3/11/2023 News Roundup


<<A grand jury has ruled that Roseburg police officers were justified in using deadly force when they shot and killed a man at an overnight warming shelter last week.

Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg said state police first spotted the 20-year-old Grants Pass man walking on the shoulder of I-5 near Roseburg on the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 27. He said the man, identified as Mia Tulasi Dasa, who also used the name Benjamin Emptage, appeared to be confused and was walking dangerously close to passing vehicles. Police summoned a local mental health provider before taking Dasa to the shelter.

Wesenberg said in the middle of the night, Dasa attacked a female shelter volunteer by forcefully pushing her to the floor, then stabbed three people staying at the shelter who intervened on the woman’s behalf. The victims included a man who was stabbed in the face.

Wesenberg said Dasa then tried to grab the gun of a responding Roseburg police officer.

More police arrived at the warming shelter, and summoned medical assistance for the stabbing victims. Wesenberg said police used a taser, pepper spray and a beanbag gun but Dasa continued to advance on officers with a pair of scissors.

He said one officer fired his gun three times, striking Dasa, who fell to the floor and began stabbing himself with the scissors. Wesenberg said an autopsy determined the cause of death to be the gunshot wounds.

“Not only was (the shooting) justified, based on the deliberate and intentional actions of Dasa, it was simply unavoidable,” said Wesenberg at a press conference Friday morning. “The six officers … used every potential tool, every potential technique from their extensive training and experience to bring this situation to a peaceful resolution.”

Roseburg Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein praised his department’s actions.

“The call at the warming center was a call that no law enforcement officer wants to respond to,” he said. “Our officers swiftly responded to the call for service, made sure the citizens at the warming center were out of harm’s way, and tried their best to de-escalate the situation.”

The three stabbing victims received nonfatal injuries and are expected to recover.

The warming center remained closed for several days, then re-opened in a different location. With overnight lows expected to stay above freezing, the shelter has since closed.>>



<<Of all the places that epitomize aspects of the challenges downtown Portland has faced in recent years, one of the most emblematic is O’Bryant Square—a formerly award-winning public plaza located at the corner of SW Park Ave. and SW Harvey Milk St. that has been closed for the last five years due to structural issues.

In 2022, the city decided to demolish the structurally unsound parking structure underneath O’Bryant Square and fill it with dirt—clearing the way for a reimagining of the square just in time for the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel to open nearby in 2024. When complete, the Ritz-Carlton will be located close to the Multnomah County’s Behavioral Health Resource Center, a day center for unhoused Portlanders experiencing addiction or mental health challenges, and other social service organizations in the area.

“The stakes are pretty high in terms of creating a space that is welcoming to everybody, as a park should be—one that can serve and care for folks at one end of the economic spectrum but can also be a lively place for tourists and workers and people who want to come downtown and have fun,” Portland Parks Foundation (PPF) executive director Randy Gragg said>>

<<When O’Bryant Square was first opened in 1972, featuring a fountain surrounded by roses, it won considerable acclaim for its design—landing an award from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1976.

In the following decades, the plaza lived a number of different lives. It played host to skaters and protest gatherings and served as a place for people to eat from nearby food carts. It also, with behavioral health organizations and addiction services located nearby, developed a reputation as a hangout for drug users and has been referred to in local newspapers both as “Needle Park” and “Paranoid Park.”

In 2018, however, the park’s official role in public life was put on hold. The city found that one of the retaining walls in the parking garage beneath the plaza was structurally unsound and closed both the plaza and the garage.

Since then, with the plaza fenced off, a debate has erupted over the state of Portland’s downtown—both about who it serves and what the city should be doing in its revitalization efforts in the wake of the pandemic.

In the context of those debates and city leaders’ push to draw people back to downtown, the future of the square has taken on an outsize symbolic significance.

“I’m surprised to see how everyone is hoping and dreaming that this small park is going to be the spark, or the catalyst, for the entire downtown,” Susan Chin, the New York-based principal of the firm Design Connects, said. “That’s a very heavy burden.”

Of course, the arguments about the purpose of the downtown area predate the pandemic. In 2019, the city approved a proposal from Marriott to build a luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel and displace the city’s largest food cart pod.

As part of the arrangement, the project’s developer promised to make 20 percent of the residential units in the building affordable for a moderate-income family. Meanwhile, the owners of the nearly 50 food carts that were located on the site, many of whom are immigrants, have struggled to find profitable new homes for their businesses.

According to Portland Monthly, the Ritz-Carlton will include 132 residences priced between $2 million and more than $7 million, with rooms in the hotel starting at $518 per night—all in a zip code where the median household income is $49,708 and several neighboring organizations support people in mental health and addiction crises who are often experiencing housing instability or homelessness.

It’s a tension that people involved in the O’Bryant Square project are well aware of—the task of designing a space that people across class lines want to use in one of the areas of the city where economic divisions will be most starkly visible.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is find the common ground between the social services and the economic interests,” Gragg said. “Everybody’s bruised. Everybody’s hurting, everybody’s been working really hard, and it’s easy for one side to kind of demonize the other, but this is an opportunity to take a breath, and it’s like, okay: how can we be in this together?”

For Todd Ferry, an architect with the Center for Public Interest Design, early conversations with property owners and representatives from social services organizations suggest they want similar things from the space.

“I think there’s a feeling that these groups from really diverse backgrounds and situations want very different things, but actually, they’re really similar,” Ferry said. “People want an active, lively place that is well-maintained [and] that has opportunities for change.”

Gragg said one of the keys to O’Bryant Square’s success will be getting sustained buy-in from community organizations. The square used to host Potluck in the Park, a Sunday hot meal service, but has not in years.

“We know we need to have an active programming entity,” Gragg said. “We need management—somebody looking after it, somebody bringing life to it.”>>

<<The success or failure of the new O’Bryant Square may be settled by macro economic and planning factors outside of direct control of the people working on the redevelopment project. As long as Portland’s housing crisis continues, the effects will likely continue to be visible downtown—where Ritz-Carlton developer Walter Bowen has suggested that he won’t include the affordable housing units after all and will pay a fee to the city instead. >>



<<Retail industry analysts say that rising concerns over theft may have contributed to Walmart’s decision last month to shutter its Portland stores. But it’s likely not the driving factor.

Theft and other crime, the Walmart watchers said, is surely a concern for the chain. But the impact is rarely enough to close an otherwise successful store without warning, and especially without appeals to local officials for assistance.

“The decision to close down a store is typically linked to sales,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail division at GlobalData, a market analysis firm, “which often has nothing to do with thefts or shoplifting.”

After Walmart announced the pending closure of its two Portland locations, the role of retail theft in its departure took center stage as politicians and commentators sparred over the cause on Twitter. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took aim at Portland last weekend, blaming the closures on “what happens when cities refuse to enforce the rule of law.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, however, disputed Abbott’s claim and pointed to the store closures in Texas in recent years, adding, “The retail industry is changing and retail theft is a national issue.”

It’s difficult to ascertain Walmart’s thinking. The company offered only that the closures were based on the stores’ financial performance. It declined to comment further.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a December interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box that shoplifting could lead to store closures and price increases, a statement Portland critics have seized on in the wake of closures.

Saunders, though, said Walmart may have struggled in Portland to attain the commanding market share it prefers, particularly in the face of an established competitor like Fred Meyer, which also sells general merchandise alongside groceries.

“Walmart typically needs to be where they can be a big player and capture all the shares,” he said. “There are some locations where they’ve struggled to gain a strong foothold, and they’ve left those places.”

That’s not to say Walmart didn’t have reasons to sour on Portland.

Walmart has had a difficult history with the city, notably when it pulled back multiple times on proposals to build stores in the city amid harsh criticisms from then-Mayor Sam Adams.

Kevin Coupe, author of food-industry newsletter Morning News Beat and adjunct faculty member at Portland State University’s center for retail leadership, agreed that many factors likely played a role in Walmart’s decision.

But he added that conditions in Portland have not been conducive for businesses in recent years, and it’s not the fast-growing city it was when Walmart opened its newest store.

“Walmart has the resources to keep those stores going if it wanted to, but it’s clearly decided that it doesn’t make sense at this point,” Coupe said. “It’s a tough economic environment for everyone. But also, Portland has grown inhospitable to many businesses. It’s a city desperately in need of reinvention.”

Coupe said the city’s business taxes and regulation can be a turn off when retailers are already facing other challenges. The Portland Business Alliance, which acts as the city’s chamber of commerce, have said that the city’s high business taxes might be affecting the local economy’s recovery.

A recent report on the city’s economy by consulting firm ECONorthwest, commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance, businesses paid 32% more in business taxes in 2021 compared to 2019, with much of the increase attributable to a new 1% tax on retail sales for the Portland Clean Energy Fund and a business income tax for homelessness services administered by the Metro regional government.

The city also passed a measure in 2016 that levies a small tax on businesses operating in the city that pay their CEOs more than 100 times what they pay their median worker. Companies like Walmart pay a 10% surcharge on top of the city’s regular business tax.

Those fees, though not publicly disclosed, are tiny — across all payers it would raise only a few million dollars — but Walmart was named as one of the prime targets by the tax’s champion, then-Commissioner Steve Novick.

Coupe said many businesses are dealing with inflation and have adopted a recessionary mindset, and businesses large and small are considering their retail strategy. He said a city’s social problems can be an added stressor that can play a role in business decisions.

“It’s hard for businesses because on top of everything else, you’ve got an environment in which retail staff employees feel at risk. If they feel at risk, customers probably feel at risk,” he said.

Saunders agrees that there could be cultural issues at play. He said Walmart has struggled in other markets, like San Francisco, Chicago and New York City.

“Portland is known for supporting independent retailers, and maybe there’s a lot of people who might not want to shop at Walmart,” he said. “And that can be off-putting and can drive performance and sales.”

Saunders said retailers have dealt with the issue of retail theft for as long as the industry has existed and have always found ways to address the problem, whether by installing anti-theft devices, increasing security or increasing prices of goods to make up for goods stolen from the store, or “retail shrink.”

And Walmart is not afraid to speak up about issues like crime if an otherwise successful store is at risk

“With Walmart, I do feel like if theft or crimes at these stores shot up so much that it was making a noticeable impact on its business, then I think Walmart would’ve said something,” he said. “They wouldn’t want to remove the business at a location just because of thefts. I think they would’ve addressed the issue first and talked to the city.”

Walmart has frequently worked with city police departments in the past to address theft and crimes, and has been criticized for its heavy reliance on local police across the country.

In some cases, Walmart dedicated prime parking spots for police vehicles near the front entrance, or it has paid off-duty police to man its store.

Cody Bowman, Mayor Wheeler’s spokesperson, said Walmart has never asked the mayor’s office for help to address retail theft.

Bowman said the company does detain shoplifters — a practice many retailers avoid because of potential liability, but which Wheeler has urged them to change to increase shoplifting arrests and prosecutions.

The Oregonian/OregonLive has requested but not yet received communications between Walmart and city officials under Oregon’s public records law.

Joe Feldman, retail analyst and senior managing director at Telsey Advisory Group, agreed shoplifting and organized retail theft has become a larger concern for retailers and a factor for retailers’ business decisions in the past couple of years.

“Though, I think there’s got to be other reasons beyond just theft to close the stores,” Feldman said, adding that Walmart might look at the financial health of the stores relative to the rest of the chain, the quality of the inventory, the age of the store and where it stands in its lease life.

Theft, he said, is certainly a growing concern across the chain.

“Investors worry greatly about it because of its big impact on profitability,” he said. “Especially when you look at what the shrink rate was historically — it was a very low single digit percentage of sales for the average retailer, and now it’s increased significantly for some retailers.”

Feldman said that a city’s business taxes and regulation can also play a big role in where a retailer would want to place its stores.

Industry leaders say retail theft is a growing problem nationwide, and an annual survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, one of the largest retail trade associations in the country. The federation estimates that stolen merchandise cost retailers $95 billion in 2021.

But the reported shrink rate across all reporting retailers, 1.44%, was slightly down from the five-year average of 1.5%.

A majority of retailers surveyed in the report also said the thefts were occurring across not just in stores, but also online.

Oregon lawmakers are considering legislation that would give law enforcement and prosecutors more money and tools to investigate and prosecute organized retail theft.

Senate bills 318 and 340, would provide tougher penalties and money for state investigators and grants for communities.>>



<<Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell joined KGW’s Laural Porter for Straight Talk this week for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on police staffing challenges, Portland’s crime and homicide rates, the 2020 protests, gunshot detection technology and the implementation of body-worn cameras for police officers.>>

<<Right now, today, we have 801 sworn members, so that’s police officers all the way up to the chief. Police officers in the rank of officer, we have about 544. Ideally — if you said I could have any number — I would say around 1,100 would be a really good number.

That would allow us to have things like a burglary task force, an auto theft task force, rebuild our traffic division, our narcotics unit, and things that I think really address some of the needs that Portlanders are facing today. >>

<<Yeah, almost three years ago we were looking at cuts, and the conversation was about defunding and ‘we need less police, more other things,’ and I was always supportive of those more other things, but I always believe we need police officers.

We need good police officers, we need them well-trained and we need to be investing, not divesting. And I think now, three years later, the conversation’s much different.>>

<<We don’t want to over-police or have a negative impact on communities. We want to really target areas where crimes are occurring. So we want to be really mindful about how things like that are deployed, what the unforeseen impacts might be.>>

<<The U.S. Department of Justice says Portland police used force 6,000 times during the protests, with tear gas, flash-bang grenades and impact munitions. Looking back, how do you think your officers handled the protests?

It was a difficult time for everybody. I think by and large, our officers deserve a lot of credit for being out there every night, trying to protect businesses and people in the city. It wasn’t perfect, I’m the first one to say that. We had a lot of uses of force that are still being looked at today, but there was a lot of heroic, good work done by police officers that was overshadowed as well.

We weren’t able to rely on some of the law enforcement partners who had previously come to help us. They were unwilling to do that at the time. So we had to roll out a lot of the same officers night after night, after night. And our system for doing crowd management was not built for that.

What did you learn from that? If we had more protests, would you do things differently?

I think so. Right now, we’re putting all of our officers through mobile field force training, which is basically how to do crowd management without a team like the rapid response team.

Some of the things we did learn are around just our systems, our policies. We updated our force data collection reports, we changed some of our directives, we did some training on updates. We had different things changing— temporary restraining orders from judges, the legislature had weighed in, different court cases had come through and changed some of the tactics.

I think we learned a lot in that time period. Wellness became a bigger focus for us. We saw the effects it had on the officers and their families through that timeframe.>>



<<The FBI is offering two $25,000 rewards in hopes of catching whoever shot up two electrical substations near Olympia and Portland in November.

In each incident, unknown actors shot a firearm or firearms at a high-voltage facility, damaged expensive equipment, and caused coolant oil to spew out of bullet holes and onto the ground, according to the FBI.>>

<<Early on the morning of Nov. 22, someone shot multiple holes in a transformer at Puget Sound Energy’s Barnes Lake substation in Tumwater, about 2 miles from the Washington State Capitol building. More than 5,000 customers lost power, according to Puget Sound Energy, and between 500 and 1,000 gallons of coolant oil spilled on the ground, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

Two days later, infrared security cameras captured grainy outlines of two people inside a Bonneville Power Administration substation in Oregon City early Thanksgiving morning.>>

<<One suspect is shown pointing a weapon toward high-voltage equipment.

“We are looking for at least two suspects in this case, both roughly 6 feet tall,” FBI-Portland spokesperson Joy Jiras said by email.

According to a Bonneville Power Administration email obtained by Oregon Public Broadcasting and KUOW in December, two people cut through a fence surrounding the Oregon City substation, then “used firearms to shoot up and disable numerous pieces of equipment and cause significant damage.”

Whether the shooting incidents are connected is unknown, but they were just two of at least 15 physical attacks on Northwest substations in 2022 documented by a KUOW and Oregon Public Broadcasting investigation.>>



<<Dozens of people woke up to find their car windows shattered in Southeast Portland Foster-Powell neighborhood Friday morning. It happened on several streets surrounding SE 62nd Avenue and Foster Road.>>


<<A number of people in Southeast Portland woke up to a sad sight on Friday as cars across the neighborhood had been vandalized — and that could mean pricy repairs.

Police said they have taken reports in this area with their windows smashed, and have only confirmed eight so far. Neighbors say the total number is much higher.

On Southeast Toleman and 80th Avenue, people said they woke up to six cars vandalized this morning just on their block, and down the street, closer to 69th Avenue, people said another 6 cars had their windows smashed.

Police say they suspect the damage occurred sometime between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.>>



<<The man arrested in 2019 for shooting at deputies and a police officer near Hagg Lake was sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison. On Aug. 8, 2019, Dante Halling shot at five Washington County Sheriff’s deputies and one officer when they tried to arrest him near Hagg Lake.

Corporal Jeremy Braun and deputy Chris Iverson were hit and hospitalized, but have recovered.

Friday morning, a Washington County judge sentenced Halling to 45 years in prison, the maximum sentence he can receive after being found guilty on six counts of attempted murder.

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett said a woman approached him Friday morning, saying the sentencing finally brought closure to her family.

He said Halling killed her brother in 1980 and escaped justice for his crimes until today’s sentencing.>>


<<The man who shot two Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputies in 2019 was sentenced to 45 years in prison Friday.

On August 8, 2019, Dante Halling, 60, stole a shotgun and ammunition from the outdoor shed of a house on the north end of Hagg Lake. He then tried to get into the back door of the house but residents called 911.

As deputies arrived, Halling ran into the wooded area. He opened fire at deputies that followed him, hitting one in the chest and neck and one in the side and left elbow. Deputy Jeremy Braun, who was hit in the chest and neck, was in was severely injured and was taken by life flight to the hospital for emergency surgery.

Deputies arrested Halling and took him to the hospital for treatment for a gunshot wound to his abdomen from the shootout. The hospital found large amounts of meth in Halling’s body.

On Feb. 10, Halling pled guilty to six counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. During his sentencing hearing on Friday, Deputy Braun testified that he had to re-learn how to speak, eat and walk again after suffering a brain injury. Halling apologized to him several times.

The judge sentenced Halling to 540 months, or 45 years, in prison, the maximum sentence possible.

“Judge Roberts sent an important message today — that criminals are still punished in Washington County, and we will not tolerate violence directed at law enforcement or other first responders,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Bracken McKey.>>


<<A 60-year-old Salem man was sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison after pleading guilty to shooting two Washington County sheriff’s deputies – one of whom nearly died from his injuries – in the woods near Henry Hagg Lake in 2019.

Dante James Halling entered his pleas in Washington County Circuit Court to six counts of attempted murder and one count of second-degree burglary before his trial was scheduled to start Tuesday, court records show.

Deputy Jeremy Braun nearly died from bullet wounds to his carotid artery and jugular vein suffered in the shootout on Aug. 8, 2019, the Washington County District Attorney’s Office said.

At least one of six deputies at the scene fired back at Halling, striking him in the lower abdomen. The sheriff’s office has not publicly identified which deputy shot Halling.

The confrontation unfolded after a woman at her home on Scoggins Valley Road called 911 to report that a stranger had walked up to her rural property near Hagg Lake, stolen two long guns and ammunition from an outdoor shed and was trying to break into the house through the back door.

Deputies responded and got the woman and her family out of the house, then went to search for Halling, who had run into the nearby woods, officials said.

Halling fired at the deputies as they approached his hiding spot, striking Braun in the chest and neck and Deputy Chris Iverson in the side and left elbow.

At least one of the deputies returned fire.

Braun was flown by helicopter to the OHSU Hospital in Southwest Portland for emergency surgery.

Halling was taken to North Portland’s Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, where he was treated for a gunshot wound and was diagnosed with acute methamphetamine intoxication, officials said. Iverson was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and treated for gunshot wounds.

Iverson has since returned to work, but Braun medically retired after the shootout, said Sgt. Danny DiPietro, a Washington County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, on Friday.

Before sentencing Halling, Circuit Judge Beth Roberts cited Halling’s extensive criminal background and a need to ensure the public’s safety.

Halling has a criminal record dating back two decades, including convictions for robbery, burglary and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

He was sentenced in 2015 to three years in prison, five years of formal probation and three years of post-prison supervision in the burglary and attempted assault case, according to court records. During his 2015 arrest, Halling threw a fire extinguisher at police officers and threatened to hit police with a wrench, according to court records.>>