A critical look into Eugene’s Civilian Review Board
The Civilian Review Board is a committee selected by the Eugene City Council, composed of seven board members, the CRB’s purpose is to be an additional layer of accountability for the police. Their mission is to provide impartial oversight and review of civilian complaints, and internal investigations. This is to ensure that complaints are handled fairly, building trust and confidence, while encouraging community involvement.
The committee was established in 2006 under Eugene Ordinance 20374, signed by then Mayor Kitty Piercy. The goal is to increase transparency and public confidence in the police complaint process. The CRB formed because there was a glaring lack in the process — from a civilian perspective — in regards to timeliness and due diligence. It’s a system of police investigating police.
Which leaves a lot of civilians waiting, with unanswered questions.
The CRB is required to meet at least once per quarter to conduct regular business and may schedule more meetings if necessary. They are also required to provide an annual report and yearly work plan to the City Council, normally due on May 30, but was submitted this year on June 28. In this report they assess the performance of the police auditor, summarizing the activity, findings, and recommendations from the preceding year through trends and statistics.
Due to the increase in police encounters in recent years, resulting in deadly force in a number of cases, the police auditor’s office and the CRB have been meeting monthly since last August to combat this issue.
Whether or not they are an effective voice for the community or conduit of transparency is a question that’s weighed heavy on the minds of the committee. As well as the mind of retiring Police Auditor Mark Gissiner. He expressed this discomfort during the June 9 CRB meeting which was held to discuss their findings after review of the investigation of the officer involved shooting of Eliborio Rodrigues Jr. saying;
“We wrote a twenty nine page memo, and a lot of it had to do with policies and things like that but this is, I felt the strongest, it’s so regrettable that the family doesn’t get to see the use of force board memo, and doesn’t get to see our memo to learn what happened.”
Gissiner has served as police auditor for the last 12 years and retired from the role in January. Leia Pitcher has stepped in to serve as interim in his leave. This was one of the last cases reviewed by Gissiner who attended the meeting to give the police auditor’s report.
Gissiner spoke for well over his allotted time, but he finished out his remarks with these final words; “I appreciate everyone’s insight, but make no mistake about it. Two things: One, I could have been more vigorous, but would I have gotten any traction? I doubt it. You can’t tell me that not one person in that 300 person organization wouldn’t have had questions about the initial stop in the first place, and no one did. It was only me with the help of Leia that pulled this from this entire event, because this was a violation of this man’s constitutional rights, and we’re the only two that are going to extract this from the entire case and that’s troubling for me… Finally, that family is not going to get all the answers that I think that they deserve. Sorry for the speech, I don’t mean to give many of them, and I won’t be giving any more.”
Due to privacy policies, the board is prevented from identifying the officer during discussion. However, the DA released the Body Worn Camera footage after determining that the use of deadly force in this case was justified, thus identifying Officer Samuel Tykol of the EPD as the officer in question.
The summary of facts was outlined by Pitcher regarding the events in question on Nov. 30. According to her, Rodrigues was walking in the road, after midnight, when Officer Tykol made initial contact after pulling over and exiting his patrol vehicle. Tykol was equipped with a body-camera which was activated just before contact.
Rodrigues’ only offence was a pedestrian violation of obstructing traffic. The officer began a dialogue with Rodrigues about the violation and asked if he had identification, but Rodrigues did not respond immediately.
Within a minute the officer physically restrained Rodrigues by the arm, and according to Gissiner, Rodrigues obviously “knows his rights better than the officer knows his.” Rodrigues requests to speak with a superior but the requests were ignored as the officer continued to escalate the situation, and tried to place him under arrest for interfering with an officer by failing to obey orders.
The fact is the officer had not given a lawful order leading up to that point. The contact escalated from resistance into a fight after the officer sprayed Rodrigues in the face with OC spray. During the physical dispute, the body-worn camera was “dislodged, and the recording ended” before the use of deadly force.
According to the police reports, the encounter lasted only six minutes, and ended with the officer shooting Rodrigues three times. The officer radioed “shots fired” at 12:36:08am and Rodrigues was pronounced deceased at 12:48am.
The responsibility of the CRB is to review the investigation. The Interagency Deadly Force Investigation Team has jurisdiction over the deadly force portion of the investigation from which the DA makes a determination of just cause.
The IDFIT investigation is then turned over to Eugene’s Internal Affairs and is presented to the Use of Force Board, if convened by the chief. This board is responsible for determining if the police officer’s actions were consistent with department policy and industry standards.
Every investigation yielded justifiable use of force, a decision Chief Skinner defends according to Gissiner who said “Two weeks after this happened we had a meeting with mostly the Human Rights Commission, in which the Chief vigorously defended the actions of the officers.”
Gissiner argues that this “is the narrative of the country right now, this over policing of petty issues. This is just a perfect example of how a culture is so embedded into how you’re going to do things.” Gissiner continues to say, “this is just the way we’re supposed to do things.”
Though the Police Auditor sits on the Use of Force board, due to collective bargaining, it’s as a non-voting member, and as such has little sway or authority over decisions or policy.
Concerns over the lack of evidence from the Body Worn Camera was only brought up twice during the CRB meeting and were easily dissolved by stating that the “camera was knocked loose during the struggle, fell to ground, and stopped recording.”
Only one committee member found that information odd, given other cases involving BWCs falling from an officer’s uniform yet still continued recording.
BWCs offer an unbiased account of interactions between the public and the police as explained in this video created by the City to showcase the need for the new equipment purchased from Axon. The Axon Body 2 cameras are advertised as “durably unmatched,” with rapid locking mounts, and each camera is assigned to an individual officer verified by the “watermark” or footage identification.
This watermark displays the date, time (based on the time zone in use), camera type, and officer user ID number in the upper right hand corner. This information is auto-synced, and must be checked before beginning a shift. Out of all the investigations, no one asked why the footage shows a contradicting time to the police reports.
Though the majority of the CRB agreed that the end use of deadly force was justified, this did not come without many recommendations regarding changes to practices and procedures stemming from the numerous policy violations made by the officer. Such as Police S.T.O.P.’s 402, failure to use de-escalation practices as outlined in policy 820, and police foot pursuits 458. Many members of the CRB also adamantly stated that IDFIT is a true disservice to EPD and the community.
Other concerns were raised over the narrative created to justify the deadly force used by officer Tykol as noted by committee member Michael Hames-García who said: “Seventy seven pages of the 293 page IDFIT report was on Rodrigues’ previous police contacts. I don’t know how to describe these, other than character assassination of someone who is deceased. It’s a rather clumsy attempt to control the narrative.”
The board was also resolute in their requests to change policy allowing voting power for the police auditor, recognizing that without this, positive change will continue to be delayed.
Regardless of the fact that the police auditor and CRB found and identified multiple inconsistencies, flaws, and red flags in all of the investigations, their findings ultimately have no impact on the outcome, or the DA’s decision for the case of Eliborio Rodrigues.