Oregon Trial Advocate

Personal Injury Law & Politics

President Obama proposes $75 million in federal spending in support of police body cameras; Paramilitary policing a real threat

Posted in Judicial Decisions & Your Rights, K&M in the News, You Ought To Know

President Barak Obama recently proposed a $263 million federal spending package, $75 million of which would be used to fund putting body cameras on 50,000 police officers around the country. The remaining funds would be used to expand police training and reform programs in the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict a Ferguson, Missouri police officer who fatally shot unarmed Michael Brown back on August 9th, 2014. The grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, has led to protests around the country.

With the chaos that followed the Michael Brown killing, local and state police used military grade armored vehicles and weapons to halt or disperse local demonstrations, even those that were peaceful. Police bureaus around the country have employed the use of similar military grade weapons, body armor and mine-resistant armored vehicles during demonstrations and legal, non-violent protests. After the Michael Brown shooting in August, Obama ordered a review of federal programs that supply state and local police agencies with military grade weapons and vehicles, amid growing concern for their use on citizens domestically.

After the review, Obama ordered that the federal programs who equip local law enforcement agencies must work together with local law enforcement and concerned civil liberties groups to recommend changes. Five federal agencies have been authorized by Congress to supply local law enforcement agencies with surplus military equipment and vehicles: The Department of Justice, Homeland Security, The Defense Department, the Treasury and the Office of National Drug Control.

According to a CBS News story, in the early 1990′s, surplus military grade weapons were supplied to local law enforcement to combat the drug trade in the U.S. In the early 2000′s, fears of domestic terrorism gave rise to an increase in both military gear and training for state and federal law enforcement agencies. Police officers and SWAT teams trained alongside soldiers to be sent to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight the war on terror. According to an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) report, the amount of goods transferred through military surplus to local law enforcement agencies increased from $1 million in the early 1990′s, to over $450 million in 2013. One of the surplus military vehicles that has been supplied across the country is the MRAP vehicle (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected). This vehicle is designed to protect occupants from roadside mines and rocket/grenade attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, 610 MRAP’s have been distributed to law enforcement agencies across the country, including at least 9 in Los Angeles County. All 610 of them were distributed after August of 2013.

Michael Downing, the LAPD Deputy Chief who also heads the department’s counterterrorism and special operations bureau, argues that police are dealing with “an adversary who is more sophisticated, more tactically trained.” He went on to support paramilitary policing by stating that, “In police work there are times we have to become soldiers and control through force and fear… But we have to come back to being a public servant as quick as we can to establish that normality and that ethical stature with communities, because they’re the ones who give us the authority to do our police work.”

Is this the type of military equipment we want our local police forces to have? Should local police bureaus have access to these kinds of weapons and equipment, to be used against American citizens? These questions require a healthy public debate about how we want our local police departments to enforce the law.

 

READ MORE:

Download the ACLU’s PDF, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Police” here

Read the CBS News story on Obama’s request for $75 million for police body cameras

Read the Oregonian story on Obama asking for federal support for body cameras on police officers, and the lack of executive support in disallowing military grade weapons and vehicles to be used by local law enforcement agencies.

Watch the video of Greg Kafoury discussing police body cameras on Koin 6 News.

Read the Oregon Progressive Party statement on the Ferguson, Missouri decision here

National support grows for body cameras on police officers

Posted in False Arrest, Judicial Decisions & Your Rights, Jury Verdicts, Political Corner, You Ought To Know

The time has come for the Portland City Council to approve the use of body video cameras on all Portland Police officers. The ineffectiveness of Portland Police review boards and internal affairs investigations have created a system where Portland Police officers can ignore their responsibilities as peacekeepers and civil servants. This allows officers to abuse citizens with no repercussions. Body cameras on officers may finally be the tool necessary to keep officers from assaulting tax-paying citizens, eliminating the he-said, she-said debate in which jurors give deference to police officers.

Since Kafoury & McDougal won the 2 largest jury verdicts ever against the City of Portland, and have reached the largest settlement with the City for police misconduct, all in the last two years, the subject of body video cameras on police officers has been moved to the forefront. Multnomah County juries hit the City for $562,000 for the Jason Cox case, $306,000 for the Gallagher Smith case and the City paid a $9.2 million settlement in the Cayla Wilson case. All of these cases shared a common theme:  Jurors had to decide between the word of the police against the word of the citizens involved, a problem that may no longer be a roadblock for lawsuits brought against the City if the Portland Police are required to use body cameras.

Police departments around the country have begun adopting policies requiring officers to wear body cameras, and the results have been encouraging. In Rialto, CA, the police department has seen a sharp decline in both complaints against officers, and use of force reports filed by officers. Since February 2012, complaints filed against officers have dropped 88%, while use of force reports have dropped almost 60%. In Portland, federal judge Michael Simon, in his adoption of the U.S. Department of Justice’s findings that call for police reform, wrote in favor of body cameras on Portland Police officers. Mayor Charlie Hales has also been outspoken about his support for body cameras on Portland Police officers. Read more on Mayor Hales’ opinion and judge Simon’s ruling here.

A thoughtful body camera program for Portland Police officers requires debate before implementation. Citizen’s civil liberties may be violated by the use of such cameras; invasions of privacy are a concern along with the possibility of police officers, administrators or others leaking the video content online or to news sources as a tactic to dissuade lawsuits against the police. Other questions that need to be addressed: Will police be able to turn their cameras on and off? Who will have access to the video content? How much storage space will be needed to store all the video content? And how secure will that information be? Will the public be allowed access to the video content? If so, how will that process work? All of these questions must be considered and debated before a policy can be implemented that requires officers to wear body cameras. Read more on the ACLU’s opinion on police body cameras here.

Update: Here’s a video interview I did with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN on the subject.

Kafoury & McDougal have the 2 highest jury awards and the largest settlement ever against the City of Portland for police misconduct

Posted in False Arrest, Jury Verdicts, K&M in the News

According to the City of Portland’s Risk Management Division and the reporting of the Oregonian’s Aimee Green, Kafoury & McDougal have won the two highest jury verdicts against the Portland Police ever awarded in the history of the City of Portland for Portland Police matters. K&M has also reached the largest settlement ever against the city. Below are articles,videos and a brief description of each case:

Aimee Green’s article in the Oregonian on this issue can be viewed here

Cayla Wilson – Settled case against the City of Portland and Clackamas County for $9.3 million.

Description: After a multi-week trial, attorneys for the City of Portland and Clackamas County reached a settlement agreement with Kafoury & McDougal, just moments after jurors entered the jury room to deliberate. The $9.3 million settlement is the largest settlement ever reached by the City for Portland Police matters.

Cayla Wilson and her unborn child were severely disabled after a driver, who was high on methamphetamine, crashed into Ms. Wilson head on. The diver, Jack Dean Whitaker, was on probation in Clackamas County but had been practically ignored by his probation officer for over 9 months, allowing him to continue getting high and walking the streets.

On the day of the crash, Portland Police officer Devonna Dick encountered Mr. Whitaker on two separate occasions,  hours apart, yet let him go both times despite knowing he had a truck at his disposal, that he had committed crimes on both occasions, and that he was on probation. Both encounters involved concerned citizens calling the police to report Mr. Whitaker’s strange and criminal behavior, yet officer Dick decided against taking action, leaving Mr. Whitaker who was high on Meth, with his truck, twice. Read more here

Jason Cox – A Multnomah County Jury awarded $562,000 against the City of Portland for the police beating of Mr. Cox, caught on video.

Description: Jason Cox was beaten by the Portland Police, who were unknowingly being recorded by a surveillance camera outside a local establishment. Mr. Cox was being arrested for a DUII, when he was suddenly pushed face-first to the ground, punched in the face 6-8 times, and tasered 4 times over a span of 30 seconds. The surveillance video shows Cox put his hands behind his back, when the Police, without any provocation, took Cox down and began beating him. Cox sued the City of Portland for the actions of officers Jeffrey Elias, Robert Bruders and Sarah Kerwin and a Multnomah County jury came back with the largest civil jury verdict ever awarded against the City for excessive force, thanks in large part to the surveillance video.

Read more on this verdict here

Click here to see the surveillance video for yourself.

Gallagher Smith – Jury awards Gallagher Smith $306,000 for false arrest and excessive force claim against the Portland Police.

Gallagher Smith was punched, tasered and pepper-sprayed by the Portland Police after he got in an argument with a doorman at a local nightclub. Smith had left the club and was walking away when police told him he had to vacate the sidewalk. Smith inquired as to why he had to leave a public sidewalk, when officers began arresting him. A struggle ensued and officer Patrick Johnson fired his taser at Mr, Smith. The taser probes did not stick so officer Sean McFarland shot Smith with his taser. Both took Mr. Smith to the ground and committed what a jury found to be assault and battery. A Multnomah County Jury found that Mr. Smith was falsely arrested, and that the police used excessive force to subdue him, awarding the second highest amount ever awarded against the City for police miscondict, $306,000.

Read more on the verdict here

NOTE: A recent article on Bloomberg.com reports that the city of New York paid over $735 million in settlements or awards from lawsuits over police misconduct, this year alone! Read more here.

Also, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a funny parody on the lack of a national database for tracking police shootings. See the clip from Comedy Central’s website here.

 

Multnomah County jury finds Portland Police used excessive force during arrest, awards $562,000

Posted in Jury Verdicts, K&M in the News

Jason Cox’s mugshot after his encounter with the Portland Police

A Multnomah County jury awarded $562,000 to Jason Cox, a local iron worker who was beaten, including 6-8 blows to his head while being tasered 4 times, by the Portland Police during an arrest. The award is every penny the plaintiff asked for in the claim against the city.

On the night of the incident, Mr. Cox drove his 1969 Chevy truck into the parking lot of the Pallas club on 136th and Powell, when Portland Police officer Jeffrey Elias, who had followed Cox for about 10 blocks in his patrol car, jumped out of his car and confronted Cox about driving aggressively. Cox pointed to an SUV and speculated that the officer may have seen a different vehicle since his was old and slow. Officers Robert Bruders and Sarah Kerwin arrived on the scene moments later, and an argument ensued about whether or not Cox’s vehicle was the one in question.

Unbeknownst to the officers, the entire encounter was being recorded by a motion activated surveillance camera in the parking lot of the club, which can be viewed here.

The officers, after having Cox put his hands behind his back and patting him down, then decided to take Cox to the ground, where they yanked his arms, punched him in the face 6-8 times, and shocked him with a taser 4 times over the course of 30 seconds. Before the beating, Cox pleaded with officers to go easy on his left shoulder which had undergone surgery 1 year earlier, but officers appear to intentionally jerk and pull on his shoulder on the video, which multiple doctors agreed led to a posterior tear in his labrum. The tear caused Mr. Cox, 40, to retire from his iron and welding work that he had done prior to the incident, which payed him $33 an hour with benefits.

Furthermore, when a Paramedic arrived on scene, police were noticeably tight-lipped about the incident, and did not allow the EMT to finish their evaluation of Cox. The paramedic felt that the lack of explanation was strange and suspicious enough to write it up in their official incident report. Cox was charged with DUII, reckless driving, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He reached a plea deal, pleading guilty to DUII while the other charges were dropped. Even though his blood alcohol level was .078, below the legal limit of .08, Oregon is a zero tolerance state where a person can still be convicted even if they are below the legal limit.

The jury awarded $33,138 for medical expenses which included additional surgeries on Cox’s left shoulder, $128,991 for economic damages and $400,o00 for non-economic damages (pain and suffering). The large monetary award sends a clear message to the Portland Police Department and the City of Portland that excessive force and battery against our citizens is completely unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated. Mr. Cox and his attorneys Greg and Jason Kafoury have used this verdict as a springboard to promote mandatory body cameras on all Portland Police officers to help prevent future abuse.

For more on this story, check out the links below to see local media coverage of the trial and verdict.

READ MORE

Aimee Green’s story on the verdict - 09/29/2014

KGW 8 News coverage of the verdict - 09/29/2014

KOIN 6 News coverage of the verdict - 09/29/2014

KATU 2 News coverage of the verdict - 09/29/2014

KPTV 12 News coverage of the verdict - 09/29/2014

Green’s story during the trial  - 09/24/2014

America’s largest tax scam

Posted in You Ought To Know

American companies have found a new way to rid themselves of their corporate tax responsibilities, by purchasing foreign companies and “reincorporating” themselves abroad. These moves certainly hurt the U.S. economy as billions of dollars in taxes are avoided. While U.S. corporate profits have skyrocketed up $93 billion in 2013 to a total of $2.1 trillion, corporate tax payments were down $15 billion from the year before. Read more about this scandal in the August 27th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone, here

Sex Abuse of Inmates: Silent Epidemic

Posted in Uncategorized

Allegations of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct against a Washington County jail employee are only the latest in a long series of cases involving the sex abuse of inmates by jail personnel.  Jill Curry, a civilian employee at the jail, faces felony charges, based on her arrest of July 16, 2014; the nature of the charge indicates that the alleged victim was in custody.

Prison Legal News reported in April of 2014 that Eddie Miller, 60, was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct and received only two years probation in a case where he forced a 34-year-old female prisoner to perform oral sex on him.  After Miller was placed on leave, a former coworker filed suit against Multnomah County, alleging that she had made previous complaints of sexual harassment against Miller, and that she had on numerous occasions told her supervisor about Miller’s conduct, but that she had been ignored.  Her lawsuit alleged that when she filed a written sex harassment complaint, her supervisors destroyed it.

An Oregonian article in April 29, 2012, by Les Zaitz described a virtual epidemic of sexual abuse of female inmates by prison employees.  The article reported that “illegal conduct traces to 2002” and the state had during that time paid a total of $1.2 million in compensation to 17 inmates and former inmates.  More remarkably, these sums had been paid “without a word to the public.”  Brian Lathan, a Salem attorney who represented many of the victims, described the situation as “an epidemic.”  The pattern of suppressing information also involves placing victims in segregation, commonly known as “the hole, ” designed “to protect, not punish” the victims.  Further, Oregon State Police detectives rattled and intimidated the victims by reading them Miranda rights, as if it was their conduct which was at issue.

John Kroger, who was Oregon’s Attorney General at the time, “rejected repeated requests for an interview” by the Oregonian.

However, the problem stretches beyond Oregon. Prisons and jails across the country have had trouble with their employees in recent years. John Bernard Bland Jr., a former guard at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, engaged in oral sex with an inmate in exchange for preference in cell assignment. He pled guilty on one count of carnal knowledge of an inmate after two other counts were dropped. In Hernando County, Florida Dr. James A. Yelton, a psychologist employed by the Corrections Corporation of America, routinely abused four female inmates over the course of nearly a year. Yelton asked the women to expose themselves as well as give him a kiss or a lap dance. He also stated he was willing to exchange medication for sex. Once he even pinned a woman against a wall and molested her. When the women came forward about their abuse, Yelton only received a few restrictions on his medical license. Sadly, these are but a few examples of the abuses occurring throughout the nation.

The sexual abuse of an inmate has recently been upgraded to a felony by the Oregon state legislature.  The great evil of the abuse is the imbalance of power between the prison employees and the inmates.  Prison culture discourages “snitching,” even when the report is of official misconduct.  Prisoners are largely at the mercy of employees because employees can report any manner of misconduct against an inmate, and their word is routinely accepted over the word of an inmate.

Prison sex is also a security threat, because such elicit relations often lead to the smuggling of drugs or weapons by prison employees, whose conduct makes them vulnerable to blackmail.

 

Update (8/20/14): A second Washington County jail worker has been charged with committing sexual misconduct with an inmate. Brett Robinson, 32, turned herself in after a grand jury indicted her on 6 felony counts of first-degree sexual misconduct and 6 misdemeanor counts of first-degree official misconduct. The arrest comes just months after Jill Curry was arrested and similarly charged for having sex with an inmate. The two women are charged with having sexual relations with the same inmate.

I was Injured by Farm Equipment, Can I Bring a Claim Against the Equipment Manufacturer?

Posted in You Ought To Know

Zeferino Vasquez will never walk again. In 2010 he was working at OR/PAC Feed and Forage when suddenly he was pinned against a hay bale slicer after entering the machine to remove a jam. His mid-torso was crushed to within a couple of inches and he is now paralyzed from the waist down. Vasquez, working with attorney Lourdes Sánchez and our team at Kafoury & McDougal, filed a lawsuit against Double Press Inc., the manufacturer of the machine. Three years after the injury our firm brought the case to trial and a jury awarded him $6.2 million on an 11 to 1 decision.

However, Mr. Vasquez’s situation is hardly a new one. In fact around 120,000 farm workers are injured each year according to The Farm Injury Resource Center. No matter their economic or immigration status all workers have the right to a fair and safe work place in the United States and when they are injured by unreasonably dangerous and unsafe equipment they deserve to be compensated.

Oftentimes, injuries occur when agricultural equipment and vehicles are poorly designed. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to create a product that not only does its job, but, as obvious as it sounds, is also safe to use. However, many manufacturers create machines that are extremely dangerous and fail to adequately secure the safety of their operators. The slicer that paralyzed Vasquez is just such a machine. There was only an inch and a half of clearance for the crossbar the crushed him against the machine’s steel frame. During the trial, even Double Press’s own engineer agreed that the machine could have been designed to stop 18 inches from the crush point. Double Press knew that their slicer was injuring workers and yet, as we proved at trail, did nothing to change their machine’s design, despite numerous instances of serious injury. As Vasquez was to find out, the slicer was unsafe and Double Press was accountable. A study by the Ohio Commission on the Prevention of Injury showed that nearly a quarter of the more than 2,000 agricultural injuries in Ohio each year were machine-related. Do the math. Nationwide we’re talking hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers needlessly injured by poorly designed equipment.

Besides hay bale slicers, there are endless ways to be seriously injured doing farm work. Tractors in particular are incredibly dangerous, causing nearly 250 deaths, or more than one third of all farm fatalities, each year, according to the National Tractor Safety Initiative. Grain augers, and skid steer loaders along with corn pickers, combines and brush hog mowers are also responsible for severe injuries and deaths on many farms across the country. Farmers and their workers should always strive for a safe work environment, but if you are injured it is important to know that the machine manufacturers may be responsible. If you or someone you know has been injured in a farm accident give us a call at (503) 224-2647, we’d love to hear your story. Regardless of your financial status, if you are an injured farm worker you deserve justice.

Teacher at Liberty High School in Hillsboro Faces Sex Crime Charges

Posted in Sexual Abuse

Gregg Martin Jensen, a teacher at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Oregon, was charged on May 5, 2014, with using a child in display of sexually explicit conduct, and second degree sex abuse.  Jensen was already facing charges of sexual abuse and encouraging child sex abuse.

The question of civil liability arises whenever a predator emerges from an institution which has been entrusted with the welfare and responsibility of others.  Here, the responsibility of the school district and school officials will depend upon the specific circumstances.

We have seen horrific sex abuse scandals involving such trusted institutions as the Boy Scouts of America, the Catholic Church, and Penn State University.  In all these cases, high officials were shown to have concealed evidence of the sexual abuse of children.  In such cases, the liability of the institutions is clear.

In Oregon, the appeals courts have created a second source of potential liability for victims.  If the criminal conduct of the predator arises out of acts which are within the scope of the predator’s employment, or if acts within the scope of employment result in the sexual abuse, then the institution may be found liable even in the absence of institutional negligence.  So, for instance, in Royshekka Herring v. AMR, a case that our firm, Kafoury & McDougal, of Portland, Oregon,  handled, two judges ruled that liability could be based on the fact that an ambulance attendant, Lannie Haszard, relied upon trust that those suffering from accident or injury extended to him because of his status, and that his role also allowed him the opportunity to place his hands on female patients in a manner that would not be extended to a stranger.  Because of the position of trust that he held and the intimacy of the contact he was expected to have with female patients, the judges ruled that a jury could properly find that his conduct was within the scope of his employment, so as to subject AMR to liability for his actions.

In Ms. Herring’s case, the evidence of negligence against AMR was so strong that our firm chose not to submit the scope of employment issue to the jury, and the jury found negligence, resulting in an award of $3.25 million.

In Gmeinder and Vance v. MCMC, jurors found liability against the hospital for the conduct of an anesthesiologist, Dr. Frederick Field, who sexually abused women during surgery.  Again, the court ruled that the access to the women allowed by the anesthesiologist’s role supported submitting the case to the jury, which found the hospital liable not only for negligence, but also found the doctor’s conduct to be sufficiently linked to his status that liability of the hospital was supported independent of the negligence claim.

Our firm presently represents six women who claim they were sexually abused at Emanuel Hospital by nurse Jeffrey McAllister.  As in earlier cases, there is considerable evidence of negligence on the part of hospital officials, and we have claimed an additional basis of liability, arguing that the nurse’s sexually abusive conduct arose out of acts that were within the scope of his employment.

New lawsuits filed against Legacy Emanuel Hospital

Posted in K&M in the News, Sexual Abuse

Kafoury & McDougal has filed a joint lawsuit for 5 more women who have come forward to allege that Legacy Emanuel Hospital neglected to properly investigate claims of sexual abuse by fired Emergency Room nurse Jeffrey McAllister from 2006 until McAllister was fired in April of 2013. McAllister pled not guilty to criminal charges and awaits trial September 15th. Legacy Emanuel’s Emergency Room manager Edward Yoder and Legacy Emanuel’s parent company, legacy Health, were listed as defendants in the suit filed this week in Multnomah County.

The Oregonian’s Maxine Bernstein’s article can be found here

Information on the first lawsuit filed by Kafoury & McDougal can be found here

PlayDate PDX Doctors Expose Small Children and Their Parents to Injuries

Posted in You Ought To Know

If you have toddlers or young kids, you may well have heard of PlayDate PDX.  A couple of doctors started PlayDate PDX and actively market this play place for kids as being a healthy alternative to other indoor play areas in town.  They point out that their menu is not like the other play places that have greasy and gluttonous menu options.  They did quite a good job at marketing themselves.  They even offer coffee, beer and wine for the parents as they are watching their kids from outside the play area.

Natalie and I have toddlers who love to go to PlayDate PDX.  Unfortunately, we are now very concerned about the safety of this establishment.  In recent months, PlayDate PDX and their insurer have been informed of at least three accidents that resulted in mothers of children getting injured on the slide.  PlayDate PDX has done nothing to fix the slide.

Another mother of twins who was recently at PlayDate PDX witnessed at least four different children crying when they became airborne on the slide and bumped against the slide on the way down.  Each of these four children had to be carried out by their mothers after crying.  These four incidents happened within one hour.

Here’s a picture of the warning that PlayDatePDX posted.

The sign is ridiculous.  The employees and owners of PlayDatePDX know that the slide is way too steep and that toddlers and adults cannot defeat gravity.  These slides are even more dangerous for adults, as they do not possess the resiliency that small children do and one good slam to the tailbone, for example, can be devastating.  We are currently investigating several claims against PlayDatePDX.  If you were injured by one of their slides, please contact us.

As an aside, it should be noted that almost every other place that we take our toddlers to has someone stationed at the door to make sure that toddlers cannot get outside without being with their parents.  At PlayDate PDX, there is nobody by the door.  A small child could walk out, or be absconded with.  You might say, “Well, at a place like that, shouldn’t you keep an eye on your child?”  Remember, the place is designed for the parents to sit outside of the play area and the play area is designed so the children will quite often not be visible to the parents.

Here’s a link to a Youtube video containing yet another person complaining about the slide, along with a link to a KATU news story investigating the safety of the slides at PlayDate PDX.

News story:  http://www.katu.com/news/local/Kiddie-slide-fail-203696751.html

Individual’s YouTube Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwBs2kjyi5Q

UPDATE:

Kafoury & McDougal filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than a dozen women and children who were hurt at the bottom of the PlayDate PDX slide, click here to see the recent news coverage.