Ad Hoc Committee Meets with Ashland Police Chief over Wrongful Arrest

Words by Kokayi Nosakhere

One week after an African American man was wrongfully arrested in Ashland, Oregon an ad hoc committee of community organizations sat down with Police Chief Tighe O’Meara. The purpose of the meeting was to provide information directly to concerned groups so that accurate information is disseminated.

At 12:55 pm Chief O’Meara confidently strode into Peace House, the host organization. He greeted and shook the hands of eight persons representing the other five organizations. Those organizations are: The Racial Equity Coalition, The Rogue Action Center, Unite Oregon, So Health-E and the Ashland School District.

Of the eight persons, Chief O’Meara warmly acknowledged two leaders, whom he has worked with closely over the years. He stated that he wanted to continue those relationships in a positive manner.

Being hosted by the Peace House, the restorative justice model orientated the discussion and questions. The ad hoc committee sought information, not blame.

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Lieutenant Hector Meletich joined the Chief. The committee learned both men are trained in anti-bias at the national level. Every Ashland police officer has received the fundamentals of implicit and explicit bias training, but no “deep dives” into the underlying psychological conditions.

To be fair, the human brain finds patterns. That is how we define “smart.” Those who are able to discover and capitalize on patterns in behavior get rewarded in our society. Bias is universal. It isn’t if you and I are biased, it’s what kinds of biases we have.

It is going to take time to schedule the training that is needed.

The police chief is in a structural position of authority. The Racial Equity Coalition’s Alma Rosa Alvarez opened the meeting by thanking O’Meara for maintaining his humanity. It is rare for police departments to admit officers did not follow basic procedures for verifying perpetrators. It is touching when the chief decides to visit the family himself to apologize.

Such behavior confirms the trust placed inside the Ashland police force. The community receives confirmation persons of a high caliber were selected to serve and protect. This is paramount, otherwise it entertains the idea of the suspension of law for persons of color, which is unacceptable.

Unite Oregon’s Virginia Camberos led the question and answer period.

Question: What are the procedures that should have been followed in this case?

Chief O’Meara explained how the more he looks into the incident the worse it becomes. Why basic policing did not occur is the mystery he hopes the internal investigation reveals. He is constrained at this time to go into full details, however he revealed what is for public consumption at this time.

At, or near, 8 pm on Monday, November 26, 2018, three Ashland police officers – an 18 year veteran, an 8 year veteran and a six month rookie – responded to a call. The Kaleafa marijuana dispensary reported physical harassment of an employee by an under-aged Black man dressed in a dark hoodie. It is dark at 8 pm. The officers wasted little time sweeping the area and detaining a young man who met the description.

It is not the detainment, the chief makes issue with; it is the lack of follow through in basic policing.

Using a JFK-style count off, Chief O’Meara told the ad hoc committee three ways his officers could have ID’d the young man as the perpetrator.

  1. Witness drive-by. The officers could have brought the detainee to the dispensary for the shoved employee to identify.
  2. Consensual conversation. The officers could have engaged in community policing techniques and determined through fact finding probable cause.
  3. Video surveillance. The officer could have asked the dispensary for access to video of the shoving incident and ID the perpetrator.

None of these three option were taken.

The discussion then centered on wholeness for the young man harmed, meaning, would the department clear up any legal fees associated with the arrest. Chief O’Meara stated he is doing everything within his power to remove the mistake of this arrest from the young man’s record, without violating any freedom of information laws.

Because the officers are under investigation, the transparency being demanded by the public is a tightrope for the Chief to walk. He has to continuously seek the legal counsel of the city attorney. This is the nature of governmental checks and balances. The process is slow, but thorough. It takes two weeks for the internal investigation to end. Interviews are scheduled later this week. When the report is ready, per the law, the information will be released to the public.

The ad hoc committee thanked the Chief and the Lieutenant for their time. The meeting ended with a commitment for a follow up once the internal investigation is released.

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