Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Portland Police get criticism for handling of bike light case

Posted by on March 24th, 2009 at 10:58 am

Oregonian columnist
Steve Duin.

Oregonian columnist Steve Duin has published pointed criticisms directed at the Portland Police Bureau’s handling of the Freedom Child bike light case in his column today.

Freedom Child is the 57-year old St. Johns woman who was involved with an altercation with two Police officers back in 2003. Child claims she was walking her bike down the sidewalk when Officers Jeffrey Dorn and Jason Harris reportedly pulled up alongside her in an unmarked car and began questioning her. Those questions ultimately led to Child being followed and then, according to Duin, “dragged…out of her home” and then arrested.

Child filed a lawsuit saying that her civil rights were violated because the Police Bureau ignored her complaint and offered her no opportunity to appeal. Child told the Oregonian, “We’re talking about a bike light… I’m walking on the sidewalk and they’re talking to me like I’m a bank robber.”

Story continues below


Last week, according to a report in The Oregonian, a federal jury ruled in favor of the Police Bureau.

“Anything goes, I guess, when the cops are in mockery mode.”
— Steve Duin, The Oregonian

That decision inspired Duin to write his latest column, Shining a bike light on cops.

In that column Duin shares his opinion that the six words on the cover of the Police Manual — integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, excellence, and service — “are little more than window dressing”. Duin rips the bureau’s handling of this case and ends his column with this bit of dark humor:

“Hey, lady: You forgot to switch on your bike light. You got nervous when an unmarked car pulled up next to you on a dark street. And you didn’t kiss the officer’s ring.

You got off easy.”

This case has similarities to another bike light case we’ve covered in recent months. Portlander Phil Sano was riding without a bike light and was tackled and then tasered repeatedly by Portland police officers. Sano was taken to court for resisting arrest charges but was ultimately found not guilty. Sano’s defense was that the officers never properly identified themselves and that they used excessive force in trying to subdue him. Sound familiar?

I know many officers here in Portland that are outstanding civil servants, but why is it that these things are still happening? Is this simply about a few rogue cops? Or are there larger, systemic problems at the Portland Police Bureau that need to be addressed? Does the fact that the person was on (or near) a bike have anything to do with it? Lots of questions that I wish I had time to dig into.

— Read Duin’s column here.
— Read more about the jury decision here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • scared of cops March 24, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Don’t forget that they also recently killed someone because they thought he might have peed in the street… Excessive force seems to be a department wide problem because even in the most egregious cases you don’t see other officers or the department brass standing up and saying that what happened was wrong. As long as there is a blue wall protecting dangerous officers then the problem is with all cops not just the few that are actually committing the brutality.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • E March 24, 2009 at 11:23 am

    And what can we DO about it? Constructive action is needed – operative word being “constructive”. Legal types? PoPo? What do ordinary citizens do when their authority is out of line? If we all need to stand in front of city hall or the police bureau until something is done, then let’s do it.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Guy March 24, 2009 at 11:38 am

    If you’re getting dragged out of your home by people who you don’t know and haven’t identified you. Where does the resisting arrest come in?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Guy March 24, 2009 at 11:40 am

    If you’re getting dragged out of your home by people who you don’t know and haven’t identified themselves properly, Where does the resisting arrest come in?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • a.O March 24, 2009 at 11:40 am

    People have asked me before what I have against the police. Nothing. We really need the police, obviously. Their job is dangerous and critically important.

    But … behavior like this is unconscionable to me. It does substantial harm to our entire system of law and government when it comes from public officials.

    And, worst of all, there seems to be no accountability for it in Portland. I hope I’m wrong, but I see no evidence to the contrary. That’s extremely dangerous when it comes from people entrusted with the power of arrest, meaning the power to use reasonably proportionate force, including deadly force, to subdue citizens.

    Also, as a taxpayer, it bothers me that I have to pay for the defense of suits like this when it could easily have been avoided by the officers following their Manual. Or by some consequences for those who do not do so.

    I feel embarrassed that this happend in my City.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • benschon March 24, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Can someone who has followed the details of this case fill me in? From the news accounts, Child was walking her bike on a sidewalk in St. Johns, without her lights turned on, when she was approached by the police. There is no law requiring bike lights to be turned on at night when walking a bike. There is also no law that prohibits pushing bikes on the sidewalk, or even riding them, as long as you are not downtown and going at pedestrian speed. What probable cause did the police have for stopping her, and why did she get a citation for the bike light infraction?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • KWW March 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    They may of won the case, but they are losing the hearts and minds…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Rixtir March 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm


    She was riding her bike without a light when the cops first noticed her. Then she moved over to the sidewalk and started walking.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • John Lascurettes March 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Benschon, you can find links in earlier articles here referencing this, but Child did ride her bike a few blocks without the light turned on, then proceeded to walk the bike when she got near her house.

    From what I’ve read, it’s unclear whether she was approached by the unmarked car while she was riding or after she dismounted.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) March 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    RE: details of this case.

    regrettably i have not researched and followed this case closely… therefore I will only report what others have reported. wish I knew more.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Whyat March 24, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Wait- does this mean that it’s OK to read the Oregonian again?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Shake March 24, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Is that Mike Holmgren’s younger brother?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • logicworks March 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Why would a woman, who is being followed by a dark sedan type car, feeling threatened, get off her bike and finish her ride by walking to her house?

    The only logical explaination is that she knew it was the police and she knew what she was doing was a violation.

    Therefore, the real question should be:

    Were her civil rights violated when she ran into her house, like a guilty child who knew what she did was wrong?

    I’m sorry, if you run away from the police you are asking for trouble – obviously she knew it was the police or she wouldn’t have walked her bike the rest of the way home.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Chris March 24, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    @logicworks That’s a ridiculous conclusion to jump to. It’s also a perfectly reasonable reaction to strangers in the dark interrogating you. But that’s completely unimportant. The important, and dangerous, part of this is that the police _dragged_ her out of her own _home_ for an extremely minor offense. That is wrong and unconscionable.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • logic police (pardon the pun) March 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    #13 logicworks – drawing conclusions when only part of the evidence/story is available to you is not logicial, espeically where human behavoir is involved.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob March 24, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    When does an obligation exist on the part of the police to identify themselves to people they wish to talk to? At the point when the police officers first spoke to Ms. Child, was that one of them?

    When did Ms. Child know the officers in the unmarked brown sedan were police officers, and when did the police officers know for sure that she was was certain of their identity? People plainly identify themselves to others when they want them to know who they are. When they decline to identify themselves, that suggests they may have something else in mind.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Case March 24, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Logic, I don’t necessarily agree with you. If she were in the street and a strange car pulled up on her maybe she felt that taking off would have prompted a chase that would endanger her. So she gets on the sidewalk to put a physical barrier between her and the car. Maybe by walking she though to defuse the situation through passive means. I believe the person in the car asked if she lived close, if I were asked a question like that from a stranger in a car I don’t think I’d be too eager to speed directly to my door and let them know where I lived. Maybe she was hoping they would drive away before she got to her door and when they didn’t that’s when she ran to the door. Not everyone’s logic is the same, you see?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Cruizer March 24, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Today I went to an appointment and to my surprise the building receptionist was Freedom Child. She is an intelligent, educated, affable person.

    If you think what happened to Phil Sano was bad, what happened to Freedom Child is magnitudes worse. The police ignored repeated requests to identify themselves and forced their way into the doorway of her house. Both men simultaneously and roughly put their hands on her and dragged her out of her house, having still not identified themselves as police.

    The police report was peppered with statements about their actions and hers that conflict with observations of witnesses from around the neighborhood.

    Freedom Child is a non-materialistic person who pursued a lawsuit only because the police department had closed all other avenues for her to address her concern that her civil rights were violated. She brought the suit in hopes of preventing the rest of us from having such an experience.

    An interesting fact is that she brought the suit in Multnomah County but lawyers for the police chose to transfer it to federal court, enabling them to assemble a jury from a broader geographical range. None of the jurors were Portland residents.

    I wish Jonathan would interview Freedom. [I e-mailed him contact information.] The news reports barely scratched the surface of what really happened. People deserve to know the full, accurate story and to put pressure on the police department to assure that all their officers treat people decently and to not allow such rogue behavior.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • benschon March 24, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    The police rolls up to a woman in the middle of the night, in an unmarked car. He calls out, “You live around here?” God almighty, that is creepy. I would run, too.

    After this, I’m sure these officers will change their opening line. Something like “I’ve got some candy for you” or “Are you looking to party?” should put Portlanders at ease.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) March 24, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Cruizer (#18),

    I have received your email. thanks for the information. I am leaving for a 10 day vacation tonight and will consider meeting Freedom Child when I get back.


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jim Stuck March 24, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    You must look at the hiring process to understand why the PPB gets the officers it does. The screening process is very detailed. So the people that are older take longer and more effort to check out. So they end up hiring very young people with no background to check on. I went through the process at age 38 and was cut in the first interview, and the interviewer said that it takes more time and resources to check me out then it does a 21 year old just out of college. In retrospect I am glad that I didn’t make it into the PPB, but I see why they get rouge cops. You don’t know what a 21 year old will do when you give them the power of a badge and gun. And once they get in they are protected by their fellow officers. I have close friends that work in the PPB and the county jail. So I can see both sides of it and there are a lot of very good officers, but there is always bad with the good. It will only get worse if the PPB stops requiring a college degree.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • are March 24, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    the other benefit the city got from removing this to federal court is the requirement of a unanimous jury verdict. in state court 3/4 would have sufficed.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • k. March 25, 2009 at 8:42 am

    My fear is that because the PPB won this case, they will see themselves as being vindicated and simply continue these types of actions.

    The only type of pressure that has a snow ball’s chance in hell of changing behavior like this will come from City Hall. Unfortunately we have a mayor who’s been stripped of much of his political muscle and commissioners who probably can’t stand up to the Police Bureau on their own. For those who want to know what sort of damage has been caused to Sam (and us) by his recent scandal…this is a prime example.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • are March 25, 2009 at 8:45 am

    you put all this evidence in front of a jury and they say verdict for defendant, what they are really saying is, yes, this is how we want our community to be policed. this guy Duin performs a public service by trying to wake people up, but we need more. apparently having people like Freedom Child living their lives out in the open is not enough.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • logicworks March 25, 2009 at 8:54 am

    In any case, 12 of our peers found the officers not guilty. I have a good bit of faith in humanity that people when put on a jury tend to do the right thing with the evidence that is presented.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • joe March 25, 2009 at 9:11 am

    except that the jury was not made up of portland residents. would love to see some actual reporting on this case.

    of course, it is not news that the ppb is not accountable for their actions.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Joe March 25, 2009 at 9:31 am

    To protect and serve?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • ChipSeal March 25, 2009 at 10:35 am

    “We’ll treat you like Freedom Child”

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • are March 25, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    this was a jury of eight, not twelve

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • phage March 25, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    …and I think it had to be unanimous for a guilty verdict, not for acquittal.

    Having served on juries, I have NO faith in humanity, or in my “peers” coming to an unbiased judgment.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • bike militia March 26, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Anytime we talk about the Portland police and their ongoing anti-bike crusade, its worth noting that Portland has the 20th (out of 21) worst “clearance rate” (i.e. solving) of sexual assault cases in the country, among similar sized cities.

    From 1999-2004, that rate was less than 20% – so if you were raped in Portland in that time, and if you were one of the less than 50% of victims who typically report the crime, there is a less than 1 in 5 chance the perpetrator was ever charged. Compare that with the progressive city of Oklahoma City, OK, where the clearance rate was over 75%

    (http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=158873 – see fig. 3)

    Now, there’s a number of reasons for that, but it begs the question: If our cops spent less time beating the shit out of homeless people, harassing bicyclists and making DWB stops, would there be less rapists on the streets today?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • christopher lee March 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    for the last three weeks i’ve been given the run around by the portland police bureau. i call for extra patrols because of dangerous drivers in my neighborhood, they say they’ll have more of a police presence but that these problems should be forwarded to “traffic division” and “speeding and dangerous drivers division”. those departments misunderstand everything i say and then tell me they can’t do anything and i should request extra patrols. i called in one driver the other night who was pulling up in to neighbor’s yards and destroying them by burning out and the police say they’ll send out an officer but i should request extra patrols. it took the officer ten minutes to get here and asked me “which house did the driver hit?” i told him they didn’t hit a house but were tearing up people’s yards. he had me describe the driver’s vehicle (as he shined his spotlight in all of my neighbor’s windows at 2AM) then he said he thought he saw the car on 82nd. that’s ten blocks away, the car would be gone by now and that’s not even the direction he took off in. then the officer drove off and didn’t stop at a single intersection.
    basically f@ck the portland police bureau. they do nothing but cause more problems and raise questions about their service.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • average joe March 26, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    I wonder if the officers understand how dangerous this is for them? I can only take this story for whats been said so who knows the real story, but if two people forced themselves into my house, there would be two bodies to recover. Police officers had better identify themselves before doing something like this. Not everyone is as passive as Ms. Child.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Robert Dobbs March 26, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    It’s really a shame that 99% of cops give the other 1% a bad name.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Harvey September 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Lest we not forget our PPB bicycle liason officer just got in trouble for waving his gun at a private motorist in Idaho. The dark soily river of the PPB runs broad and deep.
    I really don’t think it is 1% bad cops, probably closer to 10% or 20%.
    There ARE lots of good cops, you never hear about them because they usually do the right thing.

    Recommended Thumb up 0