PORTLAND, OR — City officials are moving to rescind the firing of a Portland police sergeant, who was reported to have made an inflammatory remark about killing a black man during roll call, and allow him to retire with a three-week suspension instead.
He won’t be eligible for any job at the Portland Police Bureau or in the city again, under the negotiated agreement with the police union.
The proposal, which goes before City Council on Wednesday, was drafted after the mayor’s office received advice from the city attorney’s office cautioning that an arbitrator likely would overturn the sergeant’s termination.
Gregg Lewis was fired on Feb. 2, 2018, after other officers reported to command staff a year earlier that they were alarmed by alleged racist and violent remarks the sergeant made about the use of force against a black man during a Central Precinct roll call. The remarks were made just three days after the controversial fatal police shooting of a black teenager, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.
Shortly after Lewis was placed under investigation in 2017, Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “I will not tolerate racism or threats of violence by any police officer. Any officer who is found to have engaged in such behavior will face severe discipline, including termination.”
Now the mayor is bringing to the Council a proposed emergency ordinance that would allow Lewis’s firing to be erased, with the city paying him $100,020.53 in back pay.
Further, Lewis would be considered retired, effective Dec. 3, with the city ensuring he receives pension credits for his adjusted service time through his retirement date.
The back pay figure covers his wages from Feb. 2, 2018 through Dec. 3, 2018, at the base hourly rate of pay at the time of his firing, minus the newly imposed 120 hours of suspension without pay.
The settlement results from a grievance that the Portland Police Association filed three days after Lewis was fired. The union argued Lewis was fired without just cause in violation of the city’s bargaining agreement. Lewis argued that his remarks were done in a joking manner, according to the mayor’s office.
The city initially denied the grievance. The bureau’s Police Review Board had found Lewis’ remarks brought discredit to the bureau. One board member called Lewis’ comments an “egregious, abhorrent act” that had no place in the police bureau. Several board members also noted that Lewis failed to recognize the gravity of his inappropriate remarks and the negative effect they could have on younger officers under his command and the police bureau.
As the union advanced toward arbitration, though, the city negotiated a compromise, without taking the case to an arbitration hearing before an administrative judge, according to city records.
“This is the only way we can ensure 100 percent that he will never become part of the Portland Police Bureau again,” said Berk Nelson, the mayor’s senior policy advisor.
Deputy City Attorney Mark Amberg advised the mayor’s office in this case. Because Lewis didn’t have a prior history of making such “racist” remarks before that February 2017 roll call address, it was considered likely that his firing would be overturned by an arbitrator, Amberg advised the mayor, according to Nelson.
Wheeler objects to the arbitration process, which often second-guesses and overturns discipline meted out by the police chief and police commissioner, Nelson said. The mayor and chief will work to challenge it in the next Portland Police Association contract, Nelson said.
Lewis has already retired from the Police Bureau once. He retired on Oct. 31, 2016, but was rehired two months later, part of the police bureau’s retire-rehire program to fill vacancies.
The proposal goes before the council for a vote at its 9:30 a.m. meeting in City Hall’s council chambers.
From The Oregonian