New Problems Confront Portland’s Woman Police Chief
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ A restaurant owner’s friendship with the police chief and the chief’s policeman-husband has fueled the latest controversy in Penny Harrington’s stormy 14 months as the nation’s first female big-city police chief.
Policeman Gary Harrington is being investigated for telling their friend, a suspect in a cocaine trafficking investigation, that police probably would question him. And Mrs. Harrington has admitted she spoke to the same man about a shooting in which he wounded a transient.
But Mrs. Harrington insists she did no wrong and says she is confident her husband also will be cleared.
Mayor Bud Clark has appointed an independent commission, led by former U.S. Attorney Sidney Lezak, to investigate the case.
″I welcome public scrutiny of my administration,″ Mrs. Harrington, 44, said in a statement. ″I have given a firm hand to the administration of the police bureau and I have maintained the confidence Mayor Clark expressed in me when he appointed me.″
Still, the latest problems have added fuel to demands from her critics that she be replaced.
″I’m sure there are a lot of people who would joyously celebrate her retirement or dismissal,″ said Stan Peters, head of the Portland police union.
In a union survey six months ago, 91 percent of the police officers who responded said Mrs. Harrington was doing a poor job.
Mrs. Harrington’s term as chief has been marked by repeated controversy.
The police bureau has been criticized for the death of a black man at the hands of two white officers and the subsequent sale by two officers of T- shirts saying ″Don’t choke ‘em, smoke ’em.″
Clark fired the two officers responsible for the T-shirts, but they were reinstated by an arbitrator.
Mrs. Harrington’s office also has been criticized for large cutbacks in drug and vice enforcement.
The latest troubles began March 25 when Mrs. Harrington admitted her husband had spoken to the drug suspect, Robert Lee, owner of a Chinese restaurant. She said her husband, who works in the police bureau’s personnel division, was unaware of the investigation when he saw Lee speaking to a known drug dealer.
Mrs. Harrington said her husband told Lee he shouldn’t be talking to the man. She said he also told Lee he probably would be questioned by police and should cooperate.
U.S. Attorney Charles Turner and Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk sent two letters to Mrs. Harrington saying they found ″clear and convincing evidence″ that her husband had violated police rules.
They said the evidence wasn’t sufficient to warrant criminal prosecution, however, partly because Lee had refused to cooperate.
The mayor said he still supported the police chief, but formed the commission because of continued media queries. ″I’ve called this a dead horse, but obviously this isn’t a dead horse when you guys keep beating our heads with it,″ Clark said at a news conference.
Then Mrs. Harrington admitted she had spoken to Lee after he shot and wounded a transient on Feb. 11. Lee said the transient had tried to rob him.
Among other things, Mrs. Harrington said she told Lee he probably would not be indicted. A grand jury did later decline to indict him.
″Police officers, including myself, routinely answer inquiries from citizens from the public about the course of police investigations,″ Mrs. Harrington said.
″Mr. Lee apparently acted in self-defense,″ she said. ″Based on my experience - 22 years as a police officer - I reasonably expected that when the district attorney presented the case to the grand jury, the grand jury wouldn’t issue an indictment.″
Peters said the situation is unusual because Mrs. Harrington was in a position to have detailed information about the case.
″There are some improprieties there,″ Peters said. ″The extent of them I think are heightened because the chief of police is doing it.″
Mrs. Harrington says she’s ready to weather the storm.
″Political controversy is no stranger to the police bureau,″ she said. ″However, I trust that the citizens of this community will weigh the facts carefully and will consider the impartial examination of my administration by the Lezak commission.″