INSTEAD OF PRISON
<<The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office launched two new programs last year to divert people accused of violent offenses from prison time.
The first was profiled in this week’s paper: a treatment court for Measure 11 offenders.
The second is called Restorative Roots. It’s a partnership among prosecutors, public defenders and a local nonprofit, Inside Alliance, that offers victims of violent crimes an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system.
The process, known broadly as restorative justice, gives victims and offenders counseling, face-to-face meetings, and an opportunity to pursue justice on their own terms.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, Metropolitan Public Defender and Inside Alliance call the program a “victim-centered approach to justice” in a summary of the program shared with WW.
“This program was created to reshape the way we view community safety,” says Stephen Fowler, who directs the program at Inside Alliance.
Under the program, prosecutors can choose to refer victims of low-level violent crimes to Inside Alliance. If a victim agrees to that idea, prosecutors waive the indictment. Only some crimes are eligible, and prosecutors have discretion over when it’s offered.
If the defendant completes the program, the indictment is dropped. If they walk away and don’t complete the program, which can take many months, then charges are reinstated.
“In restorative justice, the victim drives the bus,” says Mariel Mota, the prosecutor managing the program for the DA’s office.
So far, only a handful of people have taken prosecutors up on the offer—and none has yet concluded the program’s first phase.
(Face-to-face meetings begin in the second.)
The program is still in its infancy, Mota says. “The number of victims that I interact with that say, ‘Yeah, I think this is a better solution,’ has been surprising to me,” she tells WW. “You take a holistic approach and you change someone’s mind, instead of just putting them in a box for four years and saying good luck.”
Money for the program came through from the state in August, thanks to a bill passed in 2021 that funded eight restorative justice programs across the state.
The one in Portland is based on a model developed in Oakland, where studies found a 91% approval rate from victims and significant reductions in recidivism: 44%, according to the summary.
“The objective of RJ is better victim outcomes and lower recidivism,” says DA spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard.
First, participants are given access to counseling and social services as they prepare for face-to-face meetings, known as a circles. This phase can take anywhere from two to six months, Fowler says.
At the circles, the parties devise an accountability plan, which could involve anything from restitution to community service. “The dialogue is really about talking about the harm—and then it’s about what is needed to make the situation right,” Fowler says.
The final phase is repairing that harm, during which the parties implement the plan and Inside Alliance tracks progress. For example, Fowler says, a bicycle thief might agree to volunteer at a local bicycle repair shop. The nonprofit notifies prosecutors once the plan is complete.
“This is healing work,” Fowler says. Participants can discover they’ve suffered the same ordeals and can “truly apologize” during the sessions, he adds.
The result: “The lightheartedness of seeing the human being across from you, instead of having a monster in your head for so many years.”>>
<<JJ Derie was looking at hard time. The 40-year-old was addicted to meth and living on Portland’s streets when he shot Tyler Roley in the knee over a stolen dog in September 2020.
After Roley identified him to police, Derie, 40, was arrested six months later and charged with first-degree assault—a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of more than seven years in prison.
But, despite a guilty plea, Derie may not go to prison for his offense. That’s because he’s one of the first participants in a new Multnomah County program—the first in the nation, according to the judge that runs it—that allows people convicted of violent offenses to avoid prison time if they commit to behavioral health treatment.
“It gave me the opportunity to get out and start my life over again,” says Derie, who is now sober, housed and employed.
For this, he can thank Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.
In a way, both of their futures hinge on the success of this novel program, called STEP, short for Strategic Treatment and Engagement Program.>>
<<It’s not uncommon for prosecutors to offer defendants plea deals.
What’s different with STEP is the severity of the charges being reduced and the extensive supervision being offered in place of prison.
As recently as 2021, prosecutors never reduced first-degree assault to probation, explains Mariel Mota, the prosecutor overseeing the Measure 11 probation program for Schmidt’s office. For Derie, they did.
Schmidt’s claim: More prison time alone won’t make Portland safer. “Working to improve the criminal justice system and public safety are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inextricably linked,” he tells WW.>>
<<Schmidt has actually introduced two new programs.
They operate very differently, but both have a similar result: no prison for people booked for violent offenses with mandatory minimum sentences.
The first, STEP, offers intensive community probation in exchange for a guilty plea. After the defendant is interviewed by an evaluator and a judge, prosecutors can elect to reduce the charge, generally assault or robbery, to one not covered by Measure 11. Offenders avoid prison time, if they commit to a minimum of one year of intensive behavioral health treatment.
The second, a partnership with a local nonprofit called the Insight Alliance, allows victims to pursue justice outside the court system. If offenders complete the program, which includes mediation, counseling and other social services, their charges are dismissed entirely.>>
<<The testing ground for Schmidt’s new program is Courtroom 8B in the Multnomah County Courthouse.
There, twice a week, Judge Eric Bloch presides over STEP court. Every person he considers is someone originally charged with a Measure 11 offense. Instead, they’re under his supervision for at least a year as they undergo treatment.
Bloch has been on the bench since 2003. He ran Multnomah County’s drug diversion court, a similar divert-and-treat program for offenders facing felony possession charges, and more recently, he served as a “peer reviewer” for similar courts popping up across the state.
That is, until Measure 110, the 2020 Oregon law decriminalizing hard drugs, made such courts obsolete. The county Department of Community Justice redirected its funding to STEP and gave it an $850,000 budget.
It’s the first time in the country that the treatment court model has been applied to violent crimes, Bloch says.
But the emphasis on staying sober remains. More than 90% of people in the program have mental health or substance use disorders, Bloch estimates.>>
<<There are many carrots in Bloch’s arsenal: Starbucks gift cards for reaching each new “phase” of treatment (there are five, each at least several months long). A “quick list” so those doing well can jump the line and leave court early. And most importantly, he says, is his approval.
“You identify the behaviors that you want to promote—you incentivize them to do those things,” Bloch says. Those behaviors are simple: follow the treatment regimen, obey parole officers’ orders, show up in court.
If they don’t, Bloch has sticks. If someone doesn’t make it to a court date or a meeting, he’ll assign homework—which can range from writing an essay to nights in jail.
For “something really bad,” Bloch can revoke probation and send a participant to prison. So far, he’s only had to do that twice, he says.
In both cases, participants were imprisoned after repeatedly walking away from treatment.
STEP is the fulfillment of a careerlong dream, Bloch says, made possible by a district attorney willing to take a risk.
“If I send someone to prison for 70 months, the public is going to be safe from them for 70 months,” he says. “But what about when they get out? They’re untreated.”
When people enter the program, they’re nearly always unhoused, often suffering from crippling addictions. Now, Bloch says, “100% of them are housed, 100% of them are in treatment.”>>
<<After an independent review of hundreds of cases, the Wasco County district attorney is asking the courts to dismiss or expunge 169 misdemeanor and felony convictions involving a disgraced former city of The Dalles police officer.
District Attorney Matt Ellis asked the FA:IR Law Project, a program of the Oregon Justice Resource Center that works to address systemic failures in the criminal justice system, to review 251 cases involving officer Jeffrey Kienlen going back 10 years.
“The documents we examined showed a clear pattern of aggressive behavior, unreliable investigative work, and poor recordkeeping. Often, other officers were present to see Kienlen behaving badly,” FA:IR Law Project’s report says. “Such institutional problems cannot be adequately addressed on a case-by-case basis; instead, we need broad changes that get closer to the roots.”
The organization recommended dismissing cases or expunging convictions in 169 of those cases. Ellis said his office has started asking the court to take action on the cases and some have already been dismissed or expunged.
Days after taking office and replacing Eric Nisley in January 2021, Ellis found a decade old disciplinary letter in Nisley’s desk drawer. The letter, written by then Police Chief Jay Waterbury in February 2011, said he was demoting Kienlen for lying about where he was staying on a work trip.
“If you are not truthful, you have no integrity. Without integrity you can’t be a good police officer,” wrote Waterbury, who was chief of police in The Dalles for 20 years. “You’re a sergeant, yet tell your officers falsehoods. Because of things like this, you can’t wonder why you have lost respect of the officers.”
It was the second time Kienlen had been disciplined and caught lying.
The discipline letter and Kienlen’s pattern of dishonesty, should have been disclosed to defense attorneys under a 1963 Supreme Court ruling requiring prosecutors to turn over all material which might exonerate a defendant. Officers with documented histories of lying are usually added to what’s known as a Brady list and not allowed to testify in court.
“I don’t know how good an officer is if I can’t call him as a witness,” Ellis said.
Ellis added Kienlen to his office’s Brady list when he discovered the letter and Kienlen was fired soon after.
“The Dalles City Police handled it very appropriately. They got rid of him,” he said, wondering why it took so long. “Where were those checks and why was he able to stay out there?”
Ellis also filed ethics complaints with the Oregon State Bar against Nisley and Leslie Wolf, his chief deputy district attorney. Nisley had faced discipline in the past. His law license was suspended for 60 days after he was caught lying to investigators looking into whether he had inappropriately investigated a county official.
Of the 197 cases the FA:IR Law Project recommended be dismissed or expunged, they said Ellis agreed on all of them except for 10. In those instances, Ellis said he was able to review the testimony from the victims and didn’t think convictions hinged on Kienlen’s reports or testimony.
“The difficulty we ran into is that grand jury recordation didn’t come along until about 2018 or 2019,” Ellis said. “We have a lot of cases where I can’t go back and listen to the grand jury even when the victim testified.”
The report includes personal accounts of people who had been intimidated and assaulted by Kienlen as well as one woman who, after she said Kienlen falsely arrested her leading to a felony charge, was so afraid of challenging Kienlen and The Dalles police she moved to a neighboring town.
“She believed she might face physical violence in retaliation for fighting her case,” the report reads. “Feeling that she had no real choice, [she] ultimately pleaded guilty to a crime she maintains she did not commit.”
The Dalles’ current police chief, Tom Worthy, who came to the post in April 2021 from the Oregon State Police, months after Kienlen’s discipline history had surfaced, told OPB he knows how important trust is and that his department owns their shortcomings.
“We also further recognize that trust is hard to gain and it’s easy to lose,” Worthy said. “In cases like that it’s a huge disappointment to us for us to think or believe that our community may have diminished faith in us.”
He said they are putting systems in place to make sure officers who exhibit problematic behavior will be identified early and corrected or disciplined if necessary.>>
CLARK COUNTY SHERIFF
<<One afternoon in late July, deputies at the Clark County Jail received an email that landed like an apple with a worm.
Nearby departments offered better pay, incentives and signing bonuses, the email read. To help his shorthanded staff, the sheriff was going to add bodies by offering more money to new hires.
“The sheriff exercised his authority and offered new employees a conditional offer to ‘Step 5′ on the specific pay scales,” wrote Undersheriff John Chapman. “The purpose of this is to immediately attract a larger pool of applicants as we are in desperate need.”
The corrections deputies’ union had just signed a new labor contract. The sheriff couldn’t offer raises, Chapman added, but he could pay rookie deputies as if they already had years on the job.
“We realize this will be upsetting for some of you to see new hires coming in at a higher step,” Chapman wrote. “It may seem unfair, but the sheriff feels he must do what he can to attract and hire more employees as soon as possible.”
Jail deputies immediately started calling each other. They talked of finding other jobs. Union leaders started forming complaints to top county staff.
It was one of a handful of internal dramas that demonstrates why Clark County’s top administrators ultimately took the unusual step last fall of stripping the sheriff’s office of its own control over the county jail.
The Jail Services Department launched Jan. 1, making Clark one of a handful of counties in Washington State where the sheriff and its jail are completely divorced. Others include King and Spokane counties.
Interviews and records show that, in the summer, county officials grew concerned with the state of the jail when they decided to absorb its nearly $30 million budget and 150-person staff.
Stakeholders seem to agree the new arrangement is showing promising signs. But many of the problems that soured the sheriff’s relationship with the jail haven’t gone away.
Chuck Atkins, the recently retired sheriff, who now spends much of his day working with his church and helping his ailing mother, is a mix of optimistic and frustrated. He remains baffled by the county’s takeover, but said he wants to support staff no matter what.
“I really do hope this is, in the end, better for the jail employees,” he said.>>
<<Last February, when Clark County patrol deputies faced an arduous season of bargaining for a new contract, a pair of them wanted to make a spectacle.
In the rain, they assembled and hoisted up makeshift billboards along busy roads. The white posterboard showed both a masked robber peeking into a home and a cynical message to drivers: The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is understaffed and you are unsafe.
Weeks later, jail deputies sent their own warning with a letter. Their staffing crisis had saddled them with consecutive 16-hour shifts and heaps of mandatory overtime. The jail was a standing liability, they wrote.
Atkins oversaw a tumultuous period for the sheriff’s office. To say nothing of the agency’s controversies while enforcing the law — multiple police shootings have led to multiple lawsuits — the jail has been financially precarious for years.
The 68-year-old often vented his agency was the least funded in the Portland metropolitan area. Its annual budget in 2022 was $68 million, a little more than half of sheriff’s budget in similarly-sized Clackamas County, Oregon.
Atkins blames the Clark County Council for refusing to ask taxpayers for more money.
“I believe in my heart that the council is so conservative that they always vote down any agreement to increase money,” Atkins said in an interview. “They’re scared to do it.”
Deputies sought higher-paying jobs elsewhere, he said. The sheriff’s office couldn’t offer as much money to new recruits as neighboring cities and counties.
“When we would get to some of those people, they’d already been contacted by the city (of Vancouver) and offered more money,” Atkins said. Even people who showed initial interest, he said, would back out after looking at other offers.
Atkins points to the jail building as evidence of the council’s timidity around taxes. The 120,000-square-foot labyrinth of steel doors and yellow-painted concrete — opened in 1984 — has long been slated for an overhaul.
In the last decade, the county has considered multimillion-dollar upgrades to the jail. But the major investments never came.
“It’s not just the sheriff’s office. Public works, the prosecutor, you name it: If it’s county-run, we have worked with less pay than most,” he said.
The county’s stunted recruiting efforts did, however, plant the seeds for Atkins’ controversial decision to increase new hire pay. The sheriff’s office had about $4 million in unspent salary dollars sitting there. Unused, it would go right back into the county’s general fund.
Atkins recalled the blowback — some from his own staff, some from other higher-ups at the county.
“They came to me and chewed me up one side and down the other,” Atkins said. “I politely told them I was not going to stop. I was only here for three more months. This is the only way I’m getting people in the door.”>>
<<Bryan Pilakowski, then-president of the corrections deputies’ guild, wasted little time raising alarms. He was already walking to the county administration office shortly after the new hires email landed.
“Everyone was immediately on the phone with Bryan like, ‘This has got to stop,’” said guild treasurer Cindi Morrow. “And he said, ‘I’m already on my way across the street.’”
Mandatory overtime hours had been surging. In August, about 120 staff would clock more than 2,900 hours of overtime, according to county payroll data. Deputies later described their exhaustion after consecutive 16-hour shifts by saying they didn’t feel safe being behind the wheel for the drive home.
While jail deputies welcomed hiring more people, they also had just signed a contract. Experienced deputies bristled at the idea of having to train better-paid newbies.
Ninety minutes after the email arrived, Pilakowski forwarded Chapman’s email to County Manager Kathleen Otto.
It took Otto almost a month before she addressed the issue in writing. She warned the sheriff that the pay increases could sink morale.
“It would have been nice to actually have this conversation prior to the email being sent out to your employees,” Otto wrote. However, she added, she believed the sheriff had good intentions.
Otto made veiled references to past disputes within the county. “You are not a separate agency — you are part of the county,” Otto wrote. “Please stop pointing fingers, blaming, creating a narrative that creates divisiveness and please do what you are saying you are doing — communicate, collaborate, and find solutions.”
The pay raises did work somewhat, sheriff’s office officials said. Fourteen people took jobs with the new pay in the patrol department. The policy was a wash at the jail: one new person did get hired, the corrections guild said, but the deputy training him quit.
By the time Otto had sent her email to Atkins, she and her staff were already setting the stage to take the jail away from the sheriff’s control.>>
<<One Saturday in late August, Pilakowski saw a fight at the jail that required staff to take an inmate to the hospital. He had been noticing more injuries lately, he said, more black eyes and bruises.
“Inmates do not respect the corrections deputies anymore in general,” Pilakowski wrote to Otto at 10:30 p.m., after a long shift. “They notice the short staff and long hours and they make statements about it.”
As the guild had said months prior in their public letter, he worried about injuries and raised the specter of liability.
“Fights are becoming more frequent,” he wrote. “How long does this luck hold out for us? Who is it that gets hurt?”
Data about fights and incidents at the jail was not readily available by press time, but a concern about a rise in violence at the jail has been shared by an array of stakeholders over the months, from jail deputies to defense attorneys.
The facility’s day-to-day woes were no secret, according to deputies and email records. Jail staff regularly flagged emails about broken windows and malfunctioning doors. When the pandemic hit, sheriff’s office officials said, the proportion of inmates charged with violent crimes grew larger.
The jail also held more inmates than recommended. It averaged about 427 inmates at a time in 2022. The recommended populace is 350. Jail staff had some inmates sleeping on mattresses in interview rooms.
Otto toured the jail for herself in March on invitation from the guild. Deputy County Manager Amber Emery and Human Resources director William Winfield visited the jail that summer.
“I left sick to my stomach,” Emery told OPB in a recent interview. “There was a part of me that, when I left, I said I cannot not do something.”
Records obtained by OPB show county officials started doing homework on communities where jails and the sheriff’s office have divorced. Otto and Emery made calls to the Spokane County Jail. Emery reached out to the South Correctional Entity, a jail jointly owned by multiple cities in southern King County.
Meanwhile, Otto continued to meet routinely with elected councilors in one-on-one meetings. Otto held multiple meetings simply described as “Jail.”
The county manager said some of those meetings were to discuss transitioning the jail to a new department, while some were discussions about other topics, such as staffing levels.
On Sept. 15, Atkins told OPB that he had just learned from Otto about the plan to create the Jail Services Department.
The former sheriff reiterates today that he was blindsided, but he wasn’t without a clue. Once, in early September, another jail called his staff about an upcoming meeting that the sheriff’s office knew nothing about.
“They called my HR (staffer) talking about the meeting we’re going to have tomorrow,” Atkins recalled. “And she said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”>>
<<While the Clark County Jail Services Department is official, department heads and the sheriff’s office are still untangling.
John Horch, the newly-elected Clark County Sheriff, told OPB that the transition is going well. The two departments are ironing out policies around how inmates are to be extradited, as well as how to handle certain warrants, among other things.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a big divide with relationships,” Horch said. “We’ve been meeting on a regular basis so that when they started on Jan. 1, it wasn’t some big Y2K moment.”
The department is led by David Shook, a former Oregon sheriff’s deputy in Washington County. He ran for Clark County sheriff last fall, but failed to make it past the primaries.
How Shook landed this new role making $99,000 annually remains unclear.
Records of his emails and correspondence didn’t show any official sit-downs with county leadership. Shook and other jail administrators were not available for interviews by publication time.
Shook is joined in leadership by Joe Barnett, a holdover from the sheriff’s office days, who is making $131,000 in salary; and Pilakowski, who is no longer guild president and now makes $88,000 as the manager of jail operations.
Jail deputies have noticed some changes. According to Morrow, the union treasurer, deputies were eager to get new uniforms. The uniforms breathe better, she said, and are scrubbed of the word “sheriff.” Jail staff are also getting new badges, with an outline of the county courthouse.
While those are small, incremental changes, Morrow said, they are good for morale.
“The further we get away from the sheriff’s office, the happier I am,” Morrow said. “I just feel lighter coming to work. There’s someone who cares about the work product.”
Beyond the uniforms, the county has already shown a willingness to spend more. In November, county officials approved a plan to give across-the-board 5% pay raises to jail staff. The move also bumped salaries for people with degrees and are firearms certified.
The raises helped, said new guild president Charlie Jarrell, but it’s difficult to say how they will affect recruitment.
“That’s my main focus. Our No. 1 priority is to work with administration to try and get our numbers up,” Jarrell said. “Right now, everything seems like a restricted labor market. It’s just a little early to tell.”
The jail building still looms as a major obstacle for the new leadership, as well. Past studies have estimated that upgrading the jail will easily cost tens of millions of dollars. Morrow noted that the ventilation system is faulty, there aren’t enough bathrooms, and chairs at deputies’ workstations are frequently broken.
The county is hoping new tax revenues coming in could help. In August, voters approved a sales tax that will bring roughly $7 million a year to the county.
The county also plans to spend federal stimulus cash toward the jail.
Otto and Emery said they are currently seeking to contract an architect and engineer to take yet another look at ways to expand and remodel.>>
<<Four months after unilaterally advancing a plan to bring controversial gunshot detection technology ShotSpotter to Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler is reversing course and soliciting proposals from other technology
providers. A formal request for proposals published Wednesday shows that Wheeler’s office is looking for a technology provider who can recommend optimal locations in the city for gunshot detection infrastructure, record data on the gunshot alerts, and operate the system in compliance with the Constitution and “with respect for the privacy rights of our community.”
As gun violence spikes in Portland, some city leaders are looking to invest in Artificial Intelligence technology that aims to detect the presence of gunfire and then alerts the police, bypassing the need for dispatchers to receive a call reporting the gunfire. The idea was first recommended in July 2022 by the Focused Intervention Team Community Oversight Group (FITCOG), a volunteer group that works with the Portland Police Bureau and advises them on gun violence reduction efforts. The group recommended that the city implement ShotSpotter, a company that places microphones in an area and alerts the police when the system picks up gunshot-like sounds.
According to ShotSpotter, the technology is 97 percent accurate when detecting gunshots and is used in over 100 cities nationwide. However, an investigation by Chicago’s inspector general found that during a 16-month period, local police only found evidence of gun-related criminal offenses at less than 10 percent of the scenes police were dispatched to following ShotSpotter alerts, raising concerns about the effective use of police resources. ShotSpotter spokespeople argue that a lack of physical evidence at a scene does not automatically mean that a gunshot didn’t occur or that ShotSpotter was inaccurate. A report by Smart City PDX—Portland’s office focused on surveillance technology and public data ethics—also raised concerns with ShotSpotter, arguing that the alerts could increase baseless interactions between the police and members of the public, particularly Portlanders of color.
Despite the concerns, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s community safety director Stephanie Howard told the FITCOG in September that the city would be pursuing a 12-month pilot project with ShotSpotter, citing an agreement from Police Chief Chuck Lovell.
As the city appeared set to develop a pilot with ShotSpotter in late 2022, an OPB article revealed that a Portland police officer had frequently texted with a key ShotSpotter representative since 2021 to seemingly help the company craft its pitch to city employees and police oversight groups. In one instance, the same Portland police officer encouraged a ShotSpotter representative to communicate directly with volunteer members of the FITCOG, seemingly to avoid communication that would become subject to public records laws.
In the wake of OPB’s reporting, the city is now pivoting to a competitive application process, citing a need for more community engagement in the development of the pilot program. The formal request for proposals published by the City of Portland Wednesday is open to all types of acoustic gunshot detection technology, including systems that use microphones to record gunshot-like sounds and sensors that capture energy waves from a possible gunshot. The vendors will be evaluated based on the accuracy of their technology, privacy safeguards, ability to promptly record and report data, and how easily they can implement the necessary infrastructure in the city. Applications from vendors are due February 8, with a selection scheduled to be made the week of February 27.
In a meeting last week with another police oversight group—the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP)—Howard said that the purpose of the open call for proposals is to “include community in the process” of developing the pilot program. According to Howard, that includes holding a town hall with the two top-scoring applicants so that interested members of the public could pose questions to the technology providers directly. City documents indicate that the town hall will be held the week of February 20.>>
<<During the PCCEP meeting, committee members expressed their distrust and skepticism of how little the Mayor’s office had engaged the community when first developing the idea of a pilot project with ShotSpotter. Some committee members requested to see the city’s request for proposals prior to its publication, citing concerns that the application may be written in a way that would favor specific types of technology providers more than others—further underscoring the group’s concerns of how the city has handled the process so far.
“There’s already been concerns of cronyism in this deal [with ShotSpotter], of having conversations that we’re not open to the rest of the public,” PCCEP member Celeste Carey said. “I want to make sure that we don’t get caught up in that dynamic, that we make sure we talk to people who may not have had their voices heard.”
According to PCCEP project manager Dori Grabinski, the committee was not allowed to review the request for proposals prior to its publication.>>
<<Health experts want the public to know the risk of injury from inhaling second-hand smoke from vaporized fentanyl is extremely low.
The advisory follows a Jan. 18 report that a Yamhill County sheriff’s deputy exhibited symptoms of a possible overdose after encountering fumes from what may have been counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl in a bathroom at Willamina Middle School. The deputy visited the school on a separate case and went into the bathroom at the request of a staff member who smelled something suspicious, the sheriff’s office wrote in a press release.
The deputy reported feeling tightness in the chest, tingling in the fingers and a “sensation of floating,” the press release said.
Dr. Rob Hendrickson, medical director of the Oregon Poison Center and professor of emergency medicine at the OHSU School of Medicine, said this week he couldn’t comment on the case because he didn’t have enough information about what happened, but noted that the risk of intoxication from passive exposure to smoke from burning fentanyl was “extremely low.”
Such an exposure wouldn’t concern him because it would be diluted by the air even from just a foot away. “The farther away, the more diluted it gets,” he said.
Powdered fentanyl cannot be absorbed through the skin, he said. So if a person touches a pill, the best advice is to wash up.
It’s not clear what caused the deputy’s symptoms. Capt. Sam Elliott of the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office said this week that the deputy returned to the hospital on Jan. 19 to sign paperwork allowing the sheriff’s office to release results of a blood test. The deputy learned then the hospital had thrown out the deputy’s blood sample untested, Elliot said Wednesday.
It’s also not clear what the substance was in the Willamina school bathroom. The Oregon State Police crime lab will test it, Elliott said, and the sheriff’s office will then share the results. As of Thursday, those results weren’t available.
Hendrickson urged people not to let fear stop them from helping someone who may be overdosing on fentanyl. If the person likely used opioids and is unconscious, it is safe for bystanders to administer naloxone. “If someone is in need, don’t hesitate,” he said.>>
<<People in the Hazelwood Neighborhood say they’re fed up with homeless camps in the area and believe a BottleDrop center is attracting even more campers.
The complaints are coming from people who live on Northeast 120th Ave.>>
<<Truax and other neighbors say since the BottleDrop facility at NE 122nd & NE Glisan opened back in November, it’s drawn people living in RVs, camper-trailers, cars, and tents to their street.>>
<<Weston says he and his neighbors are constantly having to pick up trash, needles and sometimes even human feces.>>
<<KOIN 6 News talked to a woman living in one of the vehicles parked along 120th.
“People want to judge people for being homeless, they should try and be in their shoes for a week,” the woman said.
When KOIN 6 asked what she thought about people in the neighborhood saying they don’t pass judgment, but that they are tired of the drugs and human waste on the street, she said that something should be done to fix homelessness.
“Then fix it because there are enough empty houses out there that every homeless person can have a place to live,” said the woman.>>
<<Following outcry from businesses in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District, city leaders have partnered with neighborhood representatives to develop a 90-day plan to improve perceptions of public safety in the district. The plan, unveiled during a press conference Thursday, aims to increase police presence in the district, improve lighting, remove graffiti, clean up trash, and remove homeless people from the neighborhood’s streets—despite evidence that those same people will just be displaced to another part of the city instead of connected to long term housing services.>>
<<In November, about 140 business owners in Portland’s Central Eastside met with Mayor Ted Wheeler, Police Chief Chuck Lovell, and other regional leaders to raise concerns about safety in the district. The listening session followed news of Salt and Straw CEO Kim Malek saying she would consider moving the ice cream headquarters out of Portland if city leaders did not do more to address drug use, street camping, and crime in the city. Several business representatives at the forum said that their employees felt unsafe coming to work, with Malek noting that one of her employees had been held at gunpoint in the Central Eastside.>>
<<Following that forum, members of Wheeler’s office met with neighborhood members to develop a “90-day Reset Plan,” similar to the city’s “reset” of Old Town in May and April 2022, during which the city conducted mass sweeps of homeless campers and increased police presence in an effort to deter crime and increase foot traffic in the neighborhood. At the time, Wheeler said that he wanted to do similar “resets” in other areas of the city.
The Central Eastside reset plan includes removing camps from priority areas determined by business owners, like areas with a number of significant retail shops and restaurants, as well as camps where alleged criminal activity like drug use is occurring. The city will also prioritize cleaning up graffiti, increase trash receptacles and pick-up in the district, and add more lighting under bridges in an effort to deter crime. The Portland Police Bureau will also increase its patrolling in the district, switching from one or two officers in the area up to 10 who look for stolen cars, arrest people for drug use, and talk to business owners about any criminal concerns they have in the neighborhood.>>
<<Wheeler said that homeless Portlanders who are swept during the next 90 days will be offered a shelter bed, an immediate ride to that shelter bed, and a place to store any additional belongings that they cannot take to the shelter. Most shelter beds in Portland operate on a night-by-night basis, meaning Portlanders have to leave during the day and come back. An analysis of the Old Town reset sweeps by the Oregonian found that the city could not confirm the people forced to leave Old Town moved to a shelter for more than a single night, and most unhoused Portlanders declined being moved to a shelter at all.
One unhoused Portlander caught in the Old Town sweeps told the Mercury in June that it felt like “psychological warfare,” noting that he couldn’t get into a shelter with his dog and having to constantly move disrupted his ability to find work.
While Old Town business owners celebrated the reduction of visible homelessness and decrease in crime in the neighborhood following the reset, the city could not provide any evidence that issues of homelessness and crime had been addressed rather than dispersed to other parts of the city.>>
<<Wheeler acknowledged this reality during Thursday’s press conference, noting that previous sweeps have not led to getting homeless residents into housing. According to Wheeler, city outreach workers found that two out of 10 unhoused Portlanders say they will not go to an indoor shelter, including nightly shelters and motel rooms. The mayor believes that data underscores the importance of his plan to create six large, sanctioned outdoor camps throughout the city. >>
<< Local businesses fed up with break-ins, vandalism and safety issues in the Central Eastside are bringing their concerns to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Now, Wheeler is promising to take action, announcing the start of a 90-day reset plan for the area. The goal is an Eastside that feels cleaner and most importantly safe.>>
<<Some work has already been underway increasing street lighting under overpasses. Swaths of graffiti has been removed, trash cleaned up as well as unsanctioned campsites and abandoned vehicles cleaned.
This is in response to a November meeting with businesses and the city and a survey of those business owners on what they thought would help this problem. After 90 days they’ll respond to another survey to see if anything feels different.
The city and businesses will gauge the progress based on the number of break-in reports, how many people are being referred to shelters or mental health and substance abuse centers and the amount of debris and trash on streets and sidewalks.>>
<<Another goal is cleaning up unsanctioned campsites>>
<<“I wish we could do this for the entirety of the city,” said Wheeler. “It should be all of this, across the city and we will eventually get to that point when we have the resources and capacity to do it. But ultimately, we have to connect people with services to help them get off the streets.”>>
BRING THE NOISE
<<How a city responds to noise complaints has for decades been viewed as a referendum on the overpolicing of communities of color.
Two codes guide how Portland polices noise: One is Title 14, the section of city code under which cops can cite someone for noise that is “plainly audible,” or which they deem “excessive, unreasonable, or unusually loud.”
Critics have long maintained that such a subjective standard means communities of color will be overpoliced for playing loud music or certain genres of music, like hip-hop.
The other code, used by the noise office, is more prescriptive: It uses decibel readers to measure if noise exceeds a particular volume.
During the past year, there’s been a renewed push by the music community for the city to eradicate the use of Title 14 to police noise.
On Dec. 19, more than 25 signatories—including past members of the city’s Noise Review Board, former city commissioners, and local music venue owners—sent a letter to the Portland City Council asking that the noise office, which they described as a “mere thread of its original intent,” be moved from the Office of Community & Civic Life to the Bureau of Development Services. They also asked that Title 14 no longer be used to enforce noise.
“The police and the public can then become assured that reports generated by the police will be read by technically competent staff,” the letter reads, “who can reduce the subjectivity often complained about in cases that directly affect the music industry, among other stakeholders, where such concerns have increased over the last several years.”
And in a series of exchanges between two City Council offices and representatives of MusicPortland, an advocacy group and trade association for music venues and musicians, the city appeared to be inching toward ending the use of Title 14. Then, in the fall, that plan got bogged down in a debate over how to prove whether an underlying racial inequity really existed.
Below is a timeline of the discussion between city officials and MusicPortland.
June: Angelita Morillo, a staffer for then-City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, spent months exchanging emails with Jamie Dunphy of MusicPortland to garner council support for repealing Title 14. It appeared the repeal was well on its way.
In a June 13 email to Dunphy, Morillo addressed how race might factor into the repeal.
Stephanie Howard, director of community safety for Mayor Wheeler, “wants to not address it from a racial standpoint if possible because that might garner more backlash from police and neighborhood associations,” Morillo wrote. “We are looking to get examples about how this has impacted Native communities, but if you know of hip-hop venues or jazz clubs, etc., that are Black owned that were shut down for similar situations, that would be helpful to add.”
She added: “I figure there will be a big pushback from neighborhood associations, so if you have community groups that would be interested in this, we’re going to need a strong external push for the three votes.”
September: The conversation resumed with the mayor’s office in the fall, after Morillo left the city. After all, Wheeler is the commissioner in charge of the Portland Police Bureau, so all police policy changes would need to pass muster with his office.
The parties reached a dead end over data collection—or lack thereof. The mayor’s office asked MusicPortland to produce data that would illustrate any racial disparities in noise enforcement.
In a Sept. 15 email, Dunphy wrote back: “We’re at an impasse because the city doesn’t collect the data that’s needed to show that there’s a racial problem, and without data this isn’t moving forward.”
Dunphy is correct: Police don’t note race in noise reports.
Howard from the mayor’s office responded: “I had asked the MusicPortland team for the data that supports the claims made in the proposal around disparate impacts on various communities.” She also questioned whether police were really cracking down on loud music at all: “With historically low staffing at PPB, the priority for response has been for emergency and life-threatening matters.”
Data provided to WW by the Bureau of Emergency Communications shows police responded to at least 2,288 noise complaints in 2022. The data appears to show that cops wrote only nine reports and one citation in 2022.>>
<<Most of the state’s largest hospitals today fired a broadside in U.S. District Court at the state of Oregon and the advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon in the latest round of a legal skirmish over responsibility for psychiatric patients and the scarce beds at the Oregon State Hospital.
The hospitals, including Legacy Health, PeaceHealth, Providence Health & Services, and St. Charles Health System, filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eugene last year, alleging the state was failing in its responsibility to find placements for people who had been civilly committed because they were a danger to themselves or others.
That case then got consolidated with two cases already pending in federal court in Portland, in front of Judge Michael Mosman. Those cases also concerned patients who require in-patient psychiatric treatment: those found guilty of a crime except for insanity, and those who’ve been charged with a crime but found unable to aid and assist in their own defense.
The state hospital’s two campuses (in Salem and Junction City) can serve just over 700 patients. The preexisting lawsuits were aimed at ensuring patients got admitted to the hospital in a timely fashion, rather than languish in county jails, which are ill-equipped to serve them.
Overcrowding at the state hospital reached a crisis point late last year, and Judge Mosman ordered early release of some patients.
In part because of the litigation on behalf of guilty except for insanity and “aid and assist” patients, civilly committed patients got squeezed out of access to the state hospital: They went from occupying about 200 beds five years ago to 16 late last year.
In their lawsuit, the private hospital systems allege that they became de facto warehouses for civilly committed patients, who were in fact the state’s responsibility. That, the hospitals argued, did patients a disservice because community hospitals lack the staffing and facilities to provide long-term psychiatric care and patients occupied beds and resources, costing the hospitals money and other patients access to those resources.
(As WW reported, county circuit court judges agreed with the hospitals that civilly committed patients were the state’s responsibility.)
But in December, Oregon Department of Justice attorneys representing the Oregon Health Authority filed a motion asking Mosman to dismiss the hospitals’ federal lawsuit, saying the hospitals had “no standing for the claims they bring on their own behalf because they do not allege any actual injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged state action” and the hospitals “have no standing to bring claims on behalf of civilly committed persons.”
In their response to the state’s motion to dismiss, the hospitals today disputed the state’s objections and urged Mosman to focus instead on the harm caused to patients and to the hospitals and their other patients by OHA’s failure to find beds for civilly committed patients.
That, the hospitals argue, is the crux of the case.
“When OHA abandons civilly committed patients in health systems’ acute care hospitals, health systems remain required under both medical ethics and federal law to continue caring for such patients until either they are safe to discharge or their period of civil commitment expires,” the hospitals’ reply motion states. ”Thus, in context, OHA’s conduct forces health systems to hold civilly committed individuals that OHA abandons care for those individuals to the best of their ability.”>>