PORTLAND, Oregon – A Portland police officer on Thursday pleaded guilty to first-degree official misconduct. As a result, he was sentenced to a year and a half of probation with required community service for having sex on duty with a woman he met responding to a neighborhood noise disturbance call, reported The Oregonian.
The first court appearance, plea hearing and sentencing of Christian Robert Berge, 46, lasted four minutes before Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric J. Bergstrom.
Berge, who was a 10-year patrol officer of the Portland Police Bureau, agreed to resign and surrender his police certification. Moreover, he must complete 120 hours of community service through a charity of his choice.
The judge quickly read through the negotiated agreement and asked Berge how he intended to plea to the allegation that he “unlawfully and knowingly” engaged in “unauthorized exercise of his official duties, with intent to obtain a benefit.”
“Guilty, your Honor,” said Berge, dressed in a blue suit and white dress shirt, standing alongside his defense lawyer Michael Staropoli.
Multnomah County Chief Deputy District Attorney Don Rees didn’t provide an overview of the offense during the brief court hearing.
Asked afterward what the misconduct included, Rees responded, “When he was supposed to be serving and protecting, he was fornicating.”
The reported sexual tryst lasted from mid-August 2015 through this past May, Rees said. It came to the attention of the police bureau when the woman reported the behavior recently, he said.
Berge joined the agency in December 2007 after working as a San Francisco police officer. He had been on front desk duty at Central Precinct earlier this year before he was placed on paid leave.
Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw was out of town Thursday and unavailable for comment, Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said.
Furthermore, Berge is named in a pending federal lawsuit. In the suit there is an allegation that he stopped a couple in April 2015 without cause, ordered the driver to get his “black ass” out of the car and searched the vehicle. According to the lawsuit, he found nothing but the driver’s Bible and a Bible study book.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in August, alleges the stop was motivated by racial discrimination.
However, police internal affairs officers investigated the April 2015 stop and exonerated Berge of the improper stop allegation. Nevertheless, the police bureau found he had broken the motorist’s key and was discourteous.
The sentencing was at least the third time in less than two years that Multnomah County prosecutors have arranged for a law enforcement officer facing a criminal charge to make a single appearance in court before Bergstrom as judge.
In February 2016, Jeromie L. Palaoro resigned from the Police Bureau and moments later pleaded guilty to first-degree official misconduct in Bergstrom’s courtroom after a woman said he responded to her domestic assault complaint and then visited her hotel room and coerced her into unwanted sexual contact. In March, a Gresham police officer pleaded guilty and was sentenced by Bergstrom for exposing himself to co-workers.
Chris O’Connor, a Portland criminal defense lawyer not tied to the Berge case, said he was struck by the “amazing turnaround” on Berge’s case, with no formal arrest, no separate arraignment, no probable cause statement and “special assignment to a judge without the normal criminal court process.”
O’Connor said it appeared as though the officer received special treatment from the prosecution and court.
Rees, in response, said any defense attorneys who want to make such an arrangement, who have a client “motivated to resolve their case” with an immediate plea and sentencing, are welcome to do so.
He said he and Berge’s lawyer, Staropoli, approached Bergstrom with the negotiated arrangement.