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A hero in West Albany is #WASTRONG

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2013 at 6:39 am

How do you know a hero?

While Twitter’s not the be-all and end-all, it can sometimes help you in the right direction.

Search #WASTRONG and the messages come fast.

“Thank you Truman! You’re our hero.”

“As a school, we NEED to do something for Truman. He is such an amazing person and will forever be a hero in my eye.”

“You’ve saved our town from unthinkable sadness!”

“Truman, I believe we are all eternally grateful for you. Thank you does not work good enough, but it will do for now.”

“Truman is such a hero, he saved so many lives.”

“The students at WAHS can’t thank you enough, Truman. You are an angel sent from God himself in heaven. 💙💛 #WAstrong #WAfamily #HonorTruman

They are all talking about Truman Templeton, the 17-year-old student at West Albany High School who is being credited with stopping a fellow student from staging an attack on the school that police believe certainly would have killed people.

It was late last week and, as he told my colleague, Dan Cassuto in an exclusive interview, he had been clearly anxious. When he told his mother he didn’t want to go to a school assembly, she pushed him a little as to why.

“She asked me what’s been going on at school,” he said. “I thought, you know what, I might as well come forward with this…. I was very nervous.”

And that’s when he told her about Grant Acord, his classmate who had been bringing bomb-making guides to school, had been talking about explosives, had been making Truman more and more nervous.

“You never know if they’re being funny or trying to sound macho, or being serious,” the teen told Cassuto. “If they are being serious and you do speak up, you’ve prevented a national disaster.”

Templeton’s mother told a friend in law enforcement who told someone in the Albany Police Department, which led to Acord’s arrest.

“It’s always worth it,” Templeton said. “I’d much rather report something like this than leave it alone.”

And if Templeton had left it alone? Not said anything?

Court documents spell out what could have been.

Police found two pipe bombs, two Molotov cocktails and two explosives made from drain cleaner.

And in a notebook, Acord had laid out his plan.

“Leave home with stuff in truck at 7:30. Go to first period. After period wait in parking lot until 10:00 a.m. Drive to smoke pot to gear up. Be back in far parking lot by 11:00. If no school resource officer is there, move to parking lot next to 3rd exit parked backwards at 11:10. Get gear out of trunk. Carry duffle in one hand, napalm firebomb in the other, walk towards school with ‘airport stak’ blasting out of car. Drop duffle. Light and throw napalm, unzip bag and begin firing. Cooly state: ‘The Russian grim reaper is here’ (bad boys 2). If 3rd exit is blocked by napalm fire, or is locked, run to 1st entrance. In either entrance, throw a smoke bomb prior to walking in. Proceed to enter the school, then shoot and throw bombs throughout the school. Kill myself before SWAT engages me.”

“I’m glad I came forward,” Templeton said. “If I didn’t, we might be hearing a much different and sadder on the news.  My hope is people will follow my lead, be more open about this stuff, report it sooner.”

That’s really the lesson, isn’t it?

It’s almost a cliché – if you see something, say something.

But just when you think the phrase might cross over into the land of language that has lost its meaning, along comes someone like Truman Templeton who breathes new life into it, reminding people of the importance of something so seemingly simple.

Meanwhile, Templeton is still letting it all sink in.

“It’s kind of hard to believe it’s me. Is this really me they’re talking about? Hard to believe.”

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Arrested for Domestic Violence, Health Dept. Head Makes No Excuses

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2013 at 6:07 am

Lillian Shirley

Everyone makes mistakes and, thankfully, most of us don’t have to worry about seeing them reported in the news.

Lillian Shirley, the head of the Multnomah County Health Department since 1999, is not so lucky.

“This is an incredibly sad time for me and my family,” she said Thursday.

Just hours earlier, it had been reported that police had responded to her home Monday night.

“I was involved in an incident at my home,” she said Thursday, referring to what happened when her husband of 40 years, Tom Davidson, returned home Monday. Earlier in the day, he had emailed her, informing her that he had a girlfriend and wanted a divorce.

Portland Police Officer Sean McFarland responded.

“Shirley told me that her husband has a new girlfriend and she wants him out of the house as soon as possible,” he wrote in his report.

“She had three glasses of wine before confronting her husband in the office area of the house. Shirley advised that she then started a physical altercation out of frustration about Davidson’s recent behavior. Shirley said that she then punched, kicked and yelled at Davidson in the office area of the home. Shirley told me that Davidson pushed her away, and at one point put his hands on her throat in an effort to get away.”

They fought some more. Shirley demanded that he leave the house, which he refused to.

So, she called 911.

Officer McFarland and Officer Clint Snodgrass responded and noticed that Shirley had a “red mark to the left side of her neck and a scrape to the small of her back.”

Davidson told officers that Shirley had bitten him.

According to Officer Clint Snodgrass: “I asked Davidson to show me where he was bit and he lifted up his right pant leg and showed me a significant bite to his right calf. The bite broke through the skin and both the upper and bottom teeth marks were still bleeding. I asked Davidson if she bit him any other places and he said ‘yes, all over.

Shirley ended up arrested on charges of domestic violence because she told police that she had made the initial contact

“Any matter involving domestic violence is serious, and I make no excuse for this one,” Shirley said on Thursday. “I make no excuse for my judgment and the fact that the incident was compounded by poor choices about alcohol that I unfortunately made during extremely difficult life circumstances.”

As the head of the health department, Shirley leads the largest department in the county of terms of employees. Only the sheriff’s office has a larger budget. Since arriving from Boston where she headed the Public Health Commission, she has built her department into one with a national reputation – something she recognizes may be tarnished by her actions.

“Our department has won deserved accolades for our efforts, and we have worked hard to build a national reputation for innovation and success,” she said. “I sincerely apologize for any impact my personal life has had on the department and on the county. I am confident that the department’s long-term reputation will continue and that we will maintain its high standard.”

Shirley said that she is taking this chance to examine what led her to this point.

“As any human being would do after an incident like this, I am closely examining my own behavior,” she said Thursday. “While every one of us is fallible and has a stress point, I take full responsibility for my actions.”

Everyone makes mistakes. Shirley is clearly not proud of hers. She is also smart enough to see that it’s not the end of the world.

 

 

Denied and still fighting

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2013 at 5:31 am

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Cheryl Goeken is used to fighting for her son, Adam.

It doesn’t mean she likes it and it doesn’t mean it gets any easier.

“I am so tired,” she said the other night, taking yet another phone call from yet another reporter asking about how Adam had to let go of his dream of attending his high school prom.

He had had a date – two, in fact – was suited up and even made it to the door of the venue. But no further.

Adam, who lives with a form of cerebral palsey, is in a wheelchair and the site of the prom was not wheelchair accessible.

The event was being held on the second floor of the building and the senior from Lake Oswego High School – who earlier this year had been King of the Winter Formal – was blocked by a narrow staircase. The building, which was built in 1907 and is exempt from many accessibility rules and laws such as the American with Disabilities Act, has no elevator.

So, while his dates went upstairs, Adam went with his parents for frozen yogurt, coming back later to pick up the ladies and bring them home.

“It was really awful,” said Cheryl. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault. There was no one out there looking to deny Adam the chance to go to his prom.

“This was just a mistake. The thing is, though, the law was still broken. It wasn’t really any one person’s fault but people need to be aware of these issues.”

Cheryl has been aware of the challenges most of Adam’s life – a brain hemorrhage when he was just a couple of months old left him really only able to use one of his four limbs – and she has met those challenges.

“People need to know there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things,” she said. “We can’t exclude people just because they have more issues to overcome.”

 “This isn’t a question of providing special treatment to people who are different. It is a question of making sure that everyone is treated fairly. This is a civil rights issue.”

She has worked to make sure Adam has had an inclusive life – from school to afterschool activities like horseback riding.

“He has the right to expect the same things as anyone else,” she said. “And on Saturday that did not happen.”

While she does not want to single anyone out for blame – she has nothing but praise for Principal Bruce Plato who “has always done everything he can for Adam; he is terrific” – she wants people to know that things need to improve.

While Adam is getting set to graduate, Cheryl and her husband – a member of The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that advises on disability issues – recognizes there will be new challenges and they plan to keep fighting.

“It has become too easy to exclude people in society,” she said. “There are laws that say we can’t do that and yet it happens. Every day. And that needs to change.”

West, Texas and Boston: A Tale of Two Cities

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2013 at 6:28 pm

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Mario Saldivar was buried Monday but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that.

It’s not that it wasn’t covered – just not by everyone and even those that did, didn’t make a big deal out of it.

Saldivar was 57 when he was killed earlier this month sitting in his apartment in West, Texas where he had moved from Portland. To retire.

Instead he became one of at least 14 people killed and more than 200 injured. As more than 100 homes were destroyed – along with other buildings and the plant, which is now the site of a crater, 90-feet wide and 10-feet deep – they are using the phrase “at least” because it will be a little longer before they know the final numbers. Ten of the dead were firefighters who were acting as first responders. The other four – including Saldivar – appear to have just been sitting in their homes.

“All the time, I ask God, ‘Why?’ I ask, ‘Why him? Why him?” Saldivar’s sister, Belen Saldivar, told a reporter last week.

Without putting too fine a point on it, a better question may have been why couldn’t he have been killed in Boston?

Not to take anything away from what happened in Boston. Three dead, more than 200 injured and a proud city shaken to its core by a terror attack. Having lived through September 11 and its aftermath in New York; having known people who died that day, I understand the trauma involved.

Here’s the thing.

West, Texas has also been shaken to its core – and then some.

While investigators don’t know yet the cause, early indications are pointing to poorly stored ammonium nitrate, which was used to level the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

How did the ammonium nitrate get there? How much was there? How was was it stored? Why were homes allowed to be built so close to the plant? When the homes were approved, did anyone know about the chemicals? Who was looking after the safety of the plant? Were first responders informed of the danger? All of these are questions that point to a complicated story.

Boston – with many questions still – is not really that complicated a story. It’s a story of terrorism with good guys and bad guys and plenty of information that can be presented in sound-bite sized chunks. CNN can send reporter and anchor to a street corner in Boston and talk for hours without really saying all that much. A moment of silence can be extended into hours of discussion without any apparent sense of irony.

Boston is a major city with a major media presence.

West, Texas really is in the middle of nowhere. And it’s easier to forget.

Would it really be that much of a stretch to think network executives were relieved when – one day after sending crews to West, Texas they had to send them back to Boston because of news – at the time, incorrect – of an arrest? And it doesn’t seem that anyone has thought to send crews back to Texas to monitor that investigation, to chronicle the lives of hundreds of people whose homes were destroyed. The Boston bombing investigation allows for the politics of screaming; people taking sides without any apparent interest in finding solutions. West, Texas would require thought, probing.

A city was destroyed and what’s going to be done to help those people?

It’s easy for the networks to be in Boston. Cost-wise it’s much cheaper as well. Going live from West, Texas requires satellite trucks and the setting up of infrastructure – infrastructure that already exists in Boston.

Maybe the easiest way to look at the difference is in the money raised.

More than $26 million has been raised for the victims in Boston. Less than one million has been raised for West, Texas. In Texas, the Salvation Army raised $200,000 and has already spent more than that.

There are people in Boston who have have lost limbs and will need extensive medical care.

A city in Texas has been destroyed. People are homeless and unemployed. Why does it seem they are worth less?

Mario Saldivar was laid to rest Monday.

No word yet on when the funeral for West, Texas will be. But, if something isn’t done, there will be one.

Though I’m not sure if anyone would notice.

For Couple, Gay Marriage Ruling Welcome but not Enough

In civil rights, Politics, Uncategorized on April 26, 2013 at 7:04 am

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For Tex Clark, a Federal Public defender, it’s really not that complicated an issue.

“I stood up, asserted myself, and said this is not right. It’s not fair.”

And a federal judge agrees with her.

Last June, Clark and her then-partner (now married partner), Anna Campbell, went to Vancouver, British Columbia where they got married. A couple of weeks later, they returned to Oregon and like all newly married couples, Clark went to HR to change her status on her benefits.

“I had gotten married and needed to change my status,” she remembers of her effort to get health benefits for Anna. “They were understanding and supportive.”

But, as Clark would quickly find out, it wouldn’t matter. The Defense of Marriage Act was – and still is – the law of the land.

“We got a letter saying the government didn’t recognize our marriage, that it wasn’t legitimate in their eyes,” she says.

She appealed the decision and this week, Judge Harry Pregerson of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit not only ruled that the federal government had discriminated against her by denying benefits, he also ruled that Oregon’s Measure 36 – passed in 2004 and defining marriage as between a man and a woman – was unconstitutional.

“I can see no objective that is rationally related to banning same-sex marriages , other than the objective of denigrating homosexual relationships,” Judge Pregerson wrote. “This objective amounts to a desire to harm a minority group and is therefore impermissible.”

It’s the first time a federal judge has written that Measure 36 is unconstitutional.

“On a personal level, what he ruled has a lot of meaning to me, that we were not treated fairly,” says Clark. “But the ruling has a deeper meaning that is still hard to accept. It’s a judge saying that while I have rights, the fact is that there is still no remedy.”

Clark points out that there have been rulings that you can’t deny people pensions because of their sexual orientation; that you can’t deny people social security. But as along as DOMA is the law of the land, there is still no remedy to actually fix these problems.

“Judge Pregerson’s ruling is significant and it feels good to have someone agree with my assertion that I was not treated fairly. But it’s a long way from feeling vindicated. In fact, given all the other cases out there that have been brought in recent years, I feel a little late to the party.”

On very practical level, the judge’s ruling doesn’t change anything. While Clark has her federal benefits, Campbell – a photographer – has to buy her insurance on the open market.

“What that means is that she pays a lot more for what is basically inferior coverage,” says Clark. “And that creates anxiety. There’s a fear that we live with every day of what if something were to happen? How would we deal with that? I certainly would not be in the same situation as one of my colleagues if something were to happen to his or her husband or wife.

“That still needs to change. We need to get to the point where there is a remedy.”

Clark says the hope is that will come in June when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on two cases it heard earlier this year – on California’s ban on same-sex marriage and on the constitutionality of DOMA. If the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, Clark will likely be able to add Campbell to her benefits.

In the meantime, they wait.

“One day the federal code will be rewritten so that all of these issues – taxes, owning real estate, benefits – will be applied the same way for everyone. And then there will be a sense of success, of vindication.”

Justice for Yashanee Part Two – Keeping Secrets

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2013 at 7:26 am

The words came like a knife

“A decision was made to delay that, that was made by his lawyers, not by him, in accordance with our sworn duty to zealously defend Mr. Bennette, We would ask the Vaughn family to accept our sympathy and our regret for the additional pain that the family had to endure because of that decision.

That was a lawyer for Parrish Bennette telling the court – and the family of Yashanee Vaughn whom Bennette had just admitted to killing – that it had been the decision of the lawyers to not disclose where Vaughn’s body was for nearly four months.

Vaughn was 14 when she was last seen with Bennette, her boyfriend two years older, on March 31, 2011. It wasn’t until July 15th that Bennette finally told police where they could find her.

It was awful news for the family for which there had been precious little in the way of positive news since Yashanee went missing. At first, despite the family’s belief that the worst had happened, the police classified her as a missing person, with some officials expressing disbelief that reporters were interested in – as one put it – “a girl with a rap sheet who probably took off.”

Even when it became clear she had been murdered – Bennette’s father had come forward to say that his son had confessed to him and police found blood stains – they received little solace as Bennette refused to disclose what had happened and where the body was.

It turns out now that was part of a calculated effort on the part of the defense team.

The defense team knew that they were going to have an uphill battle showing their client was not guilty but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to do everything they could to defend his best interests. And that meant making sure that even if they couldn’t get him an acquittal, they would do what they could to cut down on the time he spent in jail.

So, they approached law enforcement with an offer. They would be able to help them find the body as long as they got a guarantee that law enforcement would look favorably on the fact that the information had been shared.

The lawyers were told no deal.

And that’s where the stalemate started; one that last nearly four months, four months during which Yashanee’s family could only wait and suffer.

“They let her lay in the dirt and decompose for four months and knew where she was?” Vaughn’s great aunt, Marsha Hayes, said in court. “Where’s the justice for that? That’s sick.”

It may be sick and it absolutely leaves one questioning where’s the justice? But the lawyers really had no choice. The way the system is set up – prosecutors and defense lawyers have to do pretty much what they can to advocate for their positions.

And a defense lawyer cannot disclose something his client told him without his client’s permission. So, presumably when Bennette was told he wouldn’t get special consideration for revealing where Yashanee’s body was, he told his lawyers to stay quiet.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” says Jim McIntyre, a long-time top prosecutor turned defense lawyer. “If the only way they knew something was through communication with their client and the client didn’t want that information disclosed, they had no choice.

“It’s carved in stone. They are duty bound to say nothing.”

McIntyre points out that the only time that an exception could be made is when the client says I am going to kill or harm someone.

“You never want to sound callous but when you look at situations like this you have to remember that sometimes what people think is right and what is justice are not the same thing,” says McIntyre. “And in a murder case, so much of it is going to be about physical evidence and there is no bigger piece of physical evidence than the body.

“There’s the humanitarian perspective that you want the remains returned to the family and there’s the legal constraints on what you can and cannot say.”

McIntyre says that the defense lawyer has to do what it’s in the best interest of their client. The lawyer has to decide whether it’s worth their while to disclose information whether it was the involvement of a third party, the location of a weapon. Or the location of a body.

“It’s very easy to look at these things from an emotional point of view. The problem is that it’s much more complicated.”

Justice for Yashanee?

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2013 at 3:57 am

Sometimes it’s not always easy to recognize justice as being the right thing.

There is currently an offer on the table that would send Parrish Bennette to prison for 18 years if he admits in open court that he killed Yashanee Vaughn in March 2011. He was 16-years-old, she was 14 and both came from troubled families.

It would be what they call 18-years hard for Bennette – no time off for good behavior, no chance for early release. Eighteen years with the only reduction coming for time he has already served.

Bennette is not exactly the most sympathetic of characters. Even though he had told his Dad that Vaughn was killed when the gun he was playing with accidentally went off, he would deny having said any such thing when detectives later questioned him.

And even after he was arrested, he refused to cooperate for months until he finally told police where they could find her body. Last month he was charged with assaulting a deputy in prison.

Members of Yashanee’s family were told about the possibility of a deal in a meeting Tuesday afternoon and were originally very vocal that they thought that 18 years was not enough. 

There was a lot of screaming at first.

Yashanee’s family has had a somewhat tenuous relationship with the law – and not without reason. When they first reported her missing, there was a sense that it was a troubled girl who had just taken off. And the more the family insisted that she must have been the victim of foul play, the less people seemed to care.

So, when they sit there and hear about a plea deal instead of barreling forward toward a conviction, there was suspicion. And anger.

Then there was discussion.

The key – it was pointed out – was that if they did not reach a settlement and the case went to trial, there would be no guarantee of conviction. And, even if Bennette were to be convicted of the top charge, there are several mitigating factors that could result him in not serving much more than 18 years anyway.

Among the factors that could weigh against a conviction or add to a reduced sentence are the fact that he has claimed the shooting was an accident, that he had a clean record, his age and that, ultimately, he did help lead investigators to her body.

At least one member of the family, though, pointed out that no amount of time would bring Yashanee back and that there was a certain wisdom in accepting a guaranteed prison time for Bennette.

The family put out a statement late Tuesday expressing displeasure with the possible settlement.

 

“Today is a sad day for justice for Yashanee and her family,” the statement said.

Yashanee’s grandmother, Reynelda Hayes, added: “It’s my time to mourn. I’ve held my family together for two years and now my heart is filled with tears and regrets we could not save my granddaughter from this monster.”

The family’s statement also states they believe that Bennette had help., something investigators strongly dispute.

Sources says that while Bennette did ask a friend to hide the gun, there is not a shred of evidence that anyone was else was involved in either the murder or the disposal of Yashanee’s body afterward.

If no settlement is reached, the trial is scheduled to begin on February 1.

Even though Bennette would be required to state what happened when he killed Yashanee, there’s a strong chance we’ll never really know what happened; certainly not why.

The problem is that even if it went to trial, there’s an equally good – if not better – chance that the pictured will become even more muddled as the defense could very well do everything they could to make Yashanee the target.

As a relative of Yashanee’s pointed out today, whether he receives 18 years or 25, no amount of time is going to bring her back. So, while a plea may not make anyone happy, it may just be the only just answer.