, you know. I believe a large portion of the folks in that roll call gathered that this was a satirical comment on the media, but it just kind of hurts me that it gets painted in racial overtones, because there was never any intent to make it that. So, yeah, I’m sorry…”
According to the records, Lewis was also heard making comments regarding people who are homeless and people who are dressed in suits, referring to how they should be treated differently when it came to being intoxicated.
The Bureau of Human Resources also launched an investigation, and ultimately, Lewis was fired. However, the police union filed a grievance arguing that he should not have been terminated. The city denied the grievance and the union moved for arbitration.
As the case stands now, the city only has two legal options: Settle with Lewis or go to arbitration.
If they settle, Lewis would get $100,000 in back pay and his termination would be replaced on his personnel record by a suspension, but he would never be allowed to work for the Portland Police Bureau or any city bureau ever again.
If the city goes to arbitration, the city attorney’s office believes an arbitrator would look at Lewis’ otherwise clean record as a 25-year veteran of the bureau and could determine he should get his job back. On top of that, he’d likely still get $100,000 in back pay, but could also be eligible for lost overtime pay.
In council chambers Wednesday, Wheeler and several city commissioners expressed frustration that they have no legal option to avoid a payout.
“I am willing to take the heat and pay the settlement to get rid of him because he’s not up to the standard I have for the Portland Police Bureau,” Wheeler said.
“I feel physically ill about supporting this settlement,” Commissioner Amanda Fritz added. “The most important thing is to get rid of this person on the police force, and to make absolutely certain he can never wear the officers, the police officer’s uniform, never carry a Portland police gun, never be out in our community, and this settlement is the only way we can make sure this happens.”
“None of us are happy with this outcome,” echoed Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. “Past councils have bargained away a lot of our power to oversee the Portland Police Bureau. I want us to get rid of mandatory arbitration altogether. We should be able to get rid of any city employee who engages in this kind of conduct.”
“'If he’s black, shoot him.' This is what the officer said. That is why other officers turned him in,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty added. “…This is not the first time we’ve seen this, but I certainly hope it’s the last time.”
Hardesty is the first African-American woman to sit on the council, and said said she would not vote for a settlement under any circumstances, but also said, “It’s clear we have a broken system.”
Hayes’ grandmother also testified before the council Wednesday, expressing her frustration.
“I’m ashamed of city council,” Dana Hayes said. “You let all your black citizens down.”
“Nobody’s happy with this decision we have to make, but this is the only way we can ensure this individual never works for the city ever again,” explained Berg Nelson, a senior adviser to Wheeler.
Efforts are being made to change the way the arbitration process is currently set up via Senate Bill 383, which would require an arbitrator who agrees with the fact-finding to also agree with the punishment issued by the mayor and police chief.
Commissioners are set to vote on the settlement with Lewis next Wednesday. The $100,000 he may get was already set aside in the police budget and would not further impact city finances.
Document: Discipline letter of Sgt. Lewis
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