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Overview:

My partner has been going through a very drawn-out battle against the Portland police, mainly in regards to a single police officer. This officer had used various police resources and people to access personal information about my partner despite those inquiries having no lawful purpose. They also pulled information about family close to my partner too, which has been their own standalone case. This information gathering continued to happen on and off for years, some of which even took place after we told the city that we were concerned this may be happening — this was affirmed through an audit and investigation that took place.

This particular officer has also had a past of other misuse of police resources, some of which they've been punished for or put their job at risk of termination. Throughout our research, their action clearly violates policies and some of the guidelines deem these repeated actions as being immediate grounds for termination. However, the feedback we've gathered so far suggests that this officer not only wasn't terminated or adequately punished, but that they've continued to retain full access to these systems that were abused.

We're suspicious that there may be quite a few people in cahoots that is allowing this officer to avoid necessary punishment. Some of this suspicion comes from numerous contradictory claims in their communication compared to the documentation we received; the lack of transparency and effort when they were forced to report to other agencies (even ones above them); and that they have repeatedly went well beyond the deadlines of numerous statutes, resulting in some opportunities of tort to be impossible (we found these out afterwards, of course).

It's worth noting that we've contacted a few lawyers. Some claim this case doesn't align with what they practice or is much bigger than they can handle; others have claimed that it may not be financially feasible to fight.

Questions:

  • If we went after the city (or state) for something like negligence (or whatever term fits the broad issues above), is it likely that we can recover monetary damages (and/or attorney fees) since they seem to have sided with the officer?

    • My partner has diagnosed PTSD as a direct result of these ongoings.
    • This case impacted my partner's ability to continue with college and they needed to drop out. They intend to re-enroll as soon as financially possible.
  • Are there any laws that force the police bureau to only retain quality officers for the public's best interest?

    • Essentially, does the police bureau need a good reason for keeping this officer despite the guidelines saying they should be terminated?
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If we went after the city (or state) for something like negligence (or whatever term fits the broad issues above), is it likely that we can recover monetary damages (and/or attorney fees) since they seem to have sided with the officer?

My partner has diagnosed PTSD as a direct result of these ongoings. This case impacted my partner's ability to continue with college and they needed to drop out. They intend to re-enroll as soon as financially possible.

No.

The government is immune from all suits with this kind of fact pattern under the Oregon Tort Claims Act (Oregon Revised Statutes §§ 30.260 to 30.300). There is no claim against the City of Portland for negligence in this context (and the state is not responsible for misconduct by a city employee).

The primary exception applies if your partner can establish that the City of Portland intentionally violated your partners' constitutional rights as a matter of policy (which would give rise to a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the city). But, your fact pattern makes clear that this officer, instead, violated the City's policy concerning these matters, so this would not be a viable claim against the City. The policy need not be in writing, but it must be a policy and must be an intentional violation of a constitutional right.

Your most viable claim would be personally against the officer, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to show that the officer intentionally violated a well established constitutional right with his (or her) conduct. To prevail on that claim, your partner would have to show that:

(1) The officer did what you claim he (or she) did when often it is only a strong inference and the officer will usually lie and be believed by the judge in a preliminary "qualified immunity" evaluation at the start of the case (subject to immediate appeal if the officer is found to lack qualified immunity);

(2) That there was a case closely on point factually that establishes that the conduct in question violates a constitutional right that is binding precedent in the jurisdiction where you are located (I haven't researched cases to determine if this is a well established violation of a constitutional right in Oregon, but this element will often be a big barrier to recovery in this kind of fact pattern as there aren't many litigated cases on point); and

(3) That the officer's violation of your partner's constitutional right was intentional.

See this analysis of the elements of § 1983 claims.

Even if you showed those things, you would also be subject to a two year statute of limitations pursuant to Sanok v. Grimes, 760 P.2d 228 (1988).

You would have to establish damages caused by the misconduct (one recent case awarded just $4 when a policeman was found to have wrongfully used excessive force thereby killing an innocent man), which is very hard to do in the case of psychological harm like PTSD. A prevailing Plaintiff would also generally be entitled to attorneys' fees and at least nominal damages of $1, however.

A win on this claim would not cause the officer to be removed from the police force.

Are there any laws that force the police bureau to only retain quality officers for the public's best interest?

Essentially, does the police bureau need a good reason for keeping this officer despite the guidelines saying they should be terminated?

No.

There are no such laws.

So long as the officer does not have his law enforcement certification revoked there is no ground to force the police to remove the officer. Even if his law enforcement certification had been revoked, neither you (as a citizen and taxpayer and voter) nor your partner (who was harmed by this officer) would have standing to bring a suit compelling his removal. Only the governmental agency in charge of law enforcement officer certification would have standing to bring that kind of lawsuit (although the agency could probably be shamed into firing him with media exposure if his law enforcement certification was revoked and he was kept on the job anyway).

Usually, the conduct you describe would not be sufficient grounds to revoke law enforcement certification.

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    You are absolutely on point. My partner's information was unlawfully accessed and we believe that breached their right to privacy; we have been fighting to have the officer's LEDS certification revoked and put on a Brady list. The officer is certainly the one at fault, but the city didn't act on our warning that it was happening and there were subsequent information accesses that happened afterwards. Similarly, the city botched numerous policies when conducting and reporting on the investigation. Your insight is very helpful and we'll review 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to see if we can prove this. – Xrylite Jun 18 '18 at 17:22
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Are there any laws that force the police bureau to only retain quality officers for the public's best interest?

That depends on what the term "quality" is intended to mean; both officially, if such a standard exists, and your own definition.

If we went after the city (or state) for something like negligence (or whatever term fits the broad issues above)

In general, each governmental agency has a procedure for the public to lodge a complaint against an agent whom is acting within their official assigned duties, which would precede a formal civil action in a court of law, if the matter cannot be settled to your satisfaction at the administrative agency level.

is it likely that we can recover monetary damages (and/or attorney fees) since they seem to have sided with the officer?

A civil action against any governmental agency is a time and resource consuming process, without any guarantees of victory whatsoever.

Even a complaint filed at the agency level requires time, effort, resource expenditure and due diligence.

Simply because an individual retains an attorney does not mean that your responsibility for your own claims can be relaxed and your efforts end when an attorney takes on your case. An individual would be prudent to be able to continually ask the attorney pertinent questions relevant to their prospective course of action, and, if possible, establish the course that the attorney will take themselves.

The decision of whether to pursue a local complaint or civil action in state or federal court challenging any action of a governmental agency should be analyzed from a cost-benefit perspective.

  • Are the individuals prepared for years of litigation?

  • What is the primary objective of the complaint or civil action?

    1. An injunction barring the entire agency from certain conduct and actions?
    2. Individual monetary judgment against a single agent for their conduct and actions?

etc.

Many more questions need to be answered before commencing a protracted legal procedure against an individual acting in either or both their own and/or official capacities.

There will more than likely be an opposing party to your complaint or eventual civil action. The agency will more than likely not simply agree with your complaint and settle the matter with a remedy that is suitable to yourself and the agency.

What you can do now is to phone as many civil law attorneys in your region that you can find whom specialize in actions against that type of governmental agency, describing your issue, and simultaneously visiting the law library in all of your spare time to perform your own research into similar actions brought by individuals against the same agency.

  • We've went through more complaint channels than I felt was necessary for the question. So, to add clarity, we have conducted and completed formal complaints and attempted multiple approaches to have justice applied (revoking their LEDS certification; getting them on a Brady list; going the state or federal approach). Cost-benefit is absolutely a concern. However, it seems unreasonable for them to both go unpunished; and for us to be negatively affected. The optimal outcome would be to have them terminated and to recover even some money to allow my partner to return to college. – Xrylite Jun 18 '18 at 17:42
  • What remedy did you consistently ask for in your complaints? It appears as though you can expect several years of litigation if the opposing parties have not yet settled the matter after your filing of multiple complaints. Even if you "get an attorney" if you do not have a modicum of knowledge of state and federal civil procedure (become familiar with both) you will not be able to contribute other than the unchanging description of the event which lead to the action and it will be difficult for you to evaluate the performance of the attorney(s). Litigation is not free in more than one way. – guest271314 Jun 19 '18 at 1:33
  • More importantly this part of your question "Are there any laws that force the police bureau to only retain quality officers for the public's best interest? Essentially, does the police bureau need a good reason for keeping this officer despite the guidelines saying they should be terminated?" is inconsistent with how administrative agencies respond to complaints. The agency will, in general, surmise that it is more cost effective to contest the action; the agency has the state for an attorney. You have to pay for each filing in a court. The state gets paid in litigation against the state. – guest271314 Jun 19 '18 at 1:47
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Direct legal advice is off-topic here (as well as illegal - read the right sidebar), but two things you can do are:

1) Keep looking for an attorney. You need to find one who feels strongly about your case and doesn't have conflicts of interests with the police department or city departments you will be up against. Write up a letter and send it to as many firms as you can in the Portland area. You may get a referral to a firm outside of Portland. An attorney will know what might be possible in terms of damages and awards, and a lawyer is pretty much required in a case like yours rather than trying to fight city hall yourself.

2) Try to get a local newspaper or TV/radio station to look into your case and do a story. "Bad cop" stories are always interesting to the media, and such stories sell papers and bring web traffic. You may get a referral to someone outside the Portland area, too, if a local journalist feels they don't have the distance from a case like yours, or feel intimidated by the police department.

  • I would say that "getting an attorney" is also advisable for 2); otherwise the OP or his partner might very well end saying something that allows the police officer or even the police department to sue them for libel. – SJuan76 Jun 17 '18 at 23:20
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    Media reporters and editors are very diligent about not publishing libelous material; it happens, but it is rare. If the OP starts their own blog or publishes their own material, that's a different matter. – BlueDogRanch Jun 18 '18 at 0:34
  • If the first question sounded like it was looking for legal advice, that's largely because I didn't want to phrase it as "Are there any cases where the result of a similar case had monetary/punitive damages that weren't merely nominal?" We've been poking various lawyers and I've even suggested that my partner contact firms outside of Oregon to find the best they can through pro hac vice. The media already wrote on the case once and there may be more in the works to see if pressure at least gets the officer terminated. We've been very careful about libel and slander when working with them. – Xrylite Jun 18 '18 at 17:30

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