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Police review panel, city wrangle over Mejia case

A showdown is looming between City Auditor Gary Blackmer and the citizen committee that reviews police internal affairs investigations, which is part of his office.

At issue is whether the committee can review the March 30, 2001, arrest of Jose Victor Santos Mejia Poot, the Mexican man who was shot to death by police in a Sellwood psychiatric hospital two days later.

Mejia was arrested after acting strangely on a TriMet bus. Responding to published reports that police used excessive force during the arrest, two Portlanders Ñ Marta Guembes and Ruth Asher Ñ filed a complaint with the police bureau's Internal Affairs Division. The division's investigation cleared the officers on April 24, 2002.

Asher appealed the findings to the Citizen Review Committee of the Independent Police Review Division. Acting on the advice of division Director Richard Rosenthal, the committee rejected the appeal last July because Asher had not witnessed the arrest. She died a few months later.

Then Guembes and a number of other local Hispanics asked the committee to reconsider its ruling. In a Feb. 12 letter, they argued the ordinance creating the committee allows it to accept third-party complaints.

The committee accepted the argument Wednesday night and voted to hold a hearing on the findings.

But Blackmer is questioning the legality of the vote, saying the arrest is part of a police shooting case, which is outside the jurisdiction of the committee.

Rosenthal was scheduled to meet with the city attorney's office late Thursday to decide if the vote was legal. He said a ruling might not come until the committee's meeting on Tuesday.