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Safety in numbers: Will District Attorneys support saving lives?

Safety in numbers: Will District Attorneys support saving lives?

Supervised injection sites — places where IV drugs users can avoid contracting disease and deathly overdoes — have been cited approvingly by public health experts as one of the most effective ways to control the opioid epidemic. They have been popular in Canada. But, public officials in the U.S. have shied away from them.

The tide may be starting to turn. Larry Krasner, the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia District Attorney, announced today that he approves the use of safe injection sites. “I don’t think saving lives in controversial,” he told the local NBC affiliate. His opponent also indicated that she would support safe injection cites as well.

Philadelphia has been hard hit by the opioid crisis. Last year, over 900 people died from overdoses; about 55,000 are addicted. In the U.S., about 100 people died every day from an overdose, and 2015 overdoses were triple percentages points from those in 2010. Pennsylvania’s deaths are above the national average.

California just killed a legislative bill that would have let counties establish their safe injection sites. The proposed bill would have allowed for eight counties to open safe injection sites without using state funds. Oppositionfrom the California District Attorney Association, the California Sheriffs’ Association, and the California Police Chiefs Association all opposed the bill and helped block its passage. Republicans unanimously voted no.

The bill was supported by a broad range of people, including San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to recommend that the city begin looking into opening safe injection facilities, although the failed bill might now derail this option.

My colleagues Carimah and Rebecca have previously covered the resistance of law enforcement to safe injection sites. But, Krasner’s support — alongside an increasingly bipartisan realization that the opioid crisis will require a response that isn’t punitive — hopefully represents a chance that will help thousands of people. Last night, I watched Reveal’s new documentary Heroin(e) and what I found most powerful was the idea that people from different backgrounds could come together in hope and find a way to solve what has become an incredibly difficult public health crisis.

Utah County to Create A Prosecutor Watchdog Group

Utah County to Create A Prosecutor Watchdog Group

Following a handful of local cases that raised concerns about prosecutorial overreach, the Utah County Commission has decided to create a committee that will look into prosecutorial misconduct.

“I don’t want to limit what prosecutors should be doing,” Commission Chairman Bill Lee said. “But it’s important to me that the public also has trust in our legal system as well.”

The County Commission passed a resolution last month affirming its intent to create the committee by the end of 2017. It would be called the Utah County Restorative Justice Commission and would report any allegation of prosecutorial misconduct to the County Commission, which would then refer those reports to another law enforcement agency, most likely the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

Lee said he heard from a wide range of people who convinced him that the committee was necessary.

“I had conversations with multiple groups of people who are concerned, and they brought forth allegations, which I don’t know if they are true or not,” Lee said. “I don’t have a legal background, so I’m not going to review cases myself.”

Lee said he wanted the committee members to have wide range of expertise, and possibly include former judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and non-lawyers. The details about exactly how appointments will be made to the commission are still being worked out.

Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank, has been a vocal supporter of creating the committee. As the Daily Heraldreported in May, Boyack appeared before the County Commission and said that the goal of the committee “would be to ensure that, if someone was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, that they would be ‘made whole,’ including reimbursement for costs such as defense fees.”

As In Justice Today previously reported, former Provo City Councilman Steve Turley was charged in 2011 on multiple counts of fraud involving real estate deals. While those charges were pending, prosecutors from the Utah County listened in on conversations Turley had with his attorneys.

All charges against Turley were eventually dropped, and Turley subsequently filed a civil lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution and ethical misconduct by Utah County Attorney’s Office.

Turley was one of the people who urged the commissioners to create the Utah County Restorative Justice Commission.

Another high profile case involved Conrad Truman, who was ultimately exonerated after serving four years in prison for the 2012 murder of his wife, Heidy Truman.

Truman was originally convicted and sentenced in 2014 for first-degree murder and obstruction of justice. But those convictions were overturned in 2016 after it was ruled that misleading evidence was presented at his first trial.

The evidence in question involved inaccurate measurements of the Truman home. Defense lawyers argued that correct measurements of the home increased the possibility that Heidy Truman died of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head, rather than having been murdered.

Truman was acquitted in a second trial in February 2017.

Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman, who has been criticized for the Turley and Truman cases, said his office would work with the new commission.

“This is done with us,” Buhman said. “This is not the commission independent of the county attorney, this is us working together.”

Thanks to Josie Duffy Rice.

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Portland is saying goodbye to its controversial gang databas

Police say the tool is outdated.

Members of the Portland Police Bureau on motorbikes.
Wikimedia Commons

Portland is saying goodbye to its controversial gang databas

Police say the tool is outdated.

Like most major cities in the United States, Portland, Oregon has a long history of white supremacy and racially-biased policing. But the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) recently decided to gut one of the racist tools it has used to classify and target possible suspects for decades: the city’s controversial gang database. On Friday, the PPB announced that the database will be defunct as of October 15, and roughly 300 names will be “purged.”

“As times have changed, the Police Bureau in partnership with community members have realized being labeled a ‘gang member’ can have a negative impact on the person who may be making attempts to overcome the life challenges they face,” reads a PPB press statement.

“Today, new processes and technologies allow police to investigate crimes in a manner that our community supports and that will not have the unintended consequences of potentially harming those who may need services and help the most.”

According to the department, the database was originally created in response to increased gang activity over 20 years ago. At the time, it was envisioned as a mechanism to “decrease gun violence.” Officers also say the database can keep them safe by putting them on high alert if someone they have apprehended is identified as a possible gang member and, therefore, poses a threat.

According to the PPB’s operational definition, suspected gang affiliation includes anyone who “admits or asserts affiliation with a criminal gang to the police,” “participates in a criminal gang initiation ritual or ceremony,” “conspires to commit,” “or commits a crime” on behalf of a gang or to signal membership. A person can also be considered an affiliate if they engage in these activities with the intention of targeting victims based on “race, color, religion, sexual preference, national origin or gang association.”

In reality, the database has been used to label people using loose connections to gang members and other arbitrary indicators of possible gang affiliation. A person can also be considered a gang affiliate if they exhibit two or more “signs” identified by the PPB, such as wearing certain clothes or jewelry, bearing a certain tattoo, or taking a photo with gang members. According to an investigative series by the Oregonian, most people are added to the list because of their appearance or conduct that has nothing to do with a “gang-related crime.” In other words, racial profiling feeds the database, even though suspects haven’t been arrested, charged, or convicted for actual gang activity.

The news organization reported that 64 percent of the 359 people flagged in the database in August 2016 were Black. Altogether, racial and ethnic minorities make up 81 percent. Many Portland residents who oppose the use of the database view it as a questionable surveillance mechanism.

Missing from the list was a white supremacist Jeremy Christian, who met many of the gang affiliation criteria. Christian habitually harassed people of color, had a criminal record, and threatened law enforcement at least once, but none of this was enough for cops to include him in their records. In May, he wound up killing two people. Christian’s absence from the database showed just how hypocritical and racially-charged the tool is.

The decision to delete the database was made due to community pressure. But Capt. Mike Krantz reiterated that the PPB still sees criminal gang activity as a concern. The department’s Gang Enforcement Team will still be in effect, investigating stabbings and shootings, the Oregonian reports. Still, police say they want to be in dialogue with the community moving forward.

“People from our community who engage in violent crime and those who do so on behalf of a criminal organization will continue to be a focus of enforcement efforts of the Police Bureau,” the PPB said. “While enforcement and adjudication is an important component of stopping violence, providing meaningful services, community outreach, and relationship building is equally important.”

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