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Feds: Portland, Ore., police use excessive force against mentally ill

PORTLAND, Ore. — Federal investigators on Thursday said the Portland Police Bureau has engaged in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force against suspects who are mentally ill.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez said the Justice Department and the city reached a preliminary agreement on improvements, such as increased training, expedited investigations and increased community oversight of the reforms.

The agency launched its investigation in June 2011 to examine whether Portland police engaged in excessive force after a series of police shootings, many involving suspects with mental illness, over the previous 18 months.

Perez said Portland's mayor and police chief cooperated with the investigation.

“While our investigation has revealed that inadequate systems of supervision and oversight and the absence of specialized training have permitted particular use of force violations to persist at the Portland Police Bureau, we are confident that the steps already taken and those contained in our tentative agreement will provide meaningful and sustainable reform.” said Perez in a statement.

Federal officials have conducted similar reviews in other states. Seattle officials recently reached a deal with the Department of Justice, agreeing to court oversight and independent monitoring of the city's police department.

The issue of how police deal with the mentally ill has been a topic for years in Portland.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Amanda Marshall told The Oregonian the findings of the report were "grave and serious."

“We all agree with the fundamental principle that all citizens, especially our most vulnerable, must be able to trust the police to protect their civil rights,” said Marshall in a statement.

The DOJ announced its Portland investigation in the aftermath of the 2010 death of Aaron Campbell, an unarmed man who was fatally shot by officers who responded to a call that he was threatening suicide.

Another prominent case involved the death James Chasse Jr., a mentally ill man who died after he was chased and tackled by officers after he was said to have urinated in public in 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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