The Most Powerful Elected Official You’ve Never Heard Of

By David Rogers, Executive Director8 out of 10 DA races were uncontested

Do you know who your district attorney is? If you do, you are among a very small percentage of the public.

District attorneys (DAs) are arguably the most powerful people in the criminal justice system, but the public doesn’t know who they are. Why does this matter? In our latest report, Roadblocks to Reform, we identify district attorneys as a central barrier to criminal justice reform.

There is a growing national consensus that America’s criminal justice system has core problems. We lead the world in the use of incarceration, while prisons are the most expensive and least effective public safety intervention. Despite increased media coverage of deeply troubling criminal justice issues and attention from the public and other elected officials, the role of district attorneys gets little attention. Although police are responsible for arrests, prosecutors in district attorneys’ offices have a tremendous amount of responsibility in determining people’s fate once they enter the system.

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Criminalizing Kindness

Springfield Votes to Punish Good Samaritans, Homeless People

by Kelly Simon, Legal Fellow
person on the side of the road with signApril 19, 2016 - Cities in Oregon and across the nation are struggling with how best to address their growing homeless populations. Housing first? More social services? Unfortunately, cities often end up choosing what they incorrectly perceive to be most cost efficient: More policing.

The proliferation of low-level criminal offenses created to “regulate” homelessness has taken various forms—anti-panhandling violations, anti-camping offenses, exclusion zones coupled with trespass laws, and disorderly conduct laws. Now we are seeing a new group targeted with these type of offenses—Good Samaritans.

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ACLU Challenges Use of Disorderly Conduct Law Against Protester

rights of protesters imageApril 18, 2016 - Attorneys on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a friend of the court brief in the trial of Teressa Raiford in support of her free speech rights. In August 2015, Teressa Raiford was arrested and booked on charges of disorderly conduct stemming from a protest in Portland that marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown. The brief urges the court to consider the legislative intent behind the disorderly conduct statute. 

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The Oregon DOJ Trains Agents on How to Break the Law

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

Mat dos Santos photoAfter about five months of waiting, the Oregon Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released its internal human resources investigation conducted by the Special Assistant Attorney General (“SAAG”) looking into the surveillance of people on Twitter using #BlackLivesMatter. The report is damning. It paints an abysmal picture of rampant misinformation beginning with agents and analysists and running all the way up to the Deputy Attorney General, and shows how one mistake in judgment can lead to dangerous consequences for the public. 

If you’ve already read the report and exhibits, you know that the SAAG calls for changes in the DOJ's hiring to reflect a more diverse work force, as well as additional training on the laws DOJ agents broke when they collected information about the public’s political views. But you may have missed a critical piece of information that is buried near the very end of the over 150 pages of exhibits. DOJ’s very own training on this issue is fundamentally flawed. DOJ is teaching its agents how to break the law. 

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DOJ's Bubble of Bias

by David Rogers, Executive Director

public enemy logoThe Special Assistant Attorney General finally released the long awaited report on Oregon Department of Justice’s surveillance of people using the Black Lives Matter hashtag among others. The report and the 162 page appendix is disturbing and reveals a range of deeply troubling issues about the Criminal Justice Division of DOJ, so much so, that we decided we needed to tackle it in separate posts.

I want to take a moment to explore what we learned about the implications of law enforcement’s echo chamber of prejudice and shallow cultural knowledge.

You may have already seen the media delight in the fact that DOJ analysts mistook Public Enemy’s logo as a sign of an imminent threat to law enforcement. (Public Enemy was a hip hop group popular in the late 80s and 90s whose music infused commentary about the political and social experience of Black Americans. “Fear of a Black Planet” still stands as one of my top ten hip hop albums of all time.)

As DOJ was illegally examining the Twitter feed of one their own employees snared in DOJ’s electronic surveillance of people who used the Black Lives Matter hashtag in Salem, a DOJ agent saw the Public Enemy logo with words from one of their live albums: “Consider Yourselves Warned!!!” Apparently, this image stood out along with a range of other satirical, political cartoons and images even though these images are easily found on social media sites belonging to hundreds of thousands of reasonably politicized People of Color. The next thing that happened was a threat assessment report was written and went all the way to the desk of Oregon’s Attorney General. Wait! What?

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Internal DOJ Report Leaves Us with More Questions than Answers on the Surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon

By David Rogers, Executive Director

David Rogers photoApril 12, 2016 - Yesterday a report on the surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon was released by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). The report confirmed what we learned back in November: that an agent who works for the Criminal Division of DOJ was testing a surveillance program, called Digital Stakeout, by searching various key words, including #BlackLivesMatter. The agent then mistook posts from DOJ’s own Director of Civil Rights, including a post of a Public Enemy logo and political cartoons, as a threat to law enforcement and wrote a memo that was passed all the way up the chain of command to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum before it was, finally, rejected as dangerous, racial profiling. The Attorney General hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine if policies or laws were violated.

After reading through the report and looking through the exhibits, we are left with more questions than answers. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the lack of awareness that was revealed of both the law and of what might constitute a threat. This is not only shameful, but also dangerous. Given the power that they wield, I am dismayed at the state of the Criminal Justice Division and afraid for the Oregonians that are supposed to be protected by them. Self-reinforced bias, against protesters, black people, and who knows who else, has left the agency ill-equipped to do their job.

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