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Rural Oregon Sheriffs Lead Charge to Repeal State’s Sanctuary Law

More than one dozen sheriffs support Measure 105 that would allow for cooperation with federal authorities even when an immigrant suspect has not been apprehended for any crime.

An immigrant identifying herself only as Vioney, who spent six months in an ICE detention facility, holds her grandson for the first time while being reunited with family members at Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon, in September.
Photo Illustration by Anagraph / Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rural Oregon Sheriffs Lead Charge to Repeal State’s Sanctuary Law

More than one dozen sheriffs support Measure 105 that would allow for cooperation with federal authorities even when an immigrant suspect has not been apprehended for any crime.

In 1977, Delmiro Treviño was sitting in a restaurant in Independence, Oregon, when police entered and began questioning him. Treviño was born in Texas, but officers harassed him about his ethnicity and his accent, and demanded proof of citizenship.

Treviño was humiliated in front of his friends, family, and the restaurant’s patrons.  He was also angry.

“Usually people backed down, because this kind of treatment was just a way of life,” said Rocky Barilla, an attorney who sued Independence on Treviño’s behalf. “They didn’t want to be in the crosshairs of local law enforcement. This guy complained.”

The case against the city was settled within a year, but Barilla saw racial profiling as a statewide problem. In 1986, Barilla became the first Latinx elected to Oregon’s legislature, where he drafted legislation to prevent state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration laws as well as aiding in the apprehension of undocumented immigrants.

Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass a law limiting cooperation between local officials and immigration authorities, often described as a “sanctuary law,” a measure that has been adopted by an increasing number of politically left-leaning municipalities in the absence of federal immigration reform.

Oregon’s law passed in 1987 with bipartisan support. It was enacted soon after the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, offered a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

But Oregon’s law is now facing a repeal effort, in part because of tensions around immigration inflamed by President Trump, who has promised a crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” new restrictions on legal immigration, and a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The group leading the effort, Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), was listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its ties to border vigilantes including one who has referred to immigrants as “Mexican Nazis.” OFIR has found success at the polls in the past, helping pass a statewide initiative in 2014 that prevented undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses. And the repeal effort has financial support from anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform, a leader behind the scenes in shaping Trump’s immigration policies.

Oregon law enforcement is divided on the state’s sanctuary law. But 16 sheriffs from rural counties, led by Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, who is also the former president of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, signed a letter calling for its repeal. In the Trump era, sheriffs like Bergin are among the most prominent voices on immigration policy; in early September, a group of sheriffs met with the president at the White House to “re-establish the rule of law” on illegal immigration. In an interview with The Appeal, Bergin said that two more sheriffs later added their support to his letter, totaling half of the state’s 36 sheriffs.

In the letter, Bergin dismissed the idea that the sanctuary law’s repeal would “unleash a wave of profiling of Hispanics” because law enforcement undergoes anti-profiling training; he also assured Oregonians that “I have never witnessed an instance of racial profiling from any of my deputies.”  And Bergin wrote about the July murder of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, allegedly at the hands of Cristhian Bahena Rivera whom Trump described as a “horrible person who came in from Mexico.” Despite the fact that Rivera’s immigration status is unknown, Bergin insisted in the letter that Oregon’s sanctuary law “compounds” the “neglect” that led to Tibbetts’s murder.

“This has nothing to do with being prejudiced,” Bergin said. “It boils down to the rule of law.”

The repeal effort, known as Measure 105, would allow for cooperation with federal authorities even when an immigrant suspect has not been apprehended for any crime. Under current law, ICE can still seek criminal warrants to keep suspects detained locally. Some law enforcement agencies in Oregon regularly turn over jail booking reports and mugshots to federal immigration agencies.

In May, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project released a survey in which law enforcement reported increasing difficulty in obtaining cooperation from crime victims who are undocumented immigrants. According to the report, which connects such mistrust to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, 67 percent of participating officers said they believe immigrants’ fear has hindered their ability to help victims of crimes.

In August, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett and District Attorney Kevin Barton released a statement opposing Measure 105, saying a repeal of Oregon’s sanctuary law would lead to “a patchwork of inconsistent ordinances and rules from various cities and counties.”

“Immigrant communities and families may become greater targets for criminals because they may be less likely to come forward or appear in court to testify,” they wrote. “These are not hypothetical concerns; we have already seen these issues occur.”

Measure 105 appears likely to fail on Nov. 6, but polling suggests that there are a significant number of undecided voters. A poll conducted by Oregon Public Broadcasting from Oct. 4 to 11 shows 45 percent of voters opposed to Measure 105 and 32 percent in support, with almost one quarter undecided.

Immigrant rights advocates caution that in a midterm-year voter turnout may be unpredictable. “A growing majority of Oregonians oppose Measure 105, but we are not taking any vote for granted,” Peter Zuckerman, a “No on 105” campaign spokesperson, told The Appeal. “We are canvassing, phone banking, holding house parties. The bottom line lesson for us is we can’t take any vote for granted.”

D.A. Charges Pittsburgh Mom After Toddler’s Mysterious Death from Fentanyl in Sippy Cup

Despite looming questions about what happened, Jhenea Pratt is now facing life without parole.

Photo illustration by Anagraph / Photo by David Galloway/Getty

D.A. Charges Pittsburgh Mom After Toddler’s Mysterious Death from Fentanyl in Sippy Cup

Despite looming questions about what happened, Jhenea Pratt is now facing life without parole.

On April 5, Jhenea Pratt called 911 from her Pittsburgh home. Her 17-month-old daughter wasn’t breathing.

First responders took the child to a nearby hospital where the girl was pronounced dead. While at the hospital, police said Pratt became “hostile” and “combative” and told them she felt like they were treating her like a criminal.

They were.

In August, Pittsburgh police arrested Pratt and charged her with criminal homicide, which carries a maximum possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lab results determined her daughter died of a fentanyl overdose, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Pittsburgh police.

The circumstances around how the child ingested the fentanyl, however, are murky and raise questions about why Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala charged her with criminal homicide, a broadly defined offense.

According to police, the child was in the care of a man they identified as Pratt’s boyfriend, who gave the girl a sippy cup filled with a red sugary drink. When Pratt arrived home from attending classes at a community college, she put the child to bed and placed the cup in the crib.

Pratt told the police that she then smoked marijuana and, about an hour later, went to check on the child. That is when she found her child was not breathing and called for help.

The liquid in the sippy cup was tested and came back positive for fentanyl. It is unclear how the fentanyl got there. According to the police report, Pratt denied putting anything in the cup. “How did the fentanyl get in the cup? I mean, we have some idea,” Zappala told KDKA in August in an interview where he described Pratt as “not helpful.”

Police blamed Pratt, arguing through circumstantial logic that had the child ingested drugs earlier in the day while she was in the care of someone else, she would have died sooner.

The man who acknowledged giving the child the sippy cup has not been charged in this case.

As of late October, Pratt was being held without bail, awaiting a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence for her case to move forward.

The Appeal contacted Zappala’s office but was told by a spokesperson that the office could not speak about the case beyond what was in the affidavit.

“If you put fentanyl in play and somebody dies, I want to see you go to jail,” Zappala told KDKA.

Such cases—in which a seemingly accidental overdose leads to charges against a friend or relative—are increasingly common. “Amidst broader criminalization of accidental overdose in general through drug-induced homicide prosecutions, there has been renewed vigor in prosecuting pregnant and parenting women with criminal conduct related to tragic deaths of their children from a drug overdose,” Leo Beletsky, a Northeastern University law professor, told The Appeal.

The district attorney’s office, like others in Pennsylvania, charges all homicide cases under the general criminal homicide offense, which includes five separate offenses ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. Sorting out which offense actually fits the facts of the case is left to a jury, said Michael Manko, spokesperson for Zappala. This can result in defendants like Pratt sitting in jail for months or years. It also gives prosecutors more bargaining leverage in plea negotiations. Facing a threat of life without parole, at least on paper, Pratt may be more likely to accept a lesser charge.

The Appeal reviewed charging records in Allegheny County and found Zappala charged more than 100 people with criminal homicide between 2016 and 2017. So far, only seven cases have resulted in a conviction for first- or second-degree murderthe only offenses that actually carry a life without parole sentence.

Fourteen people had their cases either dropped or were found not guilty, four were convicted of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter, and another 37 were convicted of third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.

It’s noteworthy that Pratt was not also charged with Pennsylvania’s drug-induced homicide charge, called “drug delivery resulting in death.” Allegheny County used that charge 11 times last year alone. Manko said the district attorney’s office believed criminal homicide was the more appropriate charge in this case, which could suggest the office believes the death was accidental because the other charge requires that someone intentionally gave or administered drugs to someone who died of an overdose.

Beletsky said cases like this and a recent case near Philadelphia in which a nursing mother was charged with criminal homicide after allegedly causing her child’s overdose death through breast milk are the result of a panic around fentanyl and other drugs.

They are also counterproductive from a public safety standpoint, he said, because they may dissuade people who use drugs from seeking help when a tragedy strikes, Beletsky said.

While it’s unclear whether Pratt used opioids, her prosecution mirrors a broader trend, Beletsky said. “People who use drugs—especially people of color—have long been dehumanized by the assumption that they do not or cannot adequately provide for their children,” Beletsky said, citing the “crack baby” phenomenon, drug testing of pregnant women, and the termination of parental rights for cannabis use.

“The Pratt case fits into this line of wrong-headed and often racist law enforcement actions that seek to punish grieving parents for accidents involving their children,” he said.

More in Explainers

Medical examiners and cover-ups

Medical examiners and cover-ups

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Medical examiners and cover-ups

  • Baltimore’s ‘eye in the sky’ plane is back with a new pitch: surveil the police

  • An execution scheduled in South Dakota today makes a mockery of constitutional protections

  • A sheriff blocks get-out-the-vote efforts

  • Prison Legal News seeks Supreme Court review of Florida’s ban

  • Detroit police seized cars last year from nearly 400 people who weren’t charged with crimes

In the Spotlight

Medical examiners and cover-ups

In 2012, Darren Rainey died a gruesome death at the hands of Florida state corrections officers. Rainey, who was incarcerated at Dade Correctional Institution and had schizophrenia, was forced into a scalding hot shower after he defecated in his cell. In the years after Rainey’s death, after another incarcerated person inside fought to tell the story and the Miami Herald battled to unearth it, it became known that guards at Dade Correctional used dangerously hot showers, with the temperature controls outside the locked door, as a form of control against people with mental illness. That day, a guard locked Rainey in a blistering hot shower and walked away. When the guard returned two hours later, Rainey was unconscious on the floor. In 2014, another man incarcerated at the prison told the Miami Herald that he heard Rainey’s screams and several guards’ taunts, and that when he was ordered to clean up the shower cell he discovered strips of Rainey’s skin on the floor. [Julie K. Brown / Miami Herald]

Three years after Rainey’s death, the medical examiner, Dr. Emma Lew, concluded that Rainey’s death was an “accident” and he had died from “complications from schizophrenia, heart disease and confinement to a shower.’’ Lew also said she saw no burns and no evidence of trauma on Rainey’s body—conclusions that were in direct contradiction to the photographs of Rainey’s body, the recorded observations of others who saw Rainey’s body the night he died, and the opinions of other experts. The state’s attorney, when explaining her decision not to bring charges in the case, later said the autopsy formed the foundation of her decision. Her office’s report summarizing the investigation cited the absence of burns as making it impossible to prove that a crime had been committed, as it meant the shower was not dangerously hot. The state’s attorney also, according to the Herald, “emphasized that ‘science’ showed that Rainey did not die from the actions of the corrections officers.” [Julie K. Brown / Miami Herald]

When the Miami Herald reviewed the state’s attorney report it “identified numerous contradictions and omissions regarding both the autopsy findings and other evidence and statements used as the basis to clear the corrections officers.” One expert the paper consulted pointed to Lew’s failure to examine more than one skin tissue sample. “You have to assume from the start that these are burns until proven otherwise, not the other way around,” he said, pointing to the first responders’ description of burns on Rainey’s body.   [Julie K. Brown / Miami Herald]

Last week, the Miami New Times reported that a review of Lew’s personnel file shows that in the years since Rainey’s death and her findings exonerating the prison staff, Lew received a promotion, an award for which the state’s attorney recommended her, and a raise. Four months after she completed Darren Rainey’s autopsy report, she was appointed interim director of the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department. Lew’s willingness to overlook the signs of Rainey’s killing certainly didn’t hinder, and may have helped, her continued professional advancement. [Meg O’Connor / Miami New Times]

Two years ago, the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising was an occasion to remember a very different set of actions by a medical examiner. In 1971, after the violent retaking of Attica by state troopers that resulted in 40 people dead, 10 of them hostages, Dr. John Edland, the chief medical examiner of Monroe County, New York, performed the autopsies. Rumors spread by local officials and law enforcement alleged that incarcerated people had murdered the dead. But what Edland discovered was that they died from gunshot wounds, which could only have been inflicted by the state troopers since those involved in the uprising had no guns. Edland’s findings made it impossible to ignore that the deaths had come at the hands of the state troopers. [Radley Balko / Washington Post]

Edland, a registered Republican who had voted for Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, knew that his findings might be buried. He called a news conference and contacted local Black clergy to attend with him. As he anticipated, many refused to accept Edland’s autopsy results. He was vilified across the state and became the target of a harassment campaign that included threats of violence against him and his family. [Gary Craig / Democrat and Chronicle]

Edland’s role in unmasking the events at Attica showed how a cover-up would have required the complicity of everyone involved. By refusing to be complicit, he exposed the truth about what happened. But it is still rare to see medical examiners expose violence committed by corrections officers. As Radley Balko of the Washington Post wrote, “In recent years, we’ve seen example after example of forensic experts too willing to compromise their ethics in the face of pressure from police and prosecutors.”

Stories From The Appeal

Persistent Surveillance Systems

Baltimore’s ‘Eye in the Sky’ Plane Is Back With a New Pitch: Surveil the Police. Dismal police accountability has made communities vulnerable to private vendors. [Brandon Soderberg and Raven Rakia]

Stories From Around the Country

An execution scheduled in South Dakota today makes a mockery of constitutional protections: When Rodney Berget was 9 years old, a psychologist evaluated him and assigned him an IQ score of 90. “This boy appears to be quite immature and to be suffering from borderline mental retardation.” the psychologist wrote. Decades after that evaluation, South Dakota plans to execute Rodney Berget today at 1:30 p.m. local time despite substantial evidence of intellectual disability that should make him ineligible for the death penalty under the Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia. Much of the information about Berget’s disability was available to his trial attorney but little of it was followed up on or presented to the sentencing jury in 2012. Berget’s case “reveals a disturbing breakdown in the constitutional protections that are supposed to be in place for people facing the death penalty,” writes Liliana Segura. Berget’s own brother was one of three other people who have been executed by South Dakota in recent decades—like Berget, he dropped his appeals, “volunteering” for execution.  Social workers interviewed for Berget’s case described a childhood home marked by alcoholism and physical abuse. [Liliana Segura / The Intercept]

A sheriff blocks get-out-the-vote efforts: Approximately 6,000 people locked up in the Orange County jail are estimated to be eligible to vote. Volunteers with the ACLU of Southern California have been trying to register them but the sheriff’s office, led by Sandra Hutchens, has made their work harder. Volunteers cannot enter the jail to talk about voting. Instead, HuffPost reports, they must wait across the street and approach people after they’re released to ask them to register. In California, people with felony convictions can vote as long as they are not currently incarcerated, on parole, or in jail on a parole violation. People in jail who are eligible to vote can vote by mail. The restriction Orange County is placing on get out the vote efforts is not the norm—”[j]ust north of Orange County, the ACLU has been allowed inside the Los Angeles County jail to register inmates. They estimate they’ve registered about 4,000 people there.”  [Sam Levine / HuffPost] See also The Appeal: Political Report looks at what’s at stake in the Orange County sheriff’s race this year. After a tenure marked by hostility to the state sanctuary law and by cooperation with ICE, Sheriff Hutchens is not seeking re-election.

Prison Legal News seeks Supreme Court review of Florida’s ban: Prison Legal News, an award-winning publication for incarcerated people, has been banned by the Florida prisons department and is seeking review by the Supreme Court after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban. PLN has many friends in its First Amendment fight—over 100 groups and individuals have signed on to 8 amicus briefs, an unusually high number at this early stage according to reporting by Bloomberg Law. They include former prison officials, media groups, faith organizations, and even book clubs. While other states have seized issues of PLN at different times, no prison system has enacted a total ban like Florida. Florida officials have argued that the publication was banned because of ads that encourage escape attempts and not because of the content that includes legal updates and reporting on abuses in prisons. PLN is represented by former Solicitor General Paul D. Clement. [Jordan S. Rubin / Bloomberg Law] See also Our June 13, 2018 newsletter looked at the Florida prison system’s ban on Prison Legal News.

Detroit police seized cars last year from nearly 400 people who weren’t charged with crimes: In 2017, law enforcement in Wayne County, Michigan, which includes Detroit, seized 380 cars from people who were not charged with crimes. Statewide, police seized 736 vehicles from people not charged with crimes. Nearly all the vehicles seized in Wayne County were valued at less than $1,000, and one expert suggested that the forfeitures had targeted low-income people who were less likely to have the assistance of a lawyer with getting their property back. Unlike some other states, Michigan law allows property seized through civil asset forfeiture to be transferred to the government regardless of whether a person is convicted or even charged. This year, three individuals filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that Wayne County forces people to wait months or even years for asset forfeiture hearings, in violation of the plaintiffs’ right to due process. [Tyler Arnold / Michigan Capitol Confidential]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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