8/4/2023 News Roundup


<<Advocates are calling for an independent investigation into the deaths of eight inmates at Multnomah County jails within the past 12 months.

Five of those have occurred in just the past three months.

It is an unusually high number of deaths, and the sheriff’s office announced a plan of action on Thursday that includes an independent assessment of its jail operations.>>

<<A few answers on the circumstances of some of those deaths just came from the county after KGW requested information from the medical examiner’s office. Going back to May 9 of 2022, two deaths were found to be of natural causes, and two were suicides. Only one was attributed to drugs, listed as an accident due to “acute cocaine poisoning.”

Results on the remaining four deaths, all since mid-May of this year, are still pending. The sheriff’s office identified those individuals as 31-year-old George Allen Walker, 53-year-old Kashi Abram Harmon, 31-year-old Josiah G. Pierce and 36-year-old Clemente Pineda.

Morrisey O’Donnell stated Thursday that toxicology results are still pending in these cases, but that early indications suggest some of the deaths may be drug-related.>>


<<The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a string of deaths in their custody within the span of three months, officials say.

Since May 2, the county has reported six in-custody deaths. By comparison, the sheriff’s office says there were zero in-custody deaths for the two full years of 2020 and 2021.

Of the six recorded, the medical examiner says only two deaths have received finished reports: The deaths on May 2 and June 16 were both ruled as suicides, but reports are in process for the deaths reported on May 13, June 22, July 19 and Aug. 1.>>

<<Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell said early indications suggest that some of the deaths could be drug related.

“Like all corrections facilities, our measures are continuously being tested or subverted,” O’Donnell said. “If we receive information that there is contraband entering our facilities, we use all available resources to prevent this from happening, conduct a thorough investigation and prosecute those responsible. “>>

<<In part, the sheriff’s office says they have expanded Narcan availability and increased search criteria for contraband. Deputies say they hope to implement technology solutions in the future.>>


<<WW has obtained a copy of a new jail policy requiring that all inmates be strip searched and “body scanned” following booking.

The policy was outlined in a Aug. 1 memo sent by Capt. Brian Parks, commander of Multnomah County’s high-security downtown jail, to Chief Deputy Stephen Reardon. It went into effect yesterday and follows the sixth death in Multnomah County jails in three months, a toll unprecedented in recent history.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has still not released the name of the most recent person to die in county custody. The office also declined to comment on the new policy.

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, however, confirmed the existence of the new policy in an interview with WW last night.

She said she’d just spoken to Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell about it. “My question to the sheriff was, what are you doing immediately?” Pederson told WW.

The answer appears, at least in part, to be strip searches, a controversial tactic which has faced legal scrutiny in the past. Vega Pederson says body scanners alone haven’t proven effective in detecting the presence of fentanyl, the high-powered opioid that has permeated the streets of Portland. “They’re not really reliable because fentanyl is so impactful in such small quantities,” Vega Pederson says.

The deaths correspond to “the higher rates of illicit drugs, including fentanyl, and the higher rates of mental health issues,” seen by jail workers, Vega Pederson says.>>

<<In response to a query from WW, the county also provided the causes of death of two inmates who died this year. Both were suicides.

Martin Franklin, 58, hanged himself with a bed sheet on June 16.

Donovan Wood, 26, placed a plastic trash bag over his head and died of asphyxia on May 2.

Investigations into the four other deaths this year have not been “finalized,” the county says.

The county also released the causes of the three inmate deaths in 2022:

Kenneth L. Hurley, 55, died from influenza complications on Nov. 19.

Stephen Murphy, 63, died last July from complications of liver cancer due to chronic hepatitis C and alcohol use.

Jess Rivas-Castillo, 36, died of a cocaine overdose last May.>>



<<A federal judge sentenced a Battle Ground man to 75 days in prison for taking selfie-style photos with his son during the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. Jeff Grace, 64, had pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.

Since his arrest, Grace lost his long-time job as a truck driver with Daimler North American and his wife of 42 years divorced him, according to court papers.

Grace’s son, Jeremy Grace, was sentenced to 21 days in prison and supervised release in July 2022.>>

<<Grace was a probationary member of the Proud Boys and had been attending Proud Boys meetings, gatherings and rallies, according to court records.

On the evening of January 5, the three men attended a gathering of Proud Boys from around the country. Ethan Nordean, a leader of the Proud Boys, also attended the gatherings, along with Joseph Biggs. A jury convicted Nordean, Biggs and two other leaders of the Proud Boys of seditious conspiracy in May 2023.

On Jan. 6, the father and son from Southwest Washington joined with a large group of Proud Boys at the Washington Monument before walking toward the U.S. Capitol Building, according to federal investigators.

Despite his claims that he came to Washington D.C. to attend a rally for Trump, investigators said Grace never attended the rally that day.>>


<<Jeffrey Grace was sentenced to 75 days in prison, followed by 12 months of supervised release. According to court documents, Grace admitted to entering the Capitol through an open door where police had been overwhelmed by protesters.

Court documents also say Grace told investigators he left when he saw protesters damaging property.

Grace’s adult son Jeremy was also at the Capitol.

In July 2022, a judge sentenced Jeremy to 21 days in prison and one year of supervised release.>>



<<Volunteers with Portland Street Response, the city program that assists those in mental health crisis, dropped off a petition to expand the organization with more than 10,000 signatures.

The petition delivered to City Hall on Wednesday includes signatures from 23 current and former elected officials; 18 community leaders; and 68 businesses, nonprofits, unions and faith institutions.

The group Friends of Portland Street Response spearheaded the effort, saying the city doesn’t have any new positions posted for the team, which began its operation in 2020. They’ve also asked Portland to expand PSR to meet citywide demand 24/7.

According to the petition, these expansions include:

    Ending the hiring freeze imposed on Portland Street Response and adequately funding PSR to meet citywide demand, 24/7, as promised by City Council

    Removing restrictions on the purchase of life-saving supplies used to provide services, build community trust, and de-escalate 911 calls.

    Allowing Portland Street Response to respond to more 911 call types, such as appropriate calls inside residences or involving a potential suicide attempt.

    Keeping Portland Street Response out of enforcement activities.

    Establishing Portland Street Response as a co-equal branch of our first responder network located within a supportive environment in Portland city government.>>


<<Portland Street Response managers say a recent online petition garnering nearly 11,000 signatures is a resounding show of support, but internal memos indicate budget constraints and other directives still threaten the program’s livelihood.

On Wednesday, Friends of Portland Street Response–a group formed to organize public support for the city’s alternative, crisis response program–delivered paperwork to Portland City Hall showing more than 10,000 people signed an online petition to preserve funding and resources for Portland Street Response. The petition also urges city leaders to establish Portland Street Response (PSR) as its own independent branch of the city’s first responder network, and keep the program separate from enforcement of homeless camp sweeps, which PSR was recently asked to help with.

PSR has had a rocky year, marked by staffing losses, a hiring freeze, leadership changes, and directives from Portland City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez that soured many of the program’s employees, and the public.

News of the program’s tumult catalyzed the public. Along with online petition signatures, Friends of Portland Street Response received endorsements from more than 40 regional elected officials and community leaders, including former Gov. Kate Brown and former Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

The outpouring of support was notable, but the program still shares funding and leadership with Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R).

Memos sent to firefighters and PSR staff last week signal hope for rebuilding at PSR, but hiring and purchasing are still being heavily curtailed by the fire bureau.>>

<<Gillespie, who was tapped to manage PF&R on an interim basis after the retirement of former fire chief Sara Boone, said he supports PSR and intends to keep the program going, but noted “budgetary pressure” within the fire bureau’s budget that also impacts PSR.>>

<<But one of the first moves Gillespie made as chief was to freeze hiring and purchasing at PSR, further fueling speculation of efforts to sabotage the program. Gillespie said there were compliance issues with the spending and purchasing protocols at PSR that didn’t follow city guidelines.

“What I’ve observed the last few months…is that the mission for PSR isn’t entirely clear internally and externally,” Gillespie said. “The reason the purchasing was put on hold, is it was happening outside of established legal city procurement guidelines. That structure of how we purchase things, the policies–none of that was put in place.”

Gillespie promised fiscal stewardship and said the austerity measures are an effort to “avoid overspending the bureau’s budget allocation.” He said any new hiring or recruitment needs to be run up the chain of command, and any expenditure over $5,000 needs prior approval.

This week, a fire bureau spokesperson told the Mercury it’s “very likely PSR will be hiring additional staff,” but formal decisions are still at least a week out.>>

<<When it was announced in February that PSR workers would no longer be able to distribute tarps or tents to people living on the streets, Catie Elzie saw the writing on the wall.

Elzie, a licensed clinical social worker, joined PSR last August, four months before Gonzalez took office and started overseeing the fire bureau, which houses the program. At the time, PSR was expanding its reach, having just been launched city-wide last spring.

By late March, Elzie resigned. She was one of nine employees to either get fired or resign from the program from February to May this year, city records show.

She cited Gonzalez’s directives–namely, the tent and tarp ban–as the primary catalyst for her departure.

“Before that, we were giving him the benefit of the doubt,” Elzie told the Mercury.  “As soon as he banned tents, I was like, ‘Oh, this is political theater.’”

PSR’s tent and tarp ban was announced shortly after one of Portland’s worst snowstorms in 80 years. In response, a majority of PSR employees conveyed disapproval.

Two months later, Commissioner Gonzalez had a new directive for PSR workers: they would soon be asked to start accompanying other city staff during homeless campsite removals, or “sweeps.”

The intent was for PSR to connect unhoused people with shelter or other services. To Elzie, it was a moral quandary.

“It’s basically trying to turn PSR into enforcement, rather than health care, which is the opposite of what we should be doing,” Elzie said. She said if the public starts to see PSR as another arm of police, it will erode trust among the vulnerable communities PSR serves, and defeat the mission.

Elzie said homeless services was never the mission of the program, but the majority of calls involve unhoused people. Often, giving them tools to survive on the streets is essential to meet their basic needs and address larger mental health issues.

Still, PSR’s distribution of tents, food, and clothing has been a bone of contention between mental health workers at PSR and Gonzalez’s staff.>>

<<In her memo to PSR staff last week, Leighton, the new program manager, reiterated that tents, tarps, and harm reduction (i.e. safe use kits for drugs) are not approved for distribution.

Gonzalez has been outspoken about his disapproval of harm reduction programs-namely, recent plans by Multnomah County to distribute smoking kits to opioid addicts to prevent users from injecting with unclean needles.

Previously, PSR distributed safe use kits when necessary, which included Narcan to prevent opioid overdoses.

“I want to acknowledge that many of you have expressed frustration and a sense of loss adjusting to these changes in our supply stock and distribution practices,” Leighton wrote in a memo to staff. “I also want to acknowledge that being clear about the very real limits of our response model creates the opportunity to build the best possible version of Portland Street Response – a program with a specific mission and scope that works synergistically along a broader continuum of care in our community.”>>

<<PSR’s program leader, Robyn (Burek) White also found the relationship with Gonzalez’s staff and fire bureau leadership untenable. White left the program in July. In an exit interview, she suggested a lack of transparency and support from Gonzalez’s staff and fire bureau leadership made it difficult for her to grow the program and made her feel “set up to fail.”

Gillespie paints a different picture, saying PSR simply grew too fast, with too little oversight or structure. Evaluators at Portland State University drew the same conclusions, but noted employees’ concerns about staff turnover and new directives.

“[Employees] noted wanting more structure and support in their jobs, and the need for additional role clarification, training opportunities, and supervision,” a report released in June notes. “They also discussed challenges related to staffing shortages during the program’s expansion, cultural differences between PSR and PF&R, service and resource gaps that make it difficult to connect clients to services and resources, and concerns about PSR’s changing mission.”>>



<<The high cost of living in Oregon’s largest city has become a driving force behind Portlanders’ dissatisfaction with their local government. A recent city survey of more than 5,000 Portlanders found that residents believe the city’s high prices and the visible result of those creeping costs — homelessness — are the city’s largest challenges. The majority of those surveyed said that Portland’s government is ineffective.>>

<,The survey, conducted by the city’s budget office, offers the most expansive look at residents’ sentiments about their city in years due to the sheer number of people questioned. For example, a 2022 survey on Portland conducted by DHM Research for the Portland Metro Chamber (previously the Portland Business Alliance) only reached 250 people.>>

<<Those polled identify homelessness, cost of living and community safety as Portlanders’ top concerns. While these concerns vary slightly across demographics, most of the people surveyed agreed that improving the city’s affordability, especially related to housing, should be a priority for city government.>>

<<These concerns coincide with skyrocketing costs across the Portland metro area, which has experienced one of the country’s highest cost of living increases over the past decade. While employment rates in Portland have returned to pre-pandemic levels, the median household income is more than $20,000 below the estimated $94,000 needed annually to sustain a family of four. A recent economic report by the Portland Metro Chamber concluded that the city’s housing shortages have driven this shortfall.

At the same time, Multnomah County’s homeless population has surged to more than 6,000 on a given night, exceeding the number of shelter beds available.

One respondent to the city’s survey wrote it was wrong that Portlanders “can work 40 [to] 60 hours and not afford housing, food and basic necessities … Figure it out or the houseless population will continue to grow and grow while all you in power and with money continue to grow and grow.”

Nearly 50% of survey takers said that the city should make funding affordable housing and homeless services its top budgetary priority, while 25% said the city should put public safety programs first.

Portland has seen homicides and traffic fatalities reach record levels in recent years.

Asked how the city should address its homeless crisis, more than 60% of respondents recommended building more subsidized housing or substance abuse and mental health clinics. Two percent of those polled said the city should criminalize homelessness. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said that police officers shouldn’t respond to 911 calls about someone sleeping on a sidewalk, and 47% said police shouldn’t respond to emergency calls about someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

These two types of calls are currently addressed by Portland Street Response, a newer city program built to send mental health clinicians to emergencies that don’t require an armed police response.

Support of this type of response differed across populations. Those living east of Interstate 205 and in Southwest Portland were more supportive of armed officers responding to mental health calls.

Respondents who identified themselves as Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander were also more supportive of an armed response to these calls.

Survey respondents across demographics agreed that police should always respond to 911 calls about property destruction or trespassing. And 63% of all surveyed said that sending police to patrol high-crime areas should be a “high priority” within city government.

While most respondents said they felt safe walking outside in their neighborhood during the daytime, Asian residents and people living in East Portland disagreed.

Portlanders were more divided on nighttime safety. While 41% of those polled said they felt safe walking in their neighborhood at night, 42% disagreed. Of those living east of I-205 in Portland, more than 60% said they did not feel safe at night in their neighborhood. All respondents across demographics agreed that they felt unsafe walking at night in downtown Portland.>>

<<Demographics also impacted respondents’ sentiments about city government. Residents who identified themselves as white were more likely to deem Portland city government ineffective, while respondents of color were more likely to agree that city government is effective.

The majority of nearly all age groups polled said that the government was not effective. Those between 16 and 29 years old were evenly split on the government’s effectiveness.>>

<<While all age groups agreed that homelessness was the city’s greatest challenge, younger Portlanders were far more concerned with the cost of living than those 60 years and older. Older respondents felt that community safety was a bigger problem than the cost of living.

Male survey takers were far more likely to agree that people in Portland are able to “succeed and thrive” regardless of gender, than women and people who identified as transgender who were polled. Asked if the city allowed people to thrive regardless of their race or ethnicity, 61% of Black residents polled disagreed, while other populations of color were largely undecided.

In all, residents in East Portland reported the highest level of dissatisfaction with Portland as a place to live, while those living in Southeast Portland were the most satisfied.>>

<<While the report centers on the city’s greatest problems, it does show what areas residents believe are working. More than half of all respondents said they were satisfied with the quality of garbage and recycling collection in the city. And 64% of respondents said they were satisfied with the quality of city parks and natural areas.>>



<<Bend crime statistics are now available through an online database announced by the city’s police department this week.

The Bend police data hub is intended to promote accountability and transparency, according to Police Chief Mike Krantz. It will also be used to justify funding requests and to make decisions about how to use law enforcement resources, such as where to focus traffic enforcement.

Krantz said he hopes the portal dispels false assumptions that crime is on the rise.

“The data doesn’t really show that,” he said. “We have a really safe community.”

Overall, the number of calls to Bend police has increased slightly over recent years, while remaining consistently lower than before the pandemic began. Criminal offenses verified by police have also dropped since 2019. Much of that downturn relates to Oregon’s decriminalization of drug possession in 2021 and a decline in some property-related crimes. Crimes against people — a category including violence — spiked after the COVID-19 lockdowns, but then dropped to pre-pandemic levels last year.

City officials said the database is updated daily. It details where police have used drones to respond to emergencies or investigate crimes.

It also tracks types of 911 calls, case reports, bias crimes and when police respond to mental health crises.

This year, police are showing up to fewer mental health calls, Krantz said, largely because of Deschutes County social workers answering instead of officers.>>



<<Oregon’s Federal Public Defender filed a class action lawsuit arguing people charged with state crimes in Washington County are being unlawfully held because they’ve not been provided a lawyer.

In the habeas corpus petition, the defenders ask for a federal court to dismiss pending state charges for defendants without attorneys and to release them unconditionally from the jail or other pretrial conditions.

Alternatively, the defenders ask for a federal judge to order funds be made available so the defendants can hire private attorneys for people charged with crimes in the county.

“We filed this federal habeas petition to attempt to breathe some life into the Sixth Amendment because there is an inordinate amount of Oregonians who have been charged with state crimes and they are not being provided counsel,” Fidel Cassino-DuCloux, Oregon’s Federal Public Defender, told OPB.

The case represents the latest effort to address a sustained and deepening constitutional crisis playing out across Oregon’s justice system. The state continues to fail to provide attorneys for people charged with crimes who cannot afford one, a violation of their constitutional rights.

The habeas petition names 11 Washington County criminal defendants, but seeks to represent hundreds more in similar situations. As of Wednesday, there were nearly 300 people in Washington County charged with crimes who did not have a public defender. Of those, 60 were in custody, according to data from the Oregon Judicial Department.

“We think that it will have an effect on the thousands of other Oregonians being charged throughout the state,” Cassino-DuCloux said.

“Other Oregonians in other counties who are being charged and who are poor and who are not being provided counsel, I am confident that if a federal judge rules in our favor, that other counties will find ways to redress the constitutional violations. “>>



<<Reports of a possible Oregon-based serial killer have drawn national attention and renewed scrutiny of former Gov. Kate Brown’s passion for changing Oregon’s criminal justice system.

Under Brown’s leadership, a felon was released for fighting wildfires while in custody. As rumors emerged that at least four women’s deaths could be linked to a single killer, some news accounts and conservative social media concluded that the freed felon was involved — and blamed Brown.

But people familiar with the process of commuting sentences, recidivism and the impact of lengthy prison terms say that narrative, while tempting, doesn’t hold up and vastly oversimplifies how the early release decision was made.

According to a July 17 joint press release, investigators have not yet determined how the four women died, or if they were all killed by the same man. Further complicating matters, the man named as a person of interest in media reports has not been publicly confirmed as a suspect.>>

<<When Calhoun was released from prison in 2021, he had been serving a sentence for unauthorized use of a vehicle. That was the last of several convictions that sent him to prison, including assault on a public safety officer and burglary.

Calhoun was one of 40 people whose sentences former Oregon Gov. Brown commuted after they served on fire crews during the record-breaking 2020 wildfires.

Calhoun was released from prison July 22, 2021, some 11 months before his original June 30, 2022, release date.

The first woman was reported missing six months after his original release date.

In July, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt requested that Calhoun’s commutation be revoked, citing “criminal activity” the man had been involved in. Kotek signed the order. By July 6 Calhoun was back in prison. He is now serving out the remainder of his sentence in the Snake River Correctional Institution. His earliest release date is June 9, 2024.>>

<<Critics on the right have tried to link the women’s deaths to Calhoun’s early release, but Aliza Kaplan, a law professor at Lewis & Clark in Portland, said that criticism is not founded in the facts or the research.

“There is no direct line from a person getting a commutation 11 months early that’s in prison for burglary to them being a person of interest in a string of murders,” said Kaplan, who has represented roughly 100 people that received individual pardons and commutations. “Additionally, this specific individual would’ve already completed his sentence at the time the murders began.”>>



<<Portland Police took several pounds of fentanyl off the street Wednesday night.

The Central Precinct’s Neighborhood Response Team Bike Squad arrested two men, 22-year-old Josue Natal Perdomo-Moreno and 24-year-old Juan D Santos-Zelaya, in downtown Portland, who are now facing Possession with the Intent to Distribute and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime.

“The volume that we’re seeing downtown with fentanyl is huge and unprecedented,” Officer David Baer said.

Baer is a part of the bike squad, and he runs their Instagram account, @ppbcentralbikesquad, which gives a firsthand look at the arrests they make downtown by posting behind the scenes pictures and videos. They posted about two arrests last night, where they seized 5.3 pounds of suspected fentanyl, including about 8,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills that tested positive for fentanyl.

“It’s very candid and raw of, you know, it’s a front row seat to the fentanyl crisis. So, we’re able to share that with people,” Baer said.>>