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Sheriff's review shows racial differences in use of force at jail

Internal report from sheriff's office also uncovers a trainer who may have violated policies


An internal audit requested by Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton has found that employees at the county jails disproportionately use force against minority inmates.

For example, according to the audit obtained by the Portland Tribune, although African-Americans accounted for only 27 percent of the jail population between 2012 and 2014, they were involved in 40 percent of the use of force reports filed by employees of the Mulnomah County Sheriff's Office.

According to the audit, the MCSO does not currently have a system for identifying employees who use force at a higher rate than others. At the same time, the audit found that 15 percent of employees were responsible for 45 percent of the force reports.

"Submitting more use of force reports than other employees does not necessarily indicate an issue with overuse or misuse of force. Many of these employees work in locations expected to have higher than average use of force, such as the booking counter," the audit says.

During the four years covered by the audit, the MCSO Corrections Division submitted an average of 1,220 use of force reports each year on an annual average of 307 incidents. That means four employees typically file reports on the same incident. The most common type of force used is physical control, meaning holds.

The audit includes "next steps" for addressing disparities in the use of force by MCSO employees at the jail. These include: developing a monitoring and reporting process for employees who submit a high number of use of force reports; tying use of force reporting to other sources to assess the risk of underreporting; evaluating complaints of excessive use of force; determining the risk of excessive use of force; and assessing the current use of force reporting process to gain reporting efficiencies and improve data reliability.

The audit obtained by the Portland Tribune is part a larger audit of MCSO's use of force that is currently underway. Once the final audit is produced, it will be reviewed by the executive branch of the sheriff’s office and the sheriff. At least two county commissioners will be asked to participate in identifying areas of concern and developing a plan to address them.

Sheriff also investigating trainer

In addition, a MCSO trainer criticized in a separate report is under investigative review by the sheriff's office. According to a Corrections Officer Training Fidelity Observation obtained by the Portland Tribune, the unnamed trainer undermined MCSO policies intended to limit the use of force. The trainer was observed dehumanizing and mocking both citizens and inmates who come into contact with employees, using disparaging language toward inmates.

In the most troubling incident observed, the internal report states: "The trainer told the trainees that they would soon be in favor of a 'Bullet-In-The-Back-Of-The-Head Lottery.' In this lottery, each corrections officer would be able to choose one inmate per week to "take out back" and "put a bullet in the back of their head." Then the trainer told the story of the inmate he wished he had been allowed to execute. He told the story of a very young pregnant woman whom the trainer had been witness to booking. During the booking, officers found baggies of narcotics hidden in her vaginal cavity. The trainer was openly upset in class for several minutes about what this may have done to the fetus and repeatedly described various types of violence he would like to commit against this pregnant inmate. He repeatedly called her 'evil' and an 'idiot.' "

According to the report, "This incident is disturbing on two levels. The first is because the trainer was openly admitting to his desire to personally execute an inmate during the training, and then normalizing those feelings as inevitable and universal amongst corrections officers. The second because it suggests a deep ignorance regarding inmates who may be the victims of sexual and drug-related human trafficking."

The report also noted the trainer ignored race as an issue.

"As a result, the new corrections officers received no training on how to anticipate and handle their own implicit racial biases. The sole mention of a racially charged incident was when the Use of Force trainer authoritatively declared the problem with the 1991 Rodney King incident was that the officers involved 'kept trying the same thing,' and not that it was an example of excessive use of force," the report says.

The report concludes by saying, "The MCSO clearly has official policies emphasizing proportional use of force and the role of governmental interest in making use of force decisions, however these policies are not as clearly taught as they could be. Moreover, these policy positions are often undermined by conflicting stories and statements from the trainer in charge of the classes, which potentially encourages a demonized understanding of inmates, and a sense of separateness from other civic institutions as well as the public. Additionally, trainees will possibly come away with erroneous information regarding the actual safety of their force options as well as relevant case law."