5/27/2023 News Roundup
ACAB GRAFFITI INVESTIGATION AND GUN ARREST
<<A yearlong investigation by Portland police into a prolific graffiti tagging crew working both U.S. coasts culminated this month in the discovery of a ghost gun workshop in the basement of an East Portland home. The Portland Police Bureau announced the arrest of the home’s occupant, 42-year-old Jacob Ramos, earlier this week.
Court documents and a search warrant obtained by WW explain how police found him.
Last April, surveillance cameras caught a pair of vandals tagging a mural on the wall of Platinum Audio Video Lighting, a DJ supply store in downtown Portland. The store’s owner was furious. He’d spent $1,000 to have the mural painted only a few days earlier.
When cops reviewed the footage, they didn’t recognize the perpetrators—but they recognized the graffiti tag, “THUJA.”
A now-removed Instagram account had posted photos of the tagged mural later that day. According to the caption, the vandalism was activism.
“Gentrifying Murals = Police Graffiti Abatement = Controlled. Monitored & Censored Self Expression #ACAB,” it read.
An affidavit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court says police then took a “comprehensive look” at the then-public Instagram account, which depicted a woman in front of similar tags—“THUJA”—on dozens of walls, trucks, and public spaces in Philadelphia, New York City and Portland.
The woman covered her face, but police found another way to identify her. They subpoenaed Meta, the corporate parent of Instagram and Facebook, which provided an internet fingerprint from the Instagram post that corresponded to a home in Beaverton.
During a stakeout of the home in November, cops recognized a young woman from the surveillance tape entering the house, which was owned by a middle-aged couple and two other family members. One of the family members was 25-year-old Shelaleh Rostami, according to the affidavit, which was submitted as part of a request for a search warrant.
By this point, police had a dossier on Rostami. She’d pleaded guilty to graffiti charges in Multnomah County in 2016, and her boyfriend at the time also had a graffiti rap sheet. When police searched city databases for “THUJA” tags, they tallied more than a dozen instances of vandalism—and at least $10,000 in damages.
The evidence was enough to justify a search warrant, which police executed at Rostami’s Beaverton home in January.
There, they found what they were looking for: paint cans, sketch books and even THUJA stickers. And on Rostami’s iPhone they found a conversation with another member of Rostami’s tagging crew. His name was Jacob Ramos.
Police then turned their attention to Ramos, who used the tag “Bier” and sometimes “Kill Your Television” when working with Rostami’s crew. When they searched his East Portland house, where Ramos appeared to live alone, police found a framed photograph of his “Bier” tagged on an abandoned building.
They also found a homemade AR-15, a 3D printer, and metal machining tools in the basement. It was, they proclaimed in a Monday press release announcing the pair’s indictment, a full-fledged “gun manufacturing workshop.”
State lawmakers are currently considering legislation banning ghost guns, which lack serial numbers and are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement to trace. Their use has exploded in recent years as 3D printing technologies go mainstream. In 2017, local law enforcement agencies ask the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace 1,629 ghost guns. By 2021, there were nearly 20,000 requests.
Ghost guns are not currently regulated under Oregon law. But Ramos was a convicted felon and prohibited from possessing any firearms. He was arrested and charged with 11 counts of manufacturing firearms, and 60 counts of criminal mischief, among other charges. He was released shortly thereafter when he promised to stay away from spray paint and gun manufacturing equipment.
Ramos declined to comment through his attorney. His next court date is in May. Rostami did not respond to an email and remains at large. A warrant is out for her arrest.>>
<<In a lawsuit filed May 22 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, a lawyer who worked for the Oregon Justice Resource Center alleges that the criminal justice nonprofit fired him for voicing ethical concerns about the organization’s structure under the leadership of executive director Bobbin Singh.
Gabriel Newland, who says in the lawsuit he was hired by the OJRC in mid-2021 to run and direct a program focused on convicts serving life sentences in prison for crimes committed as minors, alleges the nonprofit regularly engaged in ethical misconduct and a culture of what he calls “well-meaning” but “rogue advocacy.”
Newland alleges he witnessed repeated “glaring ethical violations” during his time at the nonprofit. Foremost among them: that Singh advised lawyers working for him on legal strategies despite not being a lawyer himself, Newland alleges. (Singh attended law school, but was never admitted to the Oregon State Bar. According to the lawsuit, Singh once told Newland in a text that “I took the bar exam twice in 2013, taking only a couple of weeks to study…nearly passed, but I didn’t.”)
Newland alleges in the filing that such conduct “clearly—and concededly—violated ethical rules for years.” The allegations are remarkable in part because OJRC is the state’s leading legal advocacy nonprofit for people behind bars and regularly represents the families of people killed by police officers. Newland alleges that such cases were routinely coordinated in a way that violated the Oregon State Bar’s rules of professional conduct—particularly the rule that protects the independence of a lawyer representing a client.>>
<<“[Newland] learned that, although co-founder and executive director Bobbin Singh was not a lawyer, he had been supervising the legal work of other non-lawyer staff members,” the filing says. “Newland also learned that non-attorney staff were disclosing confidential information without the permission of the client, having damaging conversations with incarcerated clients on recorded phone lines without consulting with the clients’ attorneys, and even writing and filing ill-advised legal documents on clients’ behalf.”
The filing lays out a series of allegations about patterns of ethical misconduct by staff at the OJRC.>>
<<A Salem prison employee is accusing the Oregon Department of Corrections of retaliating after she reported a series of safety lapses.
Kristine Gates, a manager in the Oregon State Correctional Institution’s mental health unit, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court yesterday. It accuses ODOC, her union and her supervisors of failing to heed years of complaints—and then putting her under investigation and offering her a demotion.
Neither ODOC or its union, the Association of Corrections Employees, responded to a request for comment.
The allegations detailed in the complaint stretch back to 2021, when Gates reported she was being stalked by a co-worker, Jon Wiles, who was watching her through the prison’s surveillance system. That summer, she found out Wiles had been following her and taking photos of her home, the complaint alleges.>>
<<Gates reported the stalking to her superiors, but Wiles was not reassigned or ultimately disciplined.
Wiles holds great sway at the Oregon State Correctional Institution. He was voted head of the corrections union at the prison in 2011 and used his authority to halt Gates’ initiatives, she claims, shutting down a mental health dayroom, for instance, that Gates was organizing.>>
<<Gates says she later learned that the union had protested the disciplining of Wiles and ultimately had a recommended reprimand reversed.
“Instead of stopping the conduct, ODOC allowed it to continue, and allowed the offending officer and his fellow union members to monitor, discriminate and retaliate against Gates. She complained over 10 times, but the offending officer was never held accountable,” the legal complaint says.
Meanwhile, Gates was fighting to address safety concerns at the prison, including the use of “black box” practices in its solitary confinement unit, which involved locking inmates behind a second layer of security doors without an intercom to communicate with guards. In a memo, Gates noted that these practices were found to be unconstitutional by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“OSCI has never made the required modification,” she wrote in a memo.
The assistant superintendent of OSCI, Jeremy Wagner, then told her to “chill out,” Gates claims. The black box practices remained in place.
In 2022, Gates claims a prisoner told her he was suicidal and that “they want me to kill myself here.” He explained that a guard watched him attempting suicide and did nothing. The prisoner was later hospitalized.
Gates then obtained security footage that confirmed the prisoner’s story, the complaint alleges.
When Gates reported the incident to her superiors, it was she who was put under investigation. Supervisors accused her of obtaining the surveillance footage without permission. Meanwhile, the guard who witnessed the incident and did nothing remains on suicide watch duty, the complaint alleges.
Earlier this year, Gates directed a suicidal prisoner be put under direct observation and the blankets removed from their cell. The supervisor was the same guard who witnessed the earlier suicide attempt, the complaint says.
The blankets were never removed from the cell. The prisoner had to be hospitalized anyway after reopening self-inflicted wounds, she alleges.
Gates told her supervisor that she no longer felt safe working at the prison and that she can’t report safety issues without fear of further retaliation. ODOC then offered her a demotion to the Oregon State Penitentiary, the complaint alleges.
“Because ODOC has allowed a culture of whistleblower retaliation and intimidation to thrive within its walls, and because Ms. Gates’ repeated attempts at accountability were ignored, Ms. Gates had no choice but to file this lawsuit to shine a light on ODOC’s discrimination against her, to stop its ongoing harm, and to try to hold it accountable,” the complaint reads. Gates is asking for $5 million in damages.>>
<<Last week, WW heard from an inmate at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility that yard access was being limited at Oregon’s only women’s prison.
Inmates were being confined to their bunks, and dayroom access was being reduced as well—while their guards passed out donuts and attended barbecues in honor of National Correctional Officers Week, says Deirdre Sauer, who is currently an inmate at a minimum security unit at Coffee Creek.
National Correctional Employees Week was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, who noted in his proclamation that correctional employees are “essential to the day-to-day operations of these institutions.”
This year, the week began May 8. “We haven’t had normal operations here in probably two weeks,” says Sauer, who spoke with WW over the phone from the facility earlier this week. “Their staff appreciation shouldn’t affect inmate operations.”
A spokeswoman for Oregon Department of Corrections confirmed much of Sauer’s account. The facility had been “on modified operations from 9:30am-6 pm to celebrate National Correctional Employees Week,” communications manager Betty Bernt tells WW, explaining that dayrooms were closed early and evening yard times started late.
“While some movement was being restricted, the [adults in custody] were still participating in their programming and had access to yards and dayrooms at least once per day,” she added.
Sauer also told WW that yard access has been limited for weeks due to short staffing and that schedule changes are expected to continue throughout the summer.
Another ODOC spokeswoman, Amber Campbell, confirmed that staffing availability can affect facility operations. She noted that over 10% of corrections officer positions at Coffee Creek are currently unfilled, and officers are working an average of 8,300 hours of overtime per month to make up the difference. Coffee Creek has the third-most vacancies of all ODOC facilities in Oregon, Campbell said.
ODOC is currently facing additional scrutiny thanks to a whistleblower lawsuit filed earlier this month by an employee at the Oregon State Correctional Institution accusing the prison of lax safety practices and retaliation from her superiors.>>
<<The Multnomah County Detention Center on Southwest 3rd Avenue is in lockdown this afternoon following an altercation between an inmate and three corrections deputies, one of which was bitten in the finger.
Chris Liedle, spokesman for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, said the incident happened after the inmate attempted self-harm while being transferred between units. The inmate and the three deputies are currently being medically evaluated, and the lockdown will be lifted once the evaluation is completed.
“The lockdown is largely in place until more personnel come online and the adult in custody is moved to another housing unit,” he added.
This latest incident comes at a delicate moment in Multnomah County jails. Over the past month, two men have died while incarcerated in those facilities.
Allen George Walker, 31, was found unresponsive in his cell last Saturday, May 13. A preliminary investigation by the medical examiner concluded it was due to natural causes, and found no evidence of an overdose, foul play or suicide.
Donovan Wood, 26, died on May 2 after jail deputies tried and failed to resuscitate him. The sheriff’s did not release the cause of death, but when a prosecutor asked to drop his charges a few days later he told the judge that “he committed suicide in jail,” according to audio from the courtroom.
Earlier this month, a jail commander had to issue an officewide memo reminding jail deputies not to lock inmates in the shower for extended periods of time. One deputy was put on administrative leave.>>
<<On Friday, a Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office commander sent a memo to the corrections division reminding subordinates that locking inmates “in the shower areas for an extended period of time is not acceptable.”
The memo came two days after Deputy Seth Cordell was placed on administrative leave, “pending the outcome of a Professional Standards policy review,” an office spokesman says. Cordell was hired by the county in 2015.
It’s not clear where Cordell was stationed, but the memo was authored by Capt. Kurtiss Morrison, who is the facility commander at Inverness Jail in Northeast Portland.>>
<<This latest incident follows last year’s criminal investigation into three other corrections deputies, which was first reported by WW. Those three deputies, Mirzet Sacirovic, Jorge Troudt and Gustavo Valdovinos, remain on leave.
The sheriff’s office has yet to release any details about that investigation, although WW subsequently reported that two of the deputies had been recently disciplined for assaulting inmates.>>
911 IS A JOKE
<<In both Washington County and Multnomah County, contracted EMS crews are falling short of county standards for quick response times to emergency calls, often forcing fire crews to provide the initial medical response.
Depending on where a 911 call is placed, counties have benchmarks for how quickly EMS crews should arrive on scene.
Those standards range from within 8 minutes — in most populated areas like Portland — to 30 minutes in more rural areas.
KGW’s review of ambulance response time data shows both Metro West Ambulance and American Medical Response (AMR) are increasingly missing the mark. The companies and counties say paramedic staffing is largely to blame.
In February, Washington County commissioners voted to switch EMS providers from Metro West to AMR, following a review of a system redesign proposal that’s been in the works for years.>>
<<In February of 2022, Metro West was meeting county standards — getting to about 90% of 911 calls on time.
By December, that number had dropped to 61%, meaning there was roughly a 40% chance an ambulance crew would be late to an emergency call in Washington County.>>
<<Dr. Jon Jui, EMS medical director for Multnomah County, said AMR’s response time performance in 2022 was concerning and unacceptable.
“The response times — they’re basically falling off significantly from their normal response,” Jui said. “The fire department is basically doing their job and stabilizing the patients before AMR gets there.”
Starting in March of 2022, AMR fell short of the county’s benchmark of responding to 90% of calls on time.
By August, AMR crews were late to about 1 out of every 4 calls that dispatch classified as “life-threatening.”
Jui said Multnomah County has been lucky that fire crews are filling the gaps by arriving first to provide initial medical assessment and treatment.
“We’re looking closely and I’m not making any excuses because something bad will happen, but right now we fall back on our safety and our safety net is our 911 system is doing what it’s designed to do with fire first response getting there,” he said.
Jui said the current reliance on fire crews to arrive quickly to each emergency medical call is a strain on their workload.>>
<<However, the annual report shows that AMR’s overall staffing levels have remained relatively stable over the past four years the company has contracted with Multnomah County
2019: 243 employees
2020: 253 employees
2021: 256 employees
2022: 241 employees
When asked about these staffing levels, Jui shared data showing how the number of 911 calls in Multnomah County increased in 2022, somewhat diluting EMS response:
2020: 105,586 calls to 911
2021: 113,537 calls to 911
2022: 117,857 calls to 911>>
<<Jui said a lack of availability or capacity at local hospitals is also impacting the slower EMS response times.
Ambulance crews can transport a patient to a hospital, but if there’s no room for admission, they’re left waiting in the hospital bays with that patient until space opens up — preventing that crew from being able to respond to another 911 call.>>
<<Over the past six months, the percentage of “late” ambulances in Multnomah County has skyrocketed.
For the six months prior to March, ambulances arrived late to medical emergencies 28% of the time, according to a recent county report obtained by WW. That means nearly 16,000 ambulances were late, a 100% increase from the prior six months.
In urban areas, ambulances are expected to respond to life-threatening calls—“Code 3″—within eight minutes. Last March, they did so 87% of the time. By this February, that percentage had fallen to 68%, according to the report.>>
<<Multnomah County has a contract with American Medical Response to provide ambulance service, and AMR has blamed staffing issues for its poor performance. “The most significant impact on our compliance and mandatory overtime for our first responders has been an extreme nationwide paramedic staffing shortage caused by the pandemic,” AMR said in a statement to WW.
AMR has been lobbying to eliminate a county requirement that every ambulance be staffed with two paramedics. “A temporary change to our staffing model to paramedic/EMT, which is the Oregon standard used by all counties surrounding Multnomah, would mitigate the impacts of these shortages,” the AMR spokesperson added.
For its part, the county has said AMR is not to blame and has yet to fine the contractor for its failing performance. “What we’re experiencing now in Multnomah County—and what we have experienced since 2020—are not really within AMR’s control. The pandemic wasn’t in their control, nor was the subsequent national workforce shortage,” said Aaron Monnig, the county’s health officer operations manager, in a statement to WW.>>
<<It took 32 minutes for an ambulance to get to a man in a wheelchair who was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Northeast Portland on April 28.
The man died at the scene of the crash, although he was still alive when firefighters first arrived on the scene. Those firefighters worked to stabilize him in the road, waiting an agonizingly long time for an ambulance to transport him to the hospital.>>
<<The dispatch log shows ambulance provider American Medical Response (AMR) was operating at “level zero” — a code that signifies there are no ambulances available to respond to an emergency 911 call.>>
<<The county expects AMR to arrive to 90% of emergency calls within eight minutes, in most cases. From September to February, about one out of every three ambulance crews missed this mark.>>
<<Even though all of Portland Fire and Rescue’s 700 sworn members are at least EMT-certified and 150 of those members are paramedic-certified, fire crews can’t transport patients and don’t have the same medical resources as ambulance crews.>>