I volunteered for over a year at the Portland Police Department, and I can well imagine that life ain’t easy for a cop named Sue. I worked in the forensic lab on a method for getting fingerprints off of fired cartridges shells. The theory was that the heat of firing would cause differential corrosion based on fingerprint residue. Since I had studied nano-scale oxidation of metals as part of my PhD thesis, I was asked to help with a feasibility study. I thought that it might indeed be good to also know who loaded the weapon. It was also fun for me to collaborate on the project with fellow physicists at Portland State. In any case, the technique never proved reliable and the scientist must be satisfied with a measured negative.
For the later part of my time in forensics, I was also reporting from the Occupy Camps in downtown Portland. It was often invigorating to wear both Portland Police and KBOO Radio Reporter badges. I do remember the hair on my neck at the station the day after I stepped between a large occupier and an angry blond cop with a stick. In my year plus at Central Precinct, I didn’t notice racism, and there was a clear and present sexism. I sure didn’t step up when a colleague suggested that then Chief Sizer must be on her period. Shucks, they had guns.
The Sue of this story is White Portland Police Officer Susan Billard. I met her at the disorderly conduct trial of “Don’t Shoot Portland” and “Black Lives Matter” activist Teressa Raiford. Ms Raiford had helped organized a one-year-out remembrance of police-slain-Black-Youth Michael Brown. As part of the event, one hundred people of all Shades occupied the intersection of southeast 82nd and Division on August 9th, 2015 and shouted things like, “What’s his name? Michael Brown! What do we do? Shut stuff down!”
The activists observed four and a half minutes in the street to remember the four and a half hours when Mr. Brown died. Counting getting in and out, activists were in the street a total of about 7 minutes. Ms Raiford was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in connection with blocking traffic on a public way. Officer Susan Billard was the arresting officer and star witness.
I arrived at Multnomah County Courthouse from KBOO News to cover the trial not too sure what the story was. Heck, when I march without a permit I feel that I am taking my chances, that I probably am breaking some law. I soon found out that it was more important than that.
Officer Billard’s court testimony was remarkable in how it changed and in how it changed the charging orders against Ms Raiford. The first day of court was a pre-jury hearing to decide if The State (that is, We) had probably cause to arrest Ms Raiford in the first place. On direct examination Officer Billard testified that after the 100 demonstrators left the street Ms Raiford alone blocked several cars for 3 to 5 additional minutes. And that when Ms Raiford refused to obey police orders to get on the sidewalk, she was arrested.
On cross examination the defense archedly asked, “So, if there were a video it would show everyone else out of the street and cars backed up for 3 to 5 minutes?” This was objected to by The State (that is, Us) as speculative, and sustained by the Right White Judge Greenlick. The punchline was that there was indeed a citizen-video of that event, which was introduced as evidence for the defense. This video showed the activists taking the intersection, holding up signs, shouting, dancing, singing, chanting, showing their art and stopping traffic for about 7 minutes before returning to the sidewalk.
The video then shows that during the next 3 to 5 minutes Ms Raiford was indeed in the street with most other activists on the sidewalk, however, with traffic proceeding normally and no cars blocked. There were other activists in the street doing the same thing as Ms Raiford. A White police officer was discussing options with a White activist, both standing in the street. The video then shows Sargent Clark marching Officers Billard and Miller with two other White Officers across the street to arrest Ms Raiford.
After reviewing the video and dismissing the witnesses, the Judge called the lawyers to his bench. Since the video clearly shows cars proceeding normally the State (that is, We) had two problems: Officer Billard’s testimony was unreliable, and there didn’t seem to be a crime committed there. Indeed the defense attorney pointed out that: The testimony of the arresting officer was refuted by the video; The State did not have probable cause at the time of the arrest; The State has no evidence now; And, let’s all go home. Judge Greenlick agreed that Officer Billard’s testimony was unreliable, and that there was indeed no probable cause for arrest. Yet they didn’t seem to want to waste all this effort. Or maybe they has some kind of a point system, too.
In any case, We decided that the defense’s video showing traffic blocked in the intersection, 5 plus minutes prior to the original-and-now-refuted charge, could be used as evidence of disorderly conduct. So, and I didn’t even know that this was allowed, the crime Ms Raiford was charged with was changed. We now asserted the Ms Raiford was guilty of disorderly conduct because she ordered those 100 people to go into the street and block traffic in the first place.
With those changes in the charging orders the jury was selected. They looked like Portland, Oregon. In keeping with the new charging orders, Our opening statement focused on Ms Raiford as an organizer. We claimed that it was her preconceived intent on that August 9th to get 100 people in the street with the intent of obstructing traffic on a public way. In their opening statement the defense countered that it was Portland Police’s preconceived intent to arrest Ms Raiford that day. At the time, I thought that counter-assertion likely a stretch.
Our first witness was Sargent Jacob Clark. Sargent Clark was the officer in charge that day and gave the order to arrest Ms Raiford. He first testified that he arrived at southeast 82nd and Division at around 3:05 or 3:10, after receiving the call from Officer Billard regarding protesters blocking the intersection. On cross examination, Sargent Clark admitted that he had been staking out the activists since noon. He further testified that: he received the call from Officer Billard about 3 minutes after he left his stake out; that the intersection was clear when he got back; that Ms Raiford was then the only one left in the street; and that when she disobeyed his order to get out of the street, he had her arrested. And, yes, he took classes in psychology and how to testify before a jury.
The prosecutor next called Officer Susan Billard to the stand. After the usual preliminaries, We asked her to describe what happened on that August 9th. Officer Billard testified that, although her beat is East of Interstate 205, she just happened to be driving North on 82nd when she came across a group of protesters blocking the intersection at Division. So, she called it in. She further testified that: Sergeant Clark was the Officer in Charge and had them assemble on the North side of the street; that she volunteered to go across the street; and that when Ms Raiford wouldn’t get out of the street Sargent Clark gave the order and she, along with Officer Miller executed the arrest. She though it was nice that two female officers made the arrest.
On cross examination the defense attorney asked Officer Billard if she saw Ms Raiford blocking traffic in the minutes leading up to her arrest. She evaded for a few and eventually testified that, no, she did not see any blocked traffic. When the defense attorney asked if she remembered testifying differently the day before, Officer Billard accused him of tricking her. And, yes, she did start a conversation with Ms Raiford during the arrest by saying that 90% of violence against Black people is by other Black people.
When I say that I met Officer Billard I mean that our eyes met during a lawyer-break with her stuck on the witness stand and me in the press box. I guess I had a gap-mouthed look of confusion on my face at her duplicitous testimony. Her body language replied tersely with a ‘What!’ On the other hand, who am I? And she returned my sad-ass smile.
The only other testimony important for this story is that of Officer Miller, the second White Female arresting officer. Officer Miller swore that Sargent Clark gave the order to arrest Ms Raiford while still on the North side of the street. This pointedly contradicted Officer Billard and Sargent Clark, both of whom testified that the arrest order was given on the South side of the street, and only after Ms Raiford was warned up to several times.
The new charging orders, that Ms Raiford planned and orchestrated the intentional obstruction of a public way, proved hard to prove beyond the reasonable doubt. Perhaps it was difficult to connect the alleged crime in the middle of the intersection with the arrest several minutes later under different circumstances. Perhaps it was also hard to see what Ms Raiford was doing that was different from many other activists. It was also unusual that the only evidence for the prosecution was the video admitted by the defense. In any case, it took only a few hours for the almost all White jury to return a not guilty verdict.
Both Judge and Jury were in disbelief of the police testimony. What then is a more likely scenario for the events of August 9, 2015? I do not claim that the following fictionalized account is true in any detail. I do maintain that it is a lot more believable than the police version.
Sue and Jake were friends, and he only want to help her get ahead. They met at the new Federal classes on Arrest, Incite and Obfuscate.
Jake was her Capo for the 4 on 1 arrest drills. He always encouraged her to mix it up a little, to get physical, to make sure the person knew that they were getting arrested. That was the first time he touched her. Just a little push from behind, with a hushed, “you go girl.” He wanted her to know that he was there for her. Sometimes his touch moved around a little. Sue knew that you are not a real cop unless you do make some arrests, and mix it up a little.
Jake was also ahead of Sue in giving testimony. He never says anything definite. He looks the jurors in the eye. He is polite, and knows exactly when he just can’t remember. He comes off as a regular guy. She was taught to make the defense attorney look like a bully. Sue was taught to play woman-as-victim. The Feds have something for everyone.
The one class Sue was better in was Incite. The two components were mental and physical pressure. The art was in the mixing. The goal is to get the target to lose control. Getting them to yell and scream is level one. Getting them to spit is pretty good. The highest level is when you get the target to physically assault an officer. Sue led with a piercing mental game.
Jake and Sue were two friends in a larger culture. The first rule of that culture is called “dominate and control.” Some members of the outside community have been showing disrespect. Some members of the outside community were talking about their rights. Some members of the outside community didn’t obey. Some members of the outside community needed to be reminded that “serve and protect” is not for them.
Jake and Sue only had to use Facebook to find their opportunity. They found out that a Black Lives Matter demonstration was planned at southeast 82nd and Division for August 9th. Raiford was going to be there. Protesters would surely take their message into the street. How could they make sure Sue got first-on-scene credit? How could they make sure Sue was in on the arrest? This could be a good chance to mix it up, maybe collect the Incite Bonus.
The plan was simple. Jake would stake out the intersection at southeast 82nd and Division. As soon as he saw the protesters head into the street he would call Sue on her private cell phone, and leave the scene to the North. Sue would be waiting for his call a few blocks to the South. This way she would be sure to discover the protesters, and Raiford, still in the street. It was Jake’s beat and he would likely be the Officer in Charge. The only slight problem was that Sue’s patrol area was a mile or so to the East. You have to mix it up a little to get ahead.
And it all worked according to plan. Sue was the one to discover the protesters and called it in. Jake got the official call from Sue. He put out an official call for all available units. He was careful to take his time getting back to the scene. Jake was indeed the Officer in Charge. He organized his force of about a dozen officers on the North side of Division. When he called for volunteers, Sue was right there to step up.
The defense’s video tells the rest of the story. At 20:30 traffic is light and proceeding normally. Crowds are on the sidewalk chanting, “Black Lives Matter.” A few organizers, including Ms Raiford are off the curb. At 20:38, Sargent Clark starts across the street with his team of 4 Officers: three White Females and one other White male. Just like in practice, they are in mini-kettle formation with Billard and Miller at the hands-on corners. At 20:55 the arrest team has crossed the street and is just behind Ms Raiford when a protester shouts out ‘Teressa!’ Ms Raiford turns around, sees the 5 Police Officers, and puts her hands up. At 20:58 Our team of blue has her on three sides. At 20:59 Officers Billard and Miller have their hands on Ms Raiford, and Ms Raiford doesn’t resist. At 20:01 Sargent Clark puts his hand on Officer Billard and gives her an encouraging little push, just like in practice.
One of the reasons I claim that my imagined version is more believable than the police version is a question of timing. The police claim that two independent events happened within a three minute window of the activists taking the street: Sargent Clark left his three hour stake out and Officer Billard arrived at southeast 82nd and Division, which is out of her patrol area. What are the chances of that? The laws of probability tell us that to get the overall probability of independent events, you multiply together the probability of the individual events.
Sargent Clark was on stake out for 3 hours, or 180 minutes, and left within a 3 minute window of the activists taking the street. This has a rough probability of 3 in 180, or 1 in 60. What are the chances that Officer Billard happened to be driving past the intersection, out of her patrol district in this same time period? That seems harder to estimate. Assuming she averages 30 mile per hour, she covers 1.5 miles in 3 minutes. There are about 40 street miles in a patrol district and 750 street miles in the entire East Precinct. For a rough estimate, let’s assume that she could be anywhere in 150 street miles. That she was in a specific 1.5 miles then, gets a probability of 1.5 in 150, or 1 in 100.
The chances that Sargent Clark happened to leave a few minutes before the activists took to the street is very low. The probability that Officer Billard arrived on the scene a few minutes after the activists took the street is even lower. The probability that these two events occurred independently or each other is very very low, roughly 1 in 6,000. The other 5,999 in 6,000 times he called her just as the activists took to the street and then split to the North.
Another important indication that the police likely conspired to deprive Ms Raiford of her liberty comes from the contradiction in the police testimony. Both Sargent Clark and Officer Billard testified that the arrest order was given on the South side of the street, and only after fair warnings to get back on the sidewalk were issued. Officer Miller testified that the order to arrest Ms Raiford came while the police were still on the North side of the street. This indicates that the police did not cross over to confront who ever remained in the street. They singled out Ms Raiford from the North side and crossed over specifically to arrest her. Why would Sargent Clark and Officer Billard make up that story unless it were part of a larger fabrication?
Finally, I believe, as the defense attorney asserted in his opening statement, that Portland Police conspired to deprive Ms Raiford of her civil rights because of who she is. She is a Black Women asserting her rights. And this is Portland, Oregon under White Mayor Hales.