The Portland City Council voted 4-1 to approve a controversial settlement with a police officer who made a racist remark about killing black people.
With the settlement approved, Sgt. Gregg Lewis will get $100,000 of back pay and a three-week unpaid suspension in exchange for his forced retirement. Lewis won’t be eligible to work for the city again.
Commissioner Nick Fish voted for the settlement, but criticized the city attorneys who presented the deal to Council.
He said they had failed to inform the City Council that the real problem with the city’s case against Lewis is the discipline guideline the city has agreed to in its contract with the police union.
That guideline states that the maximum penalty for an officer who makes racist remarks is three weeks without pay — a point omitted by the city’s attorneys, and brought to Council’s attention last week by local police reform activist Dan Handelman.
“Until we change the discipline guide, the outcome in a case like this is almost foreordained,” said Fish, thanking Handelman for raising the issue.
Fish, himself an attorney, said city leaders have been too quick to blame arbitrators for what has been the city’s own failure to negotiate over officer discipline with the union .
“I think we’ve been frankly outmatched for a long time,” he said. “I am a lifelong trade unionist. I believe in the process, but I also believe in a fair fight.”
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty cast the sole vote against the settlement, concurring with Fish’s criticisms.
“I have watched this City Council negotiate police contracts that were woefully inadequate to protect the public over and over and over again,” she said. “It is absolutely not right that this man gets one penny additional from the city of Portland, and I maintain my no vote.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and Commissioner Amanda Fritz also voted in favor of settling the case.
After the vote, Hardesty consoled a woman who started sobbing in response: Donna Hayes, the grandmother of a black teen shot and killed by police the same week as the officer’s remark.