Police camera grab sparks Portland watchdog review
City police review office concerned by video of officer's approach to an activist's camera.
Portlands police watchdog wants a closer look at an incident in which a police officer grabbed the camera of an activist on a public sidewalk.
The city Independent Police Review director, Constantin Severe, also has questions about the officers superior, Capt. Mark Kruger, describing him as obstructive and disdainful of the investigators who reviewed the incident.
The case involves the ability of members of the public to video record the actions of police officers, wrote Severe in a letter to the Portland Police Bureau explaining his desire to review the case. That ability is an issue of public concern and has an impact beyond a single incident.
The case will be heard by the Citizen Review Committee of the watchdog division on March 30.
On Oct. 20, 2015, a Portland vice cop in plain clothes stopped his SUV to approach an activist who was video-recording him. The officer approached the camera and appeared to grab it by the lens, according to a youtube video posted by activist Mike BlueHair Smith. Another activist, Robert Lee West, had been standing on a public sidewalk in front of Central Precinct downtown while recording.
According to the video the officer, Scott Groshong, stopped the SUV as he was leaving the precinct garage and walked straight up to the camera, grasping it by the lens as if to block it from filming. Sir, Im sorry, how can I help you? he can be heard saying. Then he said, Oh, you know who you are? I know who you are, smiled, spun around, got back in the truck and drove away.
Groshong apparently recognized the person recording him, West. West describes himself as a videographer for the group Film the Police 911. In September he sued the police bureau in federal court, saying he was arrested unconstitutionally while filming the police response to a protest of the Ferguson shooting in fall 2014.
Severe and his supervisor, city Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, declined to comment. Groshing, Kruger, and West did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment. Citing the pending investigation, Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson declined to comment, other than to say "The complaint has to do with the actions of the police officer, not with the actions of Capt. Kruger."
Last year the Oregon Legislature cleared up a gray area by passing a law that explicitly allows members of the public to film the police without being arrested for interference.
After a complaint was filed over the Groshong video, the city watchdog director as well as the bureaus captain in charge of professional standards felt a violation had occurred, referring the case to an internal review board of the Portland Police Bureau. There, the board disagreed, voting 4 to 1 to dismiss the internal affairs complaint. That prompted the letter from the city watchdog director, announcing that the matter would be considered by the offices citizen review committee.
In his letter, Severe said he questions the behavior of Groshong as well as the subsequent response to the complaint by Kruger.
It is clear Groshong "grabbed the lens of a camera belonging to a community member. The Internal Affairs investigation established that the incident occurred on a sidewalk in front of Central Precinct that was open to members of the public I believe the whole tenor of the incident with a police officer rapidly approaching a community member videotaping him was unprofessional as well as a violation of policy, Severe wrote.
Severe said that in a meeting of a police bureau review board, Kruger characterized the investigation as nitpicking, and behaved in a manner akin to defense counsel for the officer as opposed to a neutral factfinder. Even more disturbing was Captain Krugers description of the Internal Affairs investigation as pettifogging and not worthy of an administrative investigation. Captain Krugers behavior at the Police Review Board was hostile and combative. Captain Kruger was disrespectful to Internal Affairs and openly disdainful towards to IPR.
Added Severe, the Oregon Constitution broadly protects the right of Oregonians to monitor the workings of their government, with even greater protections than under the United States Constitution. I believe if the findings from the Police Review Board are left without CRC review, the publics trust in the City will be diminished.