6/15/2023 News Roundup


<<A new religious organization has hit the streets of Northwest Portland, offering the homeless food and access to shelter. Barely a year old, it’s already winning public grants, philanthropic checks, and nods from city leaders.

Loving One Another, while registered as a 501(c)(3), is not your typical nonprofit. It was created by Alex Stone, the founder of a private security company, Echelon Protective Services, that supplies armed guards to downtown businesses fed up with sidewalk camping and the crime associated with drug use.

And the nonprofit is helping to win the security company new business, including what might be its biggest contract yet, a $1.5 million deal with Pearl District neighborhood leaders to use both Stone’s armed patrols and his philanthropic outreach workers to address vandalism, theft and drug dealing outside their doors.

Those who support Stone’s efforts say he’s filling a role vacated by the city and county, as an understaffed police force recedes and the county’s emergency aid programs fail to address the growing ranks of unhoused people.>>

<<“This reminds me of those days in the Iraq War when it became clear that Blackwater was doing most of the United States government’s dirty work,” says Juan C. Chavez of the Oregon Justice Resource Center. “The privatization of public services inevitably leads to unaccountable waste.”>>

<<Stone has discovered that in the case of downtown camping, the interests of private businesses and public agencies converge: Both want campers to move to shelter, and both are willing to pay through the nose to make it happen. His web of nonprofit and commercial entities allows him to tap both. “When you follow the money,” says Kat Mahoney, head of the Old Town social services nonprofit Sisters of the Road, “it all goes back to Stone.”>>

<<Stone’s personal story is central to his appeal among clients—he grew up homeless in Houston, he says, before becoming a cabinet maker and eventually serving as a chaplain at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, according to a résumé submitted to state regulators.

Meanwhile, he was working as a small-town cop across the Columbia River in Oregon.

But his tenure with the Clatskanie Police Department was upended in 2015 when he accused the chief of making racist comments, attracting national headlines. The chief resigned—and then, so did Stone. Investigators accused him of repeatedly lying, not about the chief’s bigotry but fabricating other damaging claims about co-workers and the city’s top brass.>>

<<In a letter to state regulators relinquishing his law enforcement certification, Stone said he was a whistleblower and had become “disillusioned” with law enforcement. Shortly thereafter, he applied to become a private security guard and started the company that would become Echelon Protective Services.

In 2021, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Stone’s client list was a “roster of civic heavy-hitters” paying as much as $16,000 a month for private patrols.>>

<<An OPB story published later that year found that the company had been scrutinized by police and prosecutors for brutality and illegal sweeps, and quoted Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt saying he was “disturbed by allegations of misconduct by employees of Echelon.” No charges were filed.>>

<<Earlier this year, he added a new customer: the city of Portland, which handed Loving One Another a $5,000 contract—a pittance, by nonprofit contracting standards—to hand out “food, clothes, hygiene supplies” and bus fare along the South Waterfront.

He expanded to the Pearl District, where local leaders created a nonprofit, the Northwest Community Conservancy, to hire Stone to patrol the streets. So far, the NWCC has raised around $500,000 from local businesses and residents. (Condo owners donate $20 a month.)

Right now, the NWCC pays Echelon to patrol around the clock with up to three security guards. It plans to eventually spend $1.5 million a year, Thrasher says.>>



<<A man who immigrated to Oregon from Iraq in 2014 on Tuesday pleaded guilty to advocating for violent jihad through an online Arabic newspaper in support of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Hawazen Sameer Mothafar, 33, who lives in Troutdale, was arrested in November 2020 on a five-count federal indictment.

On Tuesday, Mothafar appeared in U.S. District Court in Portland and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to the designated foreign terrorist organization.>>

<<Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight described Mothafar as the co-founder of the Sunni Shield Foundation, a pro-Islamic State online media organization that produced propaganda through social media videos and graphics and encouraged attacks on behalf of the group.

Mothafar created the foundation’s first online video that included footage from an Islamic State battle, and in subsequent videos, he encouraged viewers to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for the militants, according to Knight.

Mothafar and other members of the Sunni Shield Foundation obtained the Islamic State group’s permission to start publishing the online newspaper.

He edited, produced and distributed propaganda and recruiting material and also served as a graphic designer from February 2015 through Nov. 5, 2020, in coordination with Islamic State media operatives overseas, according to prosecutors.

In one graphic he designed, he attempted to incite readers “to attack and kill Westerners,” and in another, he encouraged readers to engage in “knife attacks against the enemies of ISIS,” Knight said, using the initials commonly used to refer to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.>>

<<Among the articles prosecutors say he produced and distributed was one titled “Effective Stabbing Techniques” in a Nov. 29, 2017, issue of Al-Anfal newspaper, which described how to “best kill and maim in a knife attack,” according to the indictment.

Another tutorial he published in Al-Anfal on Dec. 20, 2017, was called “How Does a Detonator Work” and explained the use of explosive ignition devices, according to the indictment.

That same issue contained an infographic depicting the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty on fire with a caption that read, partially in Arabic and in English, “Soon in the Heart of Your Lands,” the indictment said.

Other propaganda encouraged readers to carry out attacks in their home countries if they couldn’t travel overseas where Islamic State extremists were fighting, the indictment said.

On Nov. 2, 2018, Mothafar is alleged to have shared 70 images of explosives and western cities with Sunni Shield members, telling them, “The images of destroyed infidel cities will be useful,” the indictment said.

He also provided technical support to Islamic State officials overseas, including help with opening social media and email accounts for official use and moderating private chat rooms and channels dedicated to supporting extremists through the Sunni Shield Foundation.>>

<<He communicated online with what Knight termed, “ISIS central media officials,” who regularly gave him “instructions about media production,” and fed him quotes from its leaders. He also assisted with production of the pro-Islamic State’s Youth of the Caliphate magazine and published news on Nashr News Agency channels, according to the prosecutor.

He also connected a terrorist imprisoned in West Africa, Abu Qaswara al-Shanqiti, to two Islamic State officials “in hopes of aiding his release,” according to Knight.

Mothafar is not a U.S. citizen but falsely claimed he had no ties to foreign terrorist groups when he sought to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in October 2018, Knight said.

Mothafar is represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Mark Ahlemeyer, who made no statement during the hearing and declined comment after it.

The conviction carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or twice the amount of any proceeds resulting from the crime if it exceeded $250,000, the judge said.>>



<<In the summer of 2020, in the midst of a global protest movement against police violence, Portland Public Schools (PPS) Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero announced that he was effectively discontinuing the presence of Portland police officers in district schools.

“With new proposed investments in direct student supports (social workers, counselors, culturally-specific partnerships & more), I am discontinuing the regular presence of School Resource Officers [at PPS],” Guerrero wrote in a tweet. “We need to re-examine our relationship with the PPB.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler strongly supported Guerrero. “Leaders must listen and respond to community,” Wheeler wrote. “We must disrupt the patterns of racism and injustice. I am pulling police officers from schools.”

Now, just three years later, in the aftermath of a series of shootings near PPS campuses, a PPS Safety and Security Task Force formed by Guerrero to review the district’s safety measures has recommended re-establishing the district’s partnership with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

Relaunching the police partnership is just one of 13 recommendations the task force made to enhance safety in the district. Other measures include requiring all middle and high school students to display their identification badges while on campus, piloting a roving weapons detection system at major high school events, and growing the PPS youth violence prevention team.

But it’s the recommendation to re-establish the PPB partnership and “reimagine” the bureau’s Youth Services Division that has generated the most controversy among students, staff, and observers.

The particulars of the partnership are yet to be determined, but Andrew Scott, the PPS board chair, was quick to point out in an interview with the Mercury that the district is not planning on returning to the pre-2020 school resource officer model.

“Personally, I don’t want to see police officers involved in student discipline,” Scott said. “I don’t want to see them back in our schools as a routine matter. I do want to see a stronger partnership with the bureau.”

That’s in large part because of the gun violence PPS has experienced in recent years. There were shootings outside of three PPS high schools during the current school year, leaving a number of students and their families shaken. >>

<<But for Elona J. Wilson, executive director of the progressive organization NextUp, the decision to respond to societal violence with police represents a failure of imagination.

“The default for adults and specifically for board members and probably for parents too, is police,” Wilson said. “That is the default for public safety, rather than these other very, very impactful investments in counselors, social services, etc, that we know do work. When folks are in fear mode, they revert back to their default.”

Wilson noted that studies have consistently shown that the presence of police officers in schools does not make students safer, but imperils non-white students who are subjected to harsher disciplinary measures.

PPB in particular has a well-documented history of racism.

The task force is not recommending that PPB officers return to schools on a regular basis, but rather that they be positioned “near schools to help deter criminal activity” and “create clear parameters for engagement.”

It remains to be seen whether positioning officers near schools would have a measurable positive impact on safety in a way that positioning officers inside schools didn’t—especially when the issues ailing the district appear to be largely the result of societal factors well beyond its control. >>

<<“I think that is a natural response to want to do everything in your power to control the situation and ensure that folks are not put in harm’s way,” Wilson, of NextUp, said. “Something that I really urge us to do is be more thoughtful in this moment in trying to protect young people so we do not, indirectly, actually harm them.”>>



<<For much of the year, Multnomah County contractor American Medical Response has been unable to staff enough paramedics to respond to a recent rise in call volumes. The result: slower ambulances. Since last March, AMR hasn’t been meeting response time standards outlined in its contract with the county.

Last week, after WW obtained data showing that no ambulance was available approximately 10% of the time dispatchers requested one, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson ordered the county health department to address the problem, and potentially levy fines against AMR. Her former political rival, Commissioner Sharon Meieran, says the blame belongs to the county for not relaxing staffing requirements for the ambulances.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the crisis.

What’s behind the rise in calls and accompanying staffing crisis? Austin DePaolo, the business representative for the paramedics’ union, listed the reasons in an interview with WW. The fentanyl deluge and the accompanying overdoses. A rise in mental health calls. Senior centers using 911 as a ride to the Veterans Affairs office. Meanwhile, long shifts, more assaults, and a rise in call volume has taken a toll on paramedic morale. AMR says applications for open positions have fallen by more than half. “They don’t want to be a glorified taxi service,” DePaolo says.

How many ambulances are arriving late?

In more than 5,000 instances since the county started keeping track Jan. 17, an ambulance has not been available when a dispatcher requested medical assistance. That resulted in late ambulances: In February, only 68% arrived within eight minutes in urban areas. The standard is 90%.

Has anyone died in Multnomah County because of a late ambulance?

In late April, ambulances took more than 30 minutes to arrive at the scene of a hit-and-run in Northeast Portland. The victim died shortly thereafter, leading to widespread speculation that a faster ambulance response could have saved a life.

But not necessarily, says Dr. Jonathan Jui, the medical director of the county’s emergency medical services. The survival rate from that kind of blunt trauma is less than 5%, and the medical examiner still hasn’t released a cause of death. Jui says he’s unaware of any “adverse effects” from delayed ambulances. Still, he notes, “It’s obvious to everyone that this is not an optimal response.”

How does AMR say it can fix the problem?

AMR ramped up its recruiting efforts last year to no avail. Now it’s proposing Multnomah County abandon its long-standing policy of requiring that ambulances be staffed by two paramedics, and move to the “one plus one” model used in neighboring counties, in which one paramedic is swapped out for an emergency medical technician, or EMT. (Paramedics are more highly trained than EMTs and can perform more advanced medical procedures.)

Randy Lauer, AMR’s vice president of operations in the Northwest region, says he’s sent studies to the county showing it doesn’t affect patient care. “The county has the information,” he says. “It’s just they’re not willing to do it.” In recent weeks, Commissioner Meiran has become a vocal advocate for the shift.

What does the county say?

Jui discounts those studies, saying there’s “no data one way or the other.” Other cities, like Seattle, New York and Denver, all have the same two-paramedic policies as Portland—and deviating from it, he believes, would be a recipe for disaster. “When you have a critical patient, two paramedics or even more is optimal,” he tells WW. “It’s a patient safety issue.”

Instead, Jui wants to send ambulances with two EMTs to lower-acuity calls. But that’s proven difficult, the county says, because AMR has not hired them. Right now, there’s only a few such “basic life support” ambulances on the road in Multnomah County. “We really need to look at this alternative workforce,” acknowledges Aaron Monnig, the county’s EMS operations manager. But, that’s easier said than done. There’s a national shortage of EMTs, too.

What’s going to happen next?

AMR is pulling every string it can to free up more paramedics. In April, it walked back a new policy that spared paramedics being sent out on calls at the tail end of their shifts. That infuriated their union, which had won the concession in 2022 in exchange for lower wages, DePaolo says. The union filed a grievance in protest earlier this month.

And, on June 12, AMR told officials in Washington County, where it took over the ambulance contract and will begin providing service in August, that it would bring in paramedics from out of state if it had to in order to fulfill staffing requirements.

Multnomah County has so far declined to fine AMR, citing a nationwide shortage of paramedics. But that could soon change. In a statement released to WW last week, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said she’s “directed the health department and county legal to analyze and update their recommendations on the ambulance response time issue.”

She mentioned fines as an option. Vega Pederson is particularly displeased that AMR has accepted a new contract in Washington County when its performance in Multnomah County is so dismal.>>


<<Ambulances in Multnomah County were unavailable to immediately respond to more than 6,300 emergency calls between January 17 and June 8, according to Bureau of Emergency Communications data.

The data reflects a surge in “Level Zero” incidents — code for when dispatchers have zero available ambulances that they can assign to respond to a 911 call.

It’s the latest piece of evidence illuminating Multnomah County’s chronic ambulance problem.

Ambulance crews — staffed by emergency medical services provider American Medical Response, or AMR, under contract with the county — have been arriving to emergencies later and later, frequently failing to meet county standards.

In May, a man in a wheelchair who’d been struck by a hit-and-run driver died in the street while waiting 32 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

Multnomah County typically expects ambulances to arrive within 8 minutes to comply with county benchmarks.

AMR blames a shortage of paramedics and the county’s commitment to a two-paramedic system.

Notably, the Level Zero data shows how frequently ambulance crews are overwhelmed — either through understaffing, high 911 call volume, delays while waiting in hospital bays or other factors.>>

<<When dispatchers don’t have an ambulance available to send to an emergency, they use a Level Zero placeholder until the next ambulance is available.

KGW reviewed and clarified the data with BOEC analysts in recent weeks after initially requesting the information in early May, working to isolate individual Level Zero calls.

The data shows that, at times, 15 or more 911 calls received placeholders within an hour, reflecting a significant backup of emergency services with no ambulances becoming available for the next emergency call.

The BOEC data does not show how long it took for an ambulance to respond to each call for service.>>


<<There aren’t enough paramedics in Multnomah County to respond to 911 calls fast enough, and yet that’s not the only problem afflicting the county’s emergency medical services.

When someone has an emergency in Portland, a patchwork of programs responds, including paramedics, firefighters and the dispatch center – which answers 911 calls. Dispatchers job is to ask questions and determine what resources are needed for each call.

However, Multnomah County says its 911 dispatch center’s triage system is not 100% accurate, and they’re still working toward accreditation to become more skilled and efficient.

Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) has a stringent quality assurance program and reviews a random sampling of roughly 3 percent of medical calls each month. Of the 316 calls we reviewed in May, the Chief Complaint from a caller, which describes the purpose of their call, and the final code, was correct 93 percent of the time.

This means that AMR is getting an accurate description and priority of the caller’s problem 93 percent of the time.>>

<<BOEC started working toward accreditation in May of 2021 — something Clark County has already completed.

Reaching accreditation is a tall order, requiring highly trained dispatchers that ask the right questions to triage calls as accurately as possible. They also include post-dispatch instructions, which focus on patient care.

Currently, the county says dispatchers are still incorrectly identifying some serious 911 calls as low priority. >>

<<It could take two to four more years for the 911 dispatchers to reach accreditation, but paramedics are pushing for the 911 call center to reach its accreditation as soon as possible.>>


<<Around one-third of emergency calls in Portland could be diverted away from traditional first responders like police and paramedics, according to a city-commissioned report that will be presented to the City Council tomorrow.

It cites a variety of statistics to back up that estimate, which it calls an “initial eligibility goal,” including estimates that the 311 line would divert 17% of calls away from emergency dispatch and that 20% of incidents appear to have been eligible for “alternate response”—such as the fledgling Portland Street Response mental health teams.

Making that happen, however, will require significant changes in how dispatchers categorize and respond to emergency calls for help, says the report’s author, consulting firm Mission Critical Partners.

There are a “plethora of services…some more siloed than others” that the city could centralize under its existing 911 and newer 311 phone numbers, the consultants note in their Public Safety Call Allocation Study, which was completed this month.

The report comes as rising call volumes strain the city’s emergency dispatch system and first responders. Last month, 42% of calls were answered in the first 20 seconds, a decline from around 70% only five years earlier. The report cites “current congestion of the 911 system” and “delays in call answer times” as challenges facing city policymakers.

Portland has a variety of programs designed to relieve traditional first responders from being dispatched to certain types of calls, most notably Portland Street Response, a program within Portland Fire & Rescue that sends teams of unarmed mental health workers to help people in crisis.

But there’s long-simmering tensions between PSR and traditional firefighters. And the program is still little used. It responds to only 3% of all 911 calls.

The tentative plan outlined a slide deck posted on the city’s website is to create a “centrally coordinated Community Services Response Network” housed in the Community Safety Division, and to “move city alternative response units (PSR, CHAT, Community Connect, PS3s) to the CSRN,” where they would be accessible through 311.

A plain reading of that slide desk suggests that the proposal would shift control of Portland Street Response away from the fire bureau, where the program is unloved.>>


<<A lack of paramedics and a rise in medical 911 calls has resulted in slower ambulances. Amid the crisis, Multnomah County’s ambulance provider, American Medical Response, faces heightened scrutiny for its short-staffing.

And, WW has learned, it’s also facing a grievance from its union, Teamsters Local 223, which accuses AMR of violating the terms of its labor contract.

The dispute stems from a concession made by AMR during last year’s contract negotiations, in which it promised not to send paramedics out on a call during the last 30 minutes of their shifts.

That policy was designed to provide relief for burned-out paramedics who often worked far more than 40 hours a week. “A lot of people are being held over past the end of their shift,” says Austin DePaolo, the business representative for Local 223, who blames backups in emergency rooms.

But in an April 26 memo, AMR announced it would no longer honor the agreement, the union said in a grievance letter sent earlier this month to Randy Lauer, AMR’s vice president of Northwest operations.>>



<< The Portland Police Bureau last year launched a website that allows anyone to see shooting statistics in the city.

An interesting feature of the dashboard is the Neighborhood Incidents map, which is color coded with darker blue showing areas with more shootings and lighter blue showing areas with fewer shootings.>>



<<For weeks, an orange and white RV has sat parked behind a gas station in Portland’s Central Eastside. It’s home to two young women and their three pets. Under the city’s new camping ordinance passed last week, they’ll soon need to move the RV during the day — but it’s not clear where it’s supposed to go.

“They’re telling us to literally just disappear. There’s nowhere to disappear to,” said Zaina, one of the RV’s residents.

The other resident, Velma Carter, said she and other homeless Portlanders weren’t aware that RVs were included in the city’s new camping ban, since most of the discussions in city council have been about around tents blocking sidewalks and storefronts.

“It’s my one-bedroom apartment that just happens to have wheels on it,” said Carter, who has lived in her RV for about a year.>>

<<Since Carter and Zaina use the RV as a campsite, under the new ordinance they have to follow the city’s general parking rules between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. They must be lawfully parked — something that’s almost impossible for them to do, given the state of their RV.

“I can’t lawfully park this thing at all. Its VIN number doesn’t exist in the DMV database. I can’t register it since it’s an abandoned vehicle. It’s a ghost rig that’s been jimmy-rigged and parted together too much,” said Carter.

Now she’ll need to move her makeshift rig during the day, which she said takes time away from getting back on her feet.

“That’s job-hunting time. How am I going to be job hunting with a house on my back?” she asked.

There are also places such as Northeast 33rd Drive where dozens of campers and RVs lined the street, each considered a campsite. Many of the vehicles don’t run and have been sitting there for years. It’s still unclear if and how they would be moved every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“Instead of telling us we can’t do this, we can’t do that, tell us what we can do,” said Carter.

The city’s answer: they can go into available shelters. A spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said in a statement:

“If a person using a car or RV as a campsite has been offered alternative access to shelter or housing, and they decline to use those alternatives, then they are prohibited from camping anywhere in the city because they have an alternative place to go. If a person using a car or RV as a campsite does not have access to alternative shelter or housing because it is not available, then they meet the definition of ‘involuntarily homeless,’ and the person may camp if they follow the time, place, manner regulations implemented by the City.”

But homeless residents say that’s easier said than done.

“I have tried shelters before in the past. I’ve gone through TPI, a lot of the shelters … like, right now with my animals, it’s really difficult to do,” Zaina said.

Back in the Central Eastside, across the street from the RV, sits Heyday Salon where Brianna Seethoff works. The salon keeps its doors locked, she said, and staff often feel unsafe at work given the number of RVs, tents and drug use incidents happening outside their door. But she had mixed feelings about the ban.

“I’ve called 311 a bunch of times just to have it cleaned up … If we’re not going to implement services and mental health anything, I think it’s ridiculous,” Seethoff said of the camping ban. >>



<<A man who says he was targeted due to his race, falsely accused of shoplifting and then slammed to the pavement by an armed security guard has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against a North Portland bait and tackle store.

Nguyen Cao, 35, seeks $250,000 in damages from Fisherman’s Marine Supply; the guard patrolling the store, Ryan Burroughs; and the security company, Talon Protection Group.

Cao said he was shopping for a new fishing rod at the Delta Park outlet on the evening of Jan. 19 when he was accused of pilfering merchandise and decided to start filming the encounter on his cell phone.>>

<<The video appears to show the guard unholstering some sort of weapon as Cao gets into his vehicle. The lawsuit claims the guard pulled and pointed a handgun at Cao, while a lawyer for Burroughs and his employer says he grabbed a Taser but did not use it.>>



<<Last week, WW revealed a rancorous fight unfolding inside Portland Fire & Rescue, much of it laid out in a legal notice filed by a former division chief (“Flame War,” May 31). The immediate issue: Another senior fire official and close friend of Fire Chief Sara Boone allegedly mocked a request by a Portland Street Response employee to share personal pronouns. But the wider context of the dispute is a funding crunch at the fire bureau that threatens the future of PSR, a program as unpopular with firefighters as it is beloved by Portland voters.

Overseeing the mess is newly elected City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, who has loyally sided with the fire union that endorsed him. Here’s what our readers had to say:>>

“Wow, way to kneecap in its infancy one of the best new programs this city has done lately. Meanwhile, our chud-ass police force gets a quarter billion a year to sit on their ass and whine.”>>

<<“As usual, an emergent mental health response program faces the city budget ax once the spotlight moves on.

“Among the many reasons it was doomed from the start? The usual city arrogance that they know better than anyone else (and by extension must solely control it). All that time, effort and funding wasted on re-creating the proverbial wheel, then force feeding it onto a bureau whose primary mission is not providing emergent mental health services, but rather already widely divided among many disciplines.

“It is especially egregious since by law the county, not the city, is tasked with mental health services as an essential function (i.e., like the sheriff’s office, it has to be funded). They already have a long-standing (at least 15 years on) mental health response program called Project Respond.

“Project Respond is essentially what PSR hoped to be, except they [respond] to any location in the county, not just the city. Their managers have a sole professional focus on the mental health care system. Their main acknowledged current shortcomings are that while the program already has the infrastructure to support it, they lack staff and funding to provide true 24/7 response services.”>>