Portland, OR — Gregg Lewis, a Portland Police sergeant who was fired for making racist remarks about killing Black people during a roll call meeting, has been recently approved by the Portland City Council to receive a settlement that would erase his firing and consider him retired instead, and would even give him $100,000 in back pay!
On February 12, 2017, Lewis was reportedly leading a roll call meeting with about 20 police officers where he was instructing them how to handle an intoxicated person in a private parking garage when he said that if they come across a Black homeless person, “just shoot them.” Some of the officers who were in the meeting reported his racist remark the next day and was cited in his termination letter.
The reports slightly vary in words. One said they remembered Lewis saying, “Go out and shoot Black people” while another one recalled, “If they’re black and homeless, shoot them or kill them.” One report said that Lewis’ comment generated uncomfortable laughter in the room but Lewis only reportedly “laughed, threw his hands in the air and said, ‘F— it. What do I care?’”
In response to the complaints, Lewis claimed that he has a “habit of sometimes being a little sarcastic” and he didn’t mean to discriminate based on race. He apologized thereafter and said he already realized that his remarks were inappropriate.
Lewis was fired in early February 2018, a year after the incident, but his remarks have only been made public early 2019 when the police union filed a grievance to overturn his termination.
Last week, the Portland City Council voted 4-1 to approve the settlement that would give him a back pay of $100,020.53 and reinstate him, allowing him to retire and overturn his termination under the condition that he could never be eligible to work for the city again. He will also receive pension credits throughout his retirement.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was the only one who objected, saying that the city “should fight” any effort to overturn an officer’s justified termination. She told Oregon Live, “I’m not willing to give up.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler and the three other commissioners claimed they had no better choice than to approve of the settlement. Apparently, the Police Bureau’s own discipline guide sets the maximum punishment for inflammatory, derogatory language at only a three-week suspension without pay.
Commissioner Nick Fish said he supported the settlement, “even though it offends me to the core to give money to this person,” Commissioner Amanda Fritz felt “personally ill” with the terms, and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said that “there’s no good fight to fight when the game is rigged.”
Meanwhile, Donna Hayes, the grandmother of Quanice Hayes, an unarmed Black teen who was shot and killed by another Portland police officer days before Lewis made the racist remark, was disappointed with the decision.
“I rather he go through arbitration and win and work with a target on his back than the city pay him off and send a message out that it’s all right to kill black people,” she said.