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Multnomah County Jails: Problems go way beyond Bernie, Grand Jury a whitewash

Each year, a special grand jury is chosen to "investigate" the Multnomah County jail system. And every year, it turns out to be nothing more than shameless, symbolic politics. This year's report from the grand jury promises to be no different. It's not the fault of the jury, either. It's the system itself.
Today, the Multnomah County grand jury wound up months of work related to a sadly foregone conclusion. Jurors were presented with mountains of documents, and entertained by parades of "experts" to expound on the minute details of obscure financial improprieties. Many of the jurors were completely unaware of just how tightly controlled the whole proceeding was, or just how much information was never presented at all.

It almost goes without saying that an important purpose of this year's dog and pony show was the further stigmatization of Bernie Giusto. Bernie has made many enemies in County government (and everywhere else), and this exercise was widely viewed as an opportunity to smack him down just a little bit more. And let's face it, given Bernie's reprehensible disregard for the will of the people of this community (in resurrecting the PJTTF under the auspices of the sheriff's office, for example), not to mention his many ethical lapses (spying on rivals, turning a blind eye to sexual harassment by his employees, engaging in questionable personal relationships on the job, just to name a few), there are many reasons to smack Bernie down.

All right, it might be fun to make a mean little man squirm a little, but in the end, don't we have bigger fish to fry? Let's remember, here, that guards in the Multnomah County jail routinely abuse, harass, intimidate, and beat people in their charge. Sometimes, even to death. And yet, the jury never even considered this. Not only were they never presented with any information about the in-custody beatings and deaths, they were actively steered away from any discussion of these matters. Out of hundreds of pages of documents that were presented to the jurors, more than 80 percent dealt strictly with financial matters. The few pages that had anything to do with the safety and well-being of inmates did not mention beatings by guards, but instead dealt with an inmate who was beaten to death by another inmate.

I spoke with a member of the grand jury, who declined to be identified for this story. S/he told me that it appeared that jurors were being intentionally focused away from any concern with the problem of violence by guards in the jails. Indeed, when another juror tried to ask about this issue, no satisfactory answer was provided, and the subject was simply changed. It was clear to this juror that there was no interest in "opening up that can of worms."

And so the final report comes out, and it will be scathing. It will accuse Bernie Giusto of shady accounting practices and inefficient use of county resources. It will get a lot of airplay in the corporate media. It will serve as a lever to pop Bernie out of his position of power. And... it will be silent on the guard who bragged online about crushing someone's eye socket. It will be silent about the 6 guards who beat a man bloody, for no apparent reason, in front of county video cameras. The video is now on youtube. It will be silent on the careless and aggressive use of tasers in the jails. It will be silent on the terror and humiliation dealt out by bored and sadistic guards, on a daily and nightly basis at the Multnomah County jail. And it will be silent about the people who died there, whose pain and suffering took place hidden away behind bars, and whose deaths were never really investigated at all.

These people were more than just "inmates." They were human beings. And they deserve more than silence.

If Bernie Giusto is to be hung out to dry, let it be for real sins. Let it be for encouraging a culture of violence and disrespect within the walls of his organization. Let it be for for hiring, supporting, and encouraging sadists who poke at some of the most vulnerable people in our community, just because they know they can get away with it. And let it be for turning a blind eye on real bloodshed going on right beneath his nose. But don't stop there. Don't stop with Bernie. The problems here are deep and system-wide. There should be a real investigation, and it should not stop until all the skeletons are unearthed, and all the perpetrators are hung out with Bernie.

Am I the only one who does not care what kind of accounting practices Bernie engaged in, or how many hours of overtime his guards worked? I care about the citizens of this community who have been made to suffer at the hands of Multnomah County workers. I care about all the blood that will never really be bleached away from the cold, stone floors in the downtown jail. Can I really be the only one?

Who is in charge? 21.Dec.2007 08:50

Justin Case JustinCase@willowsky.net

"I spoke with a member of the grand jury, who declined to be identified for this story. S/he told me that it appeared that jurors were being intentionally focused away from any concern with the problem of violence by guards in the jails. Indeed, when another juror tried to ask about this issue, no satisfactory answer was provided, and the subject was simply changed. It was clear to this juror that there was no interest in "opening up that can of worms."

Why the use of the passive? Who did the grand juror ask about violence by guards? Who steered him/her away from the topic? Who changed the subject?

I will tell you who: The Deputy District Attorney who was running the grand jury, that's who!

It is the responsible Deputy District Attorney who assembles and presents the evidence to the grand jury. It is him/her who assembles the evidence, subpoenas the witnesses, puts them on the stand (yes, there is a witness stand in the grand jury room) and who sets the agenda.

The fault for ignoring this entire blight can be placed directly on Mike Schrunk's doorstep. Can he pretend he doesn't know about this stuff? No!

Schrunk began his career working for George Van Hoomisen, then Desmond Connall when Van Hoomisen took the bench. Under Connall, PPB Lt. Jack Strudgeon (sp?) was prosecuted for perjury, and when election time came around the police opposed Connall en masse. Connall lost to Harl Haas, and Schrunk never forgot the lesson.

That's the problem!

Such bad things go on in America undercover & right under our noses 21.Dec.2007 12:45

Lisa Tyree

We've got increasing strides towards an authoritarian state, mind control victimization sometimes ending in murder, people kidnapped & abused by certain evil groups, the systematic creation of notorious killing machines that make headlines in home-grown terror at federal buildings & school yards, plus imprisonment of politicals & disrruption of their lives & work. There's got to be stuff I don't even know about since this country is that out of control. So, what goes on in Multnomah County jail is just more of the same I stated in my title to this response on it. If you don't know it already you need to realize it. If more people knew & more people did more about such things listed in this beginning body then we could do more than protest or protect & support, we could actually stop it. The word needs to get out.

Vindacation in one Jail in America 21.Dec.2007 15:58

Teater

Today December 20th,2008 A Jury in Omaha ,Nebraska found 4 Jail employees quilty of negilence ,due to an assult that took place in that City owned Jail in which the inmate was allegedly assulted by the 4 employees and died in the Jail from his injuries.
The Jury also recommended to the JUDGE that the City Jail be immediatly shut down, and remaining inmates taken to the County Jail.

Midwest trials are built on a somewhat more conservative make up of Jury's.

Go to www.OmahaWorldHerald.com December 21th,2007 for the story.

You Raise An Excellent Point 21.Dec.2007 19:03

Joe Anybody / Ben Waiting

Thanks Matilda

Your concerns are right on the mark
I appreciate you raising this flag

For all the forgotten humans in kept dark cells
And the freaky way their "approved" handlers care for them

Who cares about some accounting numbers?
The abuse of power and demented justice system is the real problem, here.

By shedding light on this, the opportunities for some "truth" gets a flicker of hope
Thanks for encouraging ethics, justice and compassion towards a topic that desperately needs it
Humans In Cages & Human Rights Abuses
Humans In Cages & Human Rights Abuses

Right on 22.Dec.2007 14:30

LN

Let me second the "thank you" for this fine article, Matilda. More regarding the culture of violence in the police ranks:
I recently found a blog ( http://cantontruth.blogspot.com/2007/12/stunning-revelations-untold-story-of.html) dealing with the use of tasers, and guess what? According to Amnesty International, our own Clackamas County Sheriff's office holds the extremely dubious "honor" of being the first jailer in the country to utilize a Taser on an in custody inmate. Nice.
"Amnesty International and other human rights groups have also drawn attention to the use of Tasers on captive populations in hospitals, jails and prisons.

In fact, the first field tests relating to the efficacy of the "Advanced Taser" model in North America were conducted on incarcerated men. In December 1999, the weapon was used, with "success," against a Clackamas County (Ore.) Jail inmate. The following year, the first-ever Canadian use of an Advanced Taser was by the Victoria Police, on an inmate in psychiatric lockdown. Since that time, Taser deployment in jails and prisons has become increasingly commonplace, raising concerns about violations of 8th Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment."