Subcommittee recommends city manager rescind discipline against police chief

by: FILE PHOTO - Scappoose City Hall and The Scappoose Police DepartentA subcommittee of the Scappoose City Council, the city’s Personnel Review Committee, on Oct. 14 recommended that Scappoose City Manager Jon Hanken retract his discipline of Scappoose Police Chief Douglas Greisen over missteps Greisen purportedly committed during a police pursuit earlier this year.

The committee’s recommendation to Hanken contrasts with an investigation compiled by the Local Government Personnel Institute, an independent human resources and investigative agency widely used by Oregon cities and counties, which resulted in the city’s finding that Greisen violated 10 of the city’s policies and procedures for police officers.

Hanken has full supervisory authority over city department heads, such as Greisen. Though the PRC can make a recommendation, it has no legal or contractual standing to compel Hanken to adhere to it.

The three-member committee, comprised by Councilors Barbara Hayden, Mark Reed and Jason Meshell, labeled LGPI investigator Craig Stoelk’s report “an erroneous mischaracterization of the events of Feb. 4 that also purposely omitted pertinent and material facts to arrive at a conclusion that the PRC finds untenable, out of context, and an egregious lack of professionalism.”

Hanken told the Spotlight Wednesday, Oct. 30, he was still considering the PRC’s recommendation.

Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge said he is looking into finding a third-party consultant to review both the PRC’s recommendation and the LGPI report and provide an assessment as to the fairness of each.

“I appreciate the hard work that [the Personnel Review Committee] did and the time they put in to going over the issue,” he said. “I know that they brought up an issue regarding the investigation itself and I have requested a neutral third party go over the report to see if it was a biased investigation or not.”

When asked whether he thought the PRC was an objective, unbiased committee, Burge hesitated for several seconds before answering, “I hope so. I mean, I assume that they went in to it objectively.”

Diana Moffat, executive director of LGPI, said the agency has not heard from the city councilors.

“Neither LGPI nor Investigator Stoelk were contacted by the PRC about any perceived discrepancies/factual errors in the investigative report submitted,” Moffat said. “If the PRC wishes to do so, they can contact us and we can then try to respond to their concerns.”

The LGPI report outlined the incident and determined Greisen violated several policies, including authorizing Officer Anthony Miltich to execute a Pursuit Intervention Tactic, or PIT maneuver, during a vehicle pursuit on Highway 30 Feb. 4.

A PIT maneuver is a ramming tactic used to spin violating cars 180 degrees. By departmental policies, PIT maneuvers are to be conducted only by trained police officers at speeds of less than 40 miles per hour.

The LGPI report stated that neither Greisen nor Miltich were trained to execute such a maneuver and did so upon a non-injury misdemeanor hit-and-run violator traveling at an estimated 55 mph, which is considered to be the use of lethal force. In an LGPI interview, Greisen said he felt the use of lethal force was necessary.

To conduct its investigation, the PRC reviewed the initial complaint of the incident filed by Scappoose Police Sgt. Douglas Carpenter alleging violations of departmental policy by Miltich, a complaint filed by Lt. Norm Miller alleging violations of departmental rules and laws by Greisen, police reports, video and audio documentation of the incident, the LGPI report, Hanken’s notice of disciplinary action, and Greisen’s notice of appeal of the disciplinary actions. The PRC formed as a direct result of Greisen’s appeal.

The PRC also listened to audio of Stoelk’s interviews with Greisen and Miltich and held its own interviews with both officers.

In its recommendation, the committee said the degree of discipline Greisen received was disproportionate, based on the totality of the circumstances of the night of Feb. 4. The PRC recommendation states hit-and-run offender Lawrence Bickmore “created a dangerous nighttime environment in and around the city of Scappoose which responding Scappoose Police officers determined presented an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm to Mr. Bickmore, other motorists and the general public as well.”

The recommendation also states that Greisen’s suggestion that Miltich perform a PIT maneuver was an attempt to avert or avoid a threat to the general public, and that the PIT was executed when no other cars were present.

“The PRC believes Greisen made the right judgment call, based on the best available information at the time, and in light of the potential deadly consequences to motorists and pedestrians that night,” the recommendation states.

Another of the multiple points outlined by the PRC as to the LGPI report’s findings was that the video record of the event shows Bickmore’s speed was less than 50 mph during the PIT maneuver.

“Since there was no actual speed recording or evidence that Mr. Nickmore [sic] was traveling at a speed in excess of 40 mph when the PIT was completed, the PRC, nor anyone else can conclude that lethal force was actually used,” the committee wrote.

The PRC recommendation also addressed the officers’ lack of PIT maneuver training, stating, “The PRC believes the lack of PIT maneuver training within the Scappoose Police Department is a direct result of the limitations of funding provided by the City Council and City Manager, through the current budgeting process, caused by the current recession and economic conditions.”

Burge told the Spotlight Wednesday that he was confused by this part of the recommendation, as the city tacks $25 onto each traffic ticket to fund police training.

In an earlier interview, Burge said there is $38,000 to $39,000 currently in the fund and it generates about $19,000 per year.

The end of the recommendation outlines a number of measures for Hanken to consider, including changes to procedural requirements, training and certification within the department.

Greisen did not respond to a call requesting comment for this story.

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