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Why is Portland’s mayor considering a domestic abuser for police chief?

Why is Portland’s mayor considering a domestic abuser for police chief?

Earlier this week, the Oregonian newspaper reported that Ted Wheeler, the Mayor of Portland, Oregon had narrowed the field of candidates for Portland police chief to four candidates.

The decision of whom to make the next police chief is of some significance for a department that the Los Angeles Times recently characterized as a force “in disarray.” The last police chief retired abruptly after the Oregonian reportedthat he had shot a friend, apparently by mistake, while hunting in rural Oregon. The chief, who may have been drinking at the time, then falsely suggested to the local sheriff’s office that his friend’s injury was self-inflicted.

Portland’s police department also suffers from what one might reasonably characterize as wildly racially disparate law enforcement. Black people are charged with low-level cocaine offenses at a rate 30 times that of white people. They are also charged more for small broken windows type offenses—for example, black people are charged 15 times more than white people for failing to cross the street at a right angle.

Mayor Wheeler ran on what he described as a “platform of police accountability.” Yet, since becoming mayor he has been, at best, ineffectual. He stood idly by as Portland police violently attacked anti-Trump protestors, even injuring innocent bystanders. He had little substantive to say when a Portland police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old African American boy, Quanice Hayes, who, the officer said, was reaching for his waist band. (Though a fake gun was later found near Hayes’ body, the officer conceded that he did not see a gun before shooting Hayes.) Mayor Wheeler also had little to say as Portland police shot and killed Terrell Johnson, a mentally ill black man who “displayed” a knife, even though it is far from clear that the shooting, whether criminal or not, was necessary.

Similarly damning, Mayor Wheeler had little to say when it was revealed that, although his police have a gang database that targets racial minorities because of their peer groups and social networks, the police had not seen fit to include in the database a well-known white supremacist with a violent criminal history and a pattern of threatening racial minorities. When that white supremacist went on to shout racist hate speech at two young girls of color on a MAX train and then violently murdered two good Samaritans who came to the girls’ defenseCarimah Townes asked in Slate, “Why wasn’t this known white supremacist, who was a clear danger to civilians and law enforcement, included in the database? Because he is white.”

In this increasingly divided city, Mayor Wheeler offers little more than bromides. “[Portland] has a long history of being open and welcoming and inclusive,” he says, which is not accurate. Portland has a well-known history as a KKK stronghold during 1920s and is the largest city in a state that once banned the settlement of black people.

Given all of this, it’s unclear why Mayor Wheeler named the current, temporary chief Mike Marshman, a 26-year veteran of the department, as one of the four finalists for police chief.

Marshman became chief when the prior chief left abruptly under a cloud of scandal. However, he is weighed down by a scandal of his own — one the that the city and its political leadership has never fully confronted. As Marshman himself admits, he once engaged in a domestic violence incident — which is to say, Marshman “grabbed” his teenage stepson “around the neck” and “shoved his [stepson’s] head into the wall.” The incident first came to the attention of Portland police via an anonymous letter, more than a decade ago, when Marshman was a sergeant. Police also received photographs of the incident that revealed “hand and thumbprints around the stepson’s neck and two dents in the wall of the home.” And this was apparently not an isolated incident. Marshman’s ex-wife also described to police an earlier incident in which Marshman hit her son when he was nine years old. Notwithstanding the apparent evidence, Marshman was never prosecuted. He was never even arrested.

Though it gets far less attention than concerns like terrorism or gang violence, domestic violence is a common, harmful and underreported source of physical insecurity in American society. The United States Department of Justice estimates that more than a million incidents of domestic violence occur in America each year, and 21% of all violent crime is domestic in nature. Notwithstanding the fact that many Americans imagine a stranger as the primary source of criminal danger in their lives, when it comes to homicide, American women are more than three times as likely to be killed as part of a domestic violence incident than by someone they do not know. Domestic violence ends in 100,000s of visits to hospital emergency rooms and 100,000 visits to mental health service providers each year. In other words, domestic violence is, relatively speaking, hidden in our culture. It is far more common and far more serious than our abbreviated public dialogue about it would suggest.

Hearing Marshman’s ex-wife, Stacy Cole, describe the events she and her stepson experienced highlights the conspiracy of silence that too often surrounds domestic violence. As the Oregonian reported, Cole said she didn’t report the incident at the time, because she “fear[ed] what would happen to Marshman’s police career.” A picture was placed over the dents to the wall of the home, covering but not repairing the damage. The silence even extended to counselling: though “the three went to counselling… no one talked about the altercation.” Cole later expressed regret, suggesting that she “was writing a letter to her son apologizing for not having done more to protect him.”

The silence extends beyond Marshman’s family to his colleagues. Even once the police department became aware of the allegations, they dithered and never opened a full investigation. When asked about the incident, the prior mayor, Charlie Hales, said he “stands by [Marshman] and appreciates Marshman’s willingness to make his record and this investigation public.” Mayor Wheeler has made no public comment at all about Marshman’s violent past — though naming Marshman a finalist for the permanent job speaks volumes about Wheeler’s lack of concern about the incident.

Similarly, Portland’s other ostensibly progressive elected leaders have not publicly pushed back against hiring a domestic abuser to be the police chief. Portland’s City Council and the all-female Multnomah County Board of Commissioners have been conspicuously silent on the question. Despite the Oregonian’s initial aggressive reporting of the incident, they, as well as Oregon Public Broadcasting and other local news sources, have omitted all reference to the incident from their reporting on the search for a new police chief. In doing so, they too have seemingly concluded that domestic violence is not relevant to Marshman’s job as chief law enforcement officer. (On the other hand, in a profile of one of the finalists for the police chief position, the Oregonian saw fit to mention that one candidate works as a college basketball referee in his spare time.)

I believe in redemption, that people are more than their worst act, and that, over time, people generally ought to be given the chance to move past the mistakes that they have made. At the same time, it’s hard not to notice how harshly and indiscriminately our society sometimes punishes people with less power and influence than Marshman. Furthermore, in Marshman’s case, his apparent crime was covered over by other powerful people. He never was forced to account for the violence he perpetrated.

Regardless of how Mayor Wheeler feels about redemption generally, it is a different sort of question when the perpetrator seeks a position of awesome power and authority like police chief. Should a man who committed a violent act of domestic abuse be given a gun by the city of Portland and empowered to make decisions about when violence justly can be used against others? At minimum, that question should be the subject of some sort of civic dialogue.

So far, in Portland, Mayor Wheeler — and, quite frankly, all the public officials — have shown only cowardice in the face of that question. They have responded with the same fearful silence that so often enables domestic abusers and ensures that domestic abuse remains hidden in the shadows.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

Senators call for ending money bail in new bipartisan legislation

Senators call for ending money bail in new bipartisan legislation

Two United State Senators have proposed reforming money bail as a way to lower the incarceration rate in the country.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) are co-sponsoring the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, which would “encourage states to reform or replace the bail system.” The U.S. Department of Justice would provide grants to states that reform their bail system, but the reform would be individual to each state.

In a New York Times column, Paul and Harris argue that it is unfair, discriminatory, and ineffective to lock up people just because they can’t pay their bail.

“Bail is supposed to ensure that the accused appear at trial and don’t commit other offenses in the meantime,” Paul and Harris write. “ But research has shown that low-risk defendants who are detained more than 24 hours and then released are actually less likely to show up in court than those who are detained less than a day.”

Locking up those people awaiting trial accounted for 95 percent of the growth in the jail population from 2000 to 2014 and costs the taxpayers $38 million a day, or $14 billion a year, said the senators. most of whom are non-violent offenders, the senators said.

Studies have also shown that bail unfairly impacts people of color. Black defendants are more likely to have higher bail, are are less likely to be able to pay. The reformation of bail has become a top priority of many criminal justice reform organizations.

Under the proposed legislation, bail would be replaced with individualized pretrial assessments that would determine the risk of releasing a specific individual who is awaiting trial. People who are not flight risks or likely to commit more crimes would be released.

States like Kentucky and New Jersey have already moved away from cash bail towards an assessment model. Similarly, states like Colorado and West Virginia have improved pretrial services like using telephone reminders to make sure people don’t miss court dates.

“These nudges work,” Paul and Harris write. “Over the second half of 2006, automated phone call reminders in Multnomah County in Oregon, resulted in 750 people showing up in court who otherwise may have forgotten their date.”

Andrea Roth, an assistant professor of law at the University of California Berkeley, said that the quality of assessments vary, because some assessments can be racially biased.

However, states that accept the grants would also be required to show their risks assessments don’t discriminate against people of color and collect information on how defendants are treated that will be released once a year to the federal government.

Despite the deep polarization in Washington D.C., Harris expressed optimism that something could get done on bail.

“This is something that should not be thought of as even bipartisan; it should be a nonpartisan issue, and I feel optimistic that we can appeal to people across the aisle.” Harris said to the Los Angeles Times.

The Washington Examiner reported that the legislation already has the support of over 30 criminal justice organizations, including groups like the Center for American Progress, the NAACP, the ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and even the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

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TN court rules that prosecutor unconstitutionally excluded a black woman from jury

District Attorney General Robert Carter

TN court rules that prosecutor unconstitutionally excluded a black woman from jury

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee ruled recently that District Attorney General Robert Carter’s office improperly use a peremptory challenge during jury selection to prevent a black woman from serving on a jury. As a result, the court threw out Collins’ conviction and sentence.

In 2013, a Drug Task Force in Tennessee’s 17th Judicial District arrested Tommy Lee Collins, Jr. Collins was charged with unlawful firearm possession, evading arrest, reckless endangerment, and possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

During jury selection, the prosecution used one of its peremptory strikes to dismiss “Juror S.” — the only African-American member of the entire jury venire. In response, defense counsel raised a Batson challenge, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that holds that the Equal Protection Clause prohibits the prosecution from excluding potential jurors based solely upon race. The prosecution sought to justify its decision by claiming its decision was “race-neutral” in that Juror S. said she had “a family problem with drugs. That could be people that have used drugs; that could be people in the distribution of drugs.” Over the defense lawyer’s objection, which included the fact that the prosecutor had not similarly removed any other prospective juror — all of whom were white — who also had a “relative or somebody that has had a drug problem,” the trial judge accepted the prosecution’s assertion.

Collins, who is black, was ultimately convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to eight years in prison.

On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee reversed Collins’ conviction. Rejecting the prosecutor’s explanation, the court wrote: “In any event, the record reflects that the prosecutor excused the only prospective African-American juror, that the trial court asked for a race-neutral explanation, and that the prosecutor did not dispute the allegation that he did not challenge other jurors for the reason he challenged Juror S. The prosecutor’s explanation for challenging Juror S. was not consistent with his treatment of other similarly situated jurors.”

Because improperly excluding a single juror is grounds for reversal, Collins’ case now returns to Bedford County Circuit Court, where he faces a potential retrial.

Particularly notable about the court’s ruling is that it is believed to be the first criminal case reversed by a Tennessee appellate court because of racial discrimination in jury selection.

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