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Christina Nguyen,

May 23, 2024

The Court rejects Portland police union’s arguments; changes petition title to make clear that police union’s petition would repeal the independence of the Community Board for Police Accountability and eliminate its watershed authority to impose discipline

By filing the court challenge that resulted in this ruling, a longtime civil rights and racial justice leader is helping educate Portlanders that the police union is aiming to gut the Independent Community Board for Police Accountability established by 82% of Portland voters in 2020

In March 2024, Reverend Dr. LeRoy Haynes, Jr. filed a court petition challenging the ballot title for initiative petition PDX24OL-03 that was initiated by the Portland Police union. Dr. Haynes is a Portland voter, Chair of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, and longtime civil rights and racial justice leader.

Today’s ruling by Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Katharine von Ter Stegge agrees with petitioner Dr. Haynes and amici League of Women Voters and Portland Forward, stating that "the City's ballot title does not effectively convey the complete repeal of the Board's independence as well as the elimination of its watershed authority to impose discipline..."

“For most of my life, I have fought for racial justice alongside civil rights leaders like Dr. King and Congressman John Lewis. Ever since Portland police killed Kendra James in 2003, we have been fighting for independent, civilian-led oversight of the police,” said Reverend Dr. LeRoy Haynes, Jr. “In 2020, the people of Portland finally embraced an upgrade of Portland’s archaic system of police oversight and overwhelmingly supported a new system that is independent, community led, and has real power to hold officers accountable. Today, the court was right to inform voters that the Portland Police union’s initiative would radically water down Portland’s modernized system.” 

The Court’s ruling comes in the same month as the 21st anniversary of the Portland police killing of Kendra James and just two days before the fourth anniversary of the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Portlanders voted to create the independent Community Board for Police Accountability in 2020 to finally address Portland police’s unrelenting legacy of violence and injustice, especially towards Black and brown communities, and the repeated failures of the City of Portland and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office in holding police accountable. 

Sandy Chung, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon, stated: “With a petition title finalized by the Court, the police union can now move forward with next steps to get this petition on the November ballot. It is critical for Portlanders to understand that the police union’s petition — if placed on the November ballot and adopted by voters — will strip the independent accountability board of its ability to prevent and address police misconduct and violence.” 

Alicia LeDuc Montgomery, an attorney working for the ACLU of Oregon who represented Petitioner Haynes, stated: “We are pleased that the court has strengthened the ballot title language to more accurately describe the current law as passed by 82% of the voters in 2020, and the significant reductions and repeals that the police union’s initiative would cause to police oversight on the eve of its implementation. It was deeply concerning to hear the police union argue so stridently against informing Portland voters about the magnitude of the changes they are pushing for, and the court was right to reject them.”

Carolyn Buppert, President of the League of Women Voters of Portland who filed an amicus brief with Portland Forward in support of Dr. Haynes’ challenge, stated: “Portlanders overwhelmingly voted for independent police oversight which to date has yet to be implemented. Our City deserves real accountability. We need to allow the voter-approved, independent community-based oversight board to work before considering the repeal and replace scheme that the Portland Police Association is trying to impose.”

Additional information about the Court’s ruling:

In today’s ruling, the Court issued a new ballot title with some new language that makes it more clear that the Portland Police union’s petition would drastically gut the oversight and disciplinary powers of the independent Community Board for Policy Accountability. However, the Court did not accept all of Dr. Haynes’ proposed changes. 

In addition to the repeal of the Board’s independence and disciplinary authority, the police union’s initiative proposes: (1) repealing the Board’s protection from interference by other agencies/city officials; (2) reducing community representation on the Board by removing diversity requirements and opening such membership to law enforcement instead; (3) limiting the types of investigations and investigatory tools the Board could engage with; and (4) eliminating the minimum budget requirements for the Board, leaving the resources needed for the Board to carry out its work to the constantly changing inclinations of City Council. The Court largely left the City’s draft title language in place for these parts of the initiative.

Despite the police union’s efforts to advocate for less information about the current law that its petition seeks to repeal, the Court rejected the police union’s ballot title challenge arguments in full. 

About the ACLU of Oregon:
The ACLU of Oregon is a nonpartisan, nonprofit membership organization with more than 28,000 members statewide. The organization works in the courts, legislature, and communities to defend and advance our democracy, civil liberties, and civil rights.