5/27/23 News Roundup part 3


<<On May 16, District Attorney Mike Schmidt went to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners to ask for more money in this year’s budget, citing a report showing his office was 26% understaffed. “We’re pretty to the bone,” he told the board.

WW has obtained the staffing report, which was completed in January by the Portland consulting firm Coraggio Group. Its consultants interviewed Schmidt’s employees to complete the “Weighted Case Analysis,” finding that prosecutors in many units inside the office were working upwards of 60 hours a week and juggling caseloads that in some units had more than doubled.

He’s asking for a $50 million budget, which amounts to a 43% increase from 2019. Those dollars, however, translate into only a 3% increase in head count. Schmidt cited rising labor costs as one of the causes of his office’s staffing challenges.

In a statement to WW, Mike Schmidt highlighted the ongoing cuts to the office. “When I started as an intern in 2007, our office had over 100 prosecutors. Then when I came in as DA, we had 72. Thanks to investments from the county commission, we are seeing that number tick back up—we’re currently at 81 prosecutors,” he said.

According to the consultants, his office needs 109. Schmidt said he was working on internal improvements to reduce caseloads but would continue to advocate for more staff. “Ensuring manageable prosecutor caseloads is critical to public safety and to relieving burnout,” he added.

The report is actually an improvement over the last staffing analysis, conducted in 2018. At the time, it found the office was 36% understaffed.

Still, it highlights problems inside an office that has been under intense public scrutiny in recent years as Portland’s murder rate climbs and county courts sag under the weight of what the consultants call “a massive backlog” brought on by pandemic-related restrictions. Some cases are “now bumping against the statute of limitations,” it notes.

A shortage of defense attorneys has only aggravated the problem. “MCDA is issuing cases only to see them dismissed by the courts,” the consultants note.

Some believe the report understates the problems. The Community Budget Advisory Committee, which reviewed the report for the board, said it believes “the understaffing is more significant than stated in the report.”

A member of that committee, consultant Wayne Graham, told the board that its members were fed up with crime. “The need for funding must be met,” he said.

This report follows on the heels of another report first obtained by WW earlier this year that showed high caseloads were taking a toll on employee morale.

And the latest report sheds light on some of the consequences of the resulting attrition, particularly in the juvenile unit, which experienced “over 100% turnover in the last year.”>>



<<Portlanders can be forgiven for not realizing that hard drugs remain illegal in Oregon, despite the passage of Measure 110. People caught with small amounts of meth or cocaine are supposed to be issued citations—and the recipient then chooses between a $100 fine or calling a number for addiction treatment. If that detail remains hazy, it’s because Portland police have issued only about 500 citations for possession since the new law went into effect.

That is, until last week.

On Monday, May 8, cops handed out 43 citations—a record number, according to a list of citations obtained by WW from the Multnomah County Circuit Court. On Tuesday, May 9, police broke their record again with 63.

The Portland Police Bureau’s bike squad, which patrols downtown, made a decision to start making use of the underused tickets. “Alongside paramedics and firefighters, those officers are on the front lines of this crisis,” PPB spokesman Kevin Allen tells WW. “They’re directly seeing all the overdoses and violent crime associated with abuse of street drugs, and we’ve heard from the community that they want to see us try to address open drug use.”>>

<<But it’s unclear if more citations will result in fewer deaths. That’s because the citations are pushing few people into treatment. When Portland cops hand out a citation, they pass along a card with a phone number for Lines for Life, 503-575-3769. The hotline is staffed by people who have gone through recovery themselves, and they provide both referrals to treatment and a mailed letter that callers can bring to court to waive the $100 fine.

The process takes from about 15 minutes to an hour. But only 32 people in Multnomah County have done it, according to data from Lines for Life.

Of those, only five have actually submitted the required paperwork to get their fines waived, according to Multnomah County Circuit Court data obtained by WW. That’s a success rate of around 1%.

As of Friday, only 10 people had paid the fine. A few dozen had their cases dismissed. For the rest, their cases are eventually sent to collections.

Law enforcement’s lack of interest in writing citations has long been a target of criticism. A state audit released earlier this year highlighted “variability” across jurisdictions in officers’ enthusiasm for writing citations and encouraging people to call the hotline. (Cops in tiny Josephine County have handed out twice as many citations as those in Multnomah.)>>

<<Tera Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which advocates for Measure 110, emphasizes that the system is a work in progress. She points to a recent report from the Oregon Health Authority showing that programs funded by the measure have already helped over 60,000 people. Still, she says she’s pushing legislators to create a workgroup to address issues in the citation system, such as the lack of law enforcement training on how to use it and the fact that the hotline number isn’t simply printed on the citation.

“We didn’t have something that worked before,” Hurst says, referring to the criminalization of drug use. “Now we’re trying to figure out what will.”>>



<<The Portland Police Bureau released new data Tuesday morning showing a dramatic increase in fatal overdoses.

Last year, there were a record 158 overdose deaths in Portland. This year will almost certainly surpass that peak. There have already been 85, a 46% increase from this time last year, PPB spokesman Nathan Sheppard tells WW.

“Keep in mind that the numbers for this year are actually only preliminary because the medical examiner will continue to process toxicology reports that will only increase the number of deaths considered overdoses,” Sheppard adds.

Tuesday’s data release comes after a particularly lethal weekend on Portland’s streets in which the police investigated eight suspected overdoses. Six of those were due to fentanyl, the potent, cheap opioid that has driven a massive rise in overdoses across Oregon in recent years.

It’s easily mistaken for other powdered drugs, like cocaine, as police suspect happened in several of the recent cases. “Users are warned that there may be a batch of purported cocaine circulating on the street that is particularly dangerous to use,” the bureau said Sunday.>>



<<In December 2020, the Portland Police Bureau essentially disbanded its traffic division, moving all full-time traffic officers to different assignments. The decision stemmed in part from a shortage of cops, and occurred amid greater scrutiny of racial disparities in drivers police pulled over.

Since then, the number of fatal collisions has been rising. In 2022, Portland saw 68 fatal crashes, which is the most on record since 1987, according to PPB. Thirty-two of those crashes killed people on foot, which was the most on record since 1948. As WW noted last summer, that spike occurred as traffic stops plunged.

And so, a predictable denouement: PPB announced the return of its traffic division Tuesday. Fourteen officers will begin working traffic starting Thursday, May 11. An additional eight officers will work traffic for the month of May in order to help with increased demand during the Rose Festival.

Police Chief Chuck Lovell says 10 officers on motorcycles, two officers in cars, and two sergeants will be assigned to traffic. The traffic division will operate seven days a week.>>

<<Despite the rising rate of fatal crashes, some advocacy groups remain concerned about the presence of PPB traffic officers—especially since fewer overall traffic stops have not affected the racial disparity.

<<“Racial bias in traffic enforcement in Portland is a well-documented reality, and traffic stops can be unsafe for police, as well,” Sarah Iannarone, executive director of Street Trust, said in a statement today. “Our hope is that any additional capacity to Portland Police Bureau’s traffic division will go directly toward solving the most violent traffic offenses committed.”

At the press event, Sgt. Ty Engstrom laid out the new priorities of PPB’s traffic division: responding to 911 calls related to traffic; detecting, investigating and processing DUIIs; enforcing traffic laws in high-crash areas; and training newly hired officers how to enforce traffic laws.

While the bureau has retained four traffic investigators since 2020, the lack of full-time traffic officers has resulted in fewer investigations into serious traffic violations like hit-and-runs and DUIIs, Engstrom said.

“Our DUII arrest numbers over the last few years have been dramatically low,” Enstrom said. “That’s not from a lack of DUII drivers.”>>


<<Near the end of 2020, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Chief Chuck Lovell announced that due to budget constraints and staff shortages, the bureau would effectively disband its Traffic Division. This meant that while officers could still conduct traffic enforcement, there was no longer a team dedicated solely to that purpose.

The decision meant far fewer Portlanders were pulled over while driving, or stopped by police while walking. At the same time, traffic crash fatalities in the city have been at record highs.

Last week, Lovell announced he would partially reinstate the bureau’s Traffic Division, assigning a team of 14 officers to patrol Portland’s high-crash areas in the afternoons. Lovell said he made the decision in part because of the rise of fatal crashes in Portland over the last two years.>>

<<Since PPB gutted its Traffic Division in 2021, transportation safety advocates have called on the city to embrace another method of enforcement: speed cameras. Advocates say cameras placed at red lights and intersections are advantageous because they limit the potential for racial bias in traffic enforcement and allow overburdened police officers to focus on other issues.>>

<<Automated traffic enforcement like red light cameras and intersection cameras are under the purview of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps and his predecessor, former Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, have both advocated for automated enforcement tactics, though Mapps has been a strong proponent for bringing back police traffic enforcement as well. Though the agency has had some trouble getting traffic cameras up and running, PBOT installed the city’s first intersection safety camera at East 122nd Ave and Stark Street in April 2022. There are red light cameras in 10 locations around the city, with more planned for installation later this year.

A state law passed last year allowing city employees to review traffic camera footage will also make it easier for the City of Portland to utilize automated enforcement. Before this law was passed, only police officers were able to review the footage. >>

<<Addressing concerns over bias in policing, Allen said that while Chief Lovell is concerned about racial disparities in police work, he also “points out that these racial disparities exist in nearly every facet of our society, and he believes that this is an issue that’s bigger than just policing.”

Even before PPB halted its Traffic Division in 2021, the bureau took steps to reduce traffic stops for minor violations. The change was an effort to prevent officers from pulling over drivers for things like broken tail lights or expired registration—infractions that are often used by police to target drivers of color. In 2022, that action was followed by the passage of Oregon Senate Bill 1510, which prohibits police from stopping drivers for certain low-level traffic violations.

Transportation safety advocates hope PPB’s newly-reinstated Traffic Division will make Portland’s streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. But they caution enforcement—whether with cameras or officers—isn’t enough to curb traffic violence altogether. Responding to news of the Traffic Division’s return, The Street Trust called for a more radical transformation on Portland’s streets.

“Ultimately, enforcing the rules of the road is only one part of the equation—educating the public and redesigning our streets at a human scale may ultimately play bigger roles,” Sarah Iannarone, executive director of The Street Trust, said in last week’s news release. “We need to adopt a public health approach to address the epidemic of violence in our streets and fund infrastructure that can help ensure that every Portlander gets home to their loved ones at the end of the day, regardless of zip code or travel mode.”>>



<<Frank Gable won his full freedom Monday as a federal magistrate in Portland ordered his unconditional release and barred the state from retrying him in the 1989 fatal stabbing of Oregon prison chief Michael Francke.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta ordered the Marion County murder indictment against Gable be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the state can’t bring future charges against Gable in the killing.>>

<<Gable, now 63, left prison on June 28, 2019, after nearly 30 years following a stunning ruling earlier that year by Acosta, who threw out his murder conviction. He has remained on federal supervision since then. In 1991, Gable had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the killing.>>

<<Francke bled to death from stab wounds and was found dead on the north porch of the Dome Building where he worked in Salem. The door of his nearby state-issued Pontiac stood open, its dome light found on.

Gable, a local methamphetamine dealer at the time, was arrested 15 months after Francke’s death when another man said he saw him stab Francke. The state argued at trial that Francke interrupted Gable as Gable broke into Francke’s car to get “snitch papers,” drawing from the grand jury statement of one witness. The trial jury found Gable guilty of aggravated murder.

But Acosta ruled four years ago that Gable didn’t get a fair trial, noting that another man’s confession to the crime was excluded during Gable’s trial, among other things. Appeals have kept Gable in limbo until now.

Last week, Oregon Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman told Acosta that the Marion County District Attorney’s Office didn’t plan to retry or reindict Gable within a 90-day deadline Acosta had set, but wanted to reserve the right to reinvestigate the case and rearrest or reindict him in the future.>>

<<Kevin Francke, Michael Francke’s youngest brother who also believed in Gable’s innocence, said in a statement, “We are beyond happy that Frank and his wife Rain will no longer be paralyzed with fear by every unexpected phone call or knock at the door, and they can go about a normal existence.”

<<The Francke brothers have believed that there was a conspiracy to kill their brother to cover up widespread corruption inside the state’s prison system.

In April 2019, Acosta had found that no reasonable juror would have convicted Gable in light of another man’s multiple confessions to Francke’s killing and because nearly all the witnesses in the case have recanted since the trial. Acosta also found that Gable’s conviction resulted from improper interrogation of witnesses by investigators and flawed polygraphs that further shaped witness statements to police.>>

<<“The interests of justice demand finality. Mr. Gable must now be presumed innocent. … Dismissal and finality are not only what law and justice require to begin to make Mr. Gable whole, but finality will also vindicate the interests of the public, the victim’s family, and the State’s ‘material’ witnesses who described being intimidated, psychologically coerced, and harassed by the State’s investigators,” Brown wrote. “These witnesses should not be subjected to further investigation by the State in connection with this thirty-four-year-old matter.>>

<<John Crouse, a Salem man who was on parole for a robbery at the time, repeatedly said he killed Francke, telling numerous law enforcement officers as well as his mother, brother and girlfriend that he stabbed Francke when Francke caught Crouse burglarizing his car. Crouse is no longer alive.>>

<<“In the thirty years since trial, nearly all the witnesses who incriminated Gable have recanted. In short, no reasonable juror could ignore the heavy blow to the State’s evidence given the significance of the recantations. The affidavits show how undisputed investigative misconduct paved the way for a string of criminal associates to turn on Gable to help themselves,” the 9th Circuit ruling said.>>

https://www.oregonlive.com/crime/2023/05/judge-grants-frank-gable-full-release-bars-oregon-from-retrying-him-in-killing-of-oregon-prisons- chief.html

[KW NOTE: Missing from the O’s story is the fact that the paper fired their most popular columnist, Phil Stanford, because he questioned Gable’s guilt.]

<<Federal Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta today prohibited Marion County from retrying Frank Gable for the 1989 murder of Oregon Department of Corrections director Michael Francke.

That means Gable is free from any possibility of prosecution in the case, one of the most notorious murders in Oregon history.>>

<<A Marion County jury convicted Gable, then a low-level Salem drug dealer, in 1991 and sentenced him to life in prison. Many people, perhaps most notably then-Oregonian columnist Phil Stanford, questioned the conviction from the outset because police never found a weapon or an eyewitness to the murder, nor could they provide a compelling argument for a potential motive.

Today’s ruling comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Count’s decision last month to turn down the state of Oregon’s appeal of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding Acosta’s 2019 finding in U.S District Court that Gable was wrongfully convicted.>>

<<Acosta lambasted Marion County Circuit Court in 2019 for excluding a confession from a man named John Crouse and also noted that federal public defender Nell Brown and her team had reinterviewed witnesses who testified against Gable and found that seven of eight of them had recanted their stories. A federal appeals court panel upheld his ruling last year.

The appeals panel’s decision highlighted the witnesses’ recantations.

“They attribute their false testimony to significant investigative misconduct, which the State—remarkably—does not dispute,” the decision said.>>

<<Francke’s brothers, E. Patrick and Kevin Francke, have long advocated for Gable’s release, and they applauded Acosta’s latest move.

“We are most pleased that Mike Francke’s legacy will not be tainted by the wrongful conviction of an innocent man,” Kevin Francke said in a statement. “One victim was one two many; two was a travesty. We pray that although it has cost Frank 33 years of hell to get here, that he and Rain [Gable’s wife] will enjoy many, many years of peaceful freedom and a wealth of happiness to make up for it.”>>


[KW NOTE: Francke was investigating corruption in the DOC when he was killed, and his murder was almost certainly arranged by top staff in the prison system.]

Background: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/murder-in-oregon/id1667171131>>


<<With extraordinary speed, the political career of Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan ended Tuesday morning after a self-destructive decision to freelance for a troubled cannabis outfit.>>

<<Fagan, 41, a former legislator and employment lawyer, was next in line to follow Gov. Tina Kotek whenever Kotek leaves office. And because that might not happen for eight years, Fagan and her supporters already had a Plan B—it was a poorly kept secret that she hoped to succeed Wyden when Oregon’s 74-year-old senior U.S. senator called it quits.

In the meantime, she was in effect the state’s chief integrity officer, responsible for conducting elections, auditing state agencies and programs, and making sure that companies doing business in Oregon were legally registered here.>>

<<Fagan’s trouble began March 29, when WW published a story about the second-largest cannabis dispensary chain in the state, La Mota, and how the couple who founded it and their companies faced millions of dollars in state and federal tax liens and lawsuits alleging unpaid bills. Even as La Mota’s principals, Rosa Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, failed to meet their financial obligations (the tax liens issued against them and their companies now total over $7 million), they somehow found the money to contribute more than $200,000 to the state’s top Democrats, including $45,000 to Fagan.>>

<<And then, last Thursday, an admission by Fagan blew the scandal wide open.

The day before, on a Wednesday morning, WW received a tip that seemed too unbelievable to be true. Acting on the tip, WW sent questions to Fagan at 1 pm on April 26.

At 1:45 pm the following day, April 27, Fagan admitted to WW that she’d signed a contract to work as a consultant for Veriede Holding LLC, whose principals are La Mota’s owners, Cazares and Mitchell.

To sign the contract, Fagan shirked one of her fundamental responsibilities: overseeing the audits of state agencies, a function she called in a 2020 campaign debate “the best tool the secretary of state has.” On Feb. 15, more than a year after the secretary of state’s Audits Division began looking at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s regulation of the cannabis industry, Fagan recused herself from the audit.

Fagan abdicated a primary duty of the office to which Oregonians had elected her—holding state agencies and offices to account—in order to take large monthly payments from two of her most prominent political donors who were facing a litany of legal and financial problems.>>

Worse still, working papers from the audit showed that a pressing concern for Fagan before the audit began and when it was halfway through was to make sure auditors heard criticisms Cazares had expressed to her about the OLCC.

In other words, Fagan directed a key tool of accountability to suit the interests of the state’s second-largest cannabis chain, then went to work for its owners while she held a full-time job as the person charged with ensuring the integrity of state government and elections.>>

<<The contract shows she was paid substantially more for her cannabis consulting—$10,000 a month, plus $30,000 for every cannabis license obtained outside of Oregon and New Mexico—than her $77,000 state salary.

The document provided little detail about what she was getting paid for, although Fagan told reporters she was doing non-legal research on cannabis business opportunities in other states. (She said that once she was readmitted to the Oregon State Bar, she planned to perform legal work for the company.)>>

<<Records show she pressed the Audits Division twice to speak with Cazares about the scope of the audit as early as January 2021—well before the audit had even begun. Cazares’ complaints about the OLCC in an interview with the lead auditor—that it was sexist, heavy-handed with enforcement, punitive, and unsupportive to people of color, and treated her like a “criminal”—made their way into the lead auditor’s questioning of OLCC leaders during audit interviews conducted in 2022.>>

<<And records also show Fagan only recused herself from the OLCC audit a week after the yearlong probe was substantially finished.>>



<<In an effort to encourage new housing construction and provide modest financial relief to Portlanders, the Portland City Council approved a $7.1 billion budget Wednesday, May 17 that calls for lower water and sewer rate hikes, and no increases to charges for housing developers.

Citing an exodus of residents and businesses from Portland in recent years, Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed late-stage budget changes that would slow utility rate increases for water and sewer, while halting any increase in parking meter rates. The mayor said “affordability” was a key driver in the city’s population loss.>>

<<Commissioner Mingus Mapps was the lone “no” vote on the city budget. Mapps lambasted Wheeler’s proposed budget amendments, saying they’d be worse for city residents than the incremental fee increases the mayor wants to prevent.

Mapps, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the water bureau, and environmental services bureau, said curbing fees wouldn’t put much money back in people’s pockets, but it would cost city bureaus millions in lost revenue, leading to staffing cuts and infrastructure project delays.

“My no vote is a red flag and a warning to Portlanders,” Mapps said.

“For reasons that still mystify me, this budget contains terrible decisions around funding infrastructure, both in the water and environmental services space, in order to literally save pennies.”>>

<<Wheeler’s budget amendments will leave the Portland Water Bureau with a projected $2.4 million revenue dip and $8 million less in revenue for the city’s sewer operating fund. To compensate, the bureaus could enact a hiring freeze, or delay projects that have yet to start. >>

<<Amid Portland Police Bureau’s plans to hire 300 new officers by mid-2025, the latest budget adds $5.3 million for 43 new PPB positions and stolen vehicle recovery work.>>

<<No new funding will be allocated for Portland Street Response, the city’s crisis response program that dispatches EMTs and licensed mental health professionals to people in mental or behavioral health crises. >>

Next fiscal year’s budget also maintains $21.7 million for graffiti removal and trash collection, done primarily through the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program and the Public Environment Management Office. It also includes $2 million for citing and removing “derelict RVs” from Portland’s streets and $400,000 to fund neighborhood clean-up events led by nonprofit SOLVE. Another $800,000 will fund efforts to stabilize small businesses, hold events, and add decorative lighting to areas throughout the city to encourage shopping and visiting.

The council is expected to adopt a final budget June 14, after it undergoes review from the Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission.>>