Map: Where in the U.S. are grand juries recorded?

With grand jury reform elsewhere focused on eliminating racial bias and curbing police use of force, Oregon remains an outlier. It is one of just 14 states that do not regularly record the citizen grand juries that charge people with felonies.

InvestigateWest set out to understand this secretive process as a renewed push for reform has found support in the Oregon Legislature.

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Secret testimony: Inside Oregon's grand juries

With grand jury reform elsewhere focused on eliminating racial bias and curbing police use of force, Oregon remains an outlier. It is one of just 14 states that do not regularly record the citizen grand juries that charge people with felonies.

InvestigateWest set out to understand this secretive process as a renewed push for reform has found support in the Oregon Legislature. Photography by Leah Nash for InvestigateWest.

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Grand jury reform propelled by Ferguson

DeAnna Horne, a Multnomah Co. public defender, enters court with less armament than her counterparts in states where grand juries are regularly recorded. Defense attorneys elsewhere receive transcripts or recordings detailing why their clients are charged with crimes, but in Oregon no such records exist. 
Photo: Leah Nash for InvestigteWest

Nearly five years ago an unarmed black man was shot during an encounter with police. He had just stepped out of an apartment building with his hands behind his head.

It didn’t happen in Ferguson, Missouri. It happened in Portland, Oregon. And the man who lost his life that day was Aaron Campbell.

His death prompted Mike Schrunk, then-district attorney of Multnomah County, to ask a judge to record the grand jury process that reviewed the shooting. The result was a mountain of transcripts and evidence that daylighted the decision not to indict the officer who shot Campbell.

“I’ve always believed in the system,” said prosecutor Schrunk, but “you’ve got to have the confidence of the public in what you’re doing.”

The policy to record grand juries in cases involving police use of force continues in Multnomah County. This legislative session, a trade group representing defense attorneys will ask the Oregon Legislature to adopt a similar law to record grand juries statewide. And not just for police officers facing charges but for everyone.

The reason? Thirty-six states in this country record what happens at grand juries, the citizen juries that indict people for major crimes. Oregon isn’t one of them.

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Food fight pits iconic halibut against exports, fast food

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When the halibut fishing season is closed, Wade Bassi is still busy with his hook-and-line fishing boat, Polaris, at Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle. Other such fishing boats and trawlers as well are visible in the background. December 9, 2014
Photo by Peter Haley / The News Tribune

A struggle in Alaska over shrinking supplies of halibut is threatening the iconic centerpiece fish in favor of cheaper exports, fast-food fillets and fish sticks.

If expected cuts are made in January, halibut fishing could be over in the Bering Sea west of Alaska, the source of one-sixth of halibut caught in the United States. That catch includes most of the frozen supply that sustains restaurants, food-service companies and retail stores nationwide, such as Costco and Whole Foods.

“The problem is we are running out of rope. We have one more move: We can close the (Bering Sea) fishery,” said Bob Alverson, head of a Seattle-based fishing trade association and a U.S. representative to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets limits on halibut fishing. “That’s going to be devastating if we have to do that.”

Those likely to suffer include fishing crews from Alaska to Oregon and vessel owners who invested in the halibut haul after it was privatized in 1995 in a failed bid to stabilize the fish stock. Perhaps more severely threatened are native Aleut villages of western Alaska that rely on halibut for both cash and sustenance.

The trouble stems from more than a decade of declines in halibut stocks targeted by fishing vessels that use long lines of baited hooks to reel in the popular fish.

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A web app that tracks exemptions to Oregon Public Records Law? Yes. We just made that.

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If you are on this email list, then by now you know it’s been redacted. Not so much inked over as scrubbed from view. Curtained. Exempt, as they say, from disclosure.

Not a subscriber yet? Sign up here.

Up until January of last year, it was a public record, compiled as part of formerRedacted. Attorney General John Kroger’s perhaps naive effort at transparency reform in Oregon. For a couple of glorious years, this list united like minds in the mission to daylight the beaver state. As we all now know, that undertaking evaporated. Ironically, this email list nearly also disappeared when Rep. Dennis Richardson’s run at publicly available emails earned email lists an exemption to Oregon Public Records Law in 2013.[1]

Just another blow to a once-lauded Sunshine Law that is now dying its death of a thousand cuts. We’re already nearly halfway there.

At last count there were 478 exemptions to the law. That is not the news. What is the news is that, in the spirit of the transparency reform that brought us all to this list in the first place, InvestigateWest has put those exemptions in one place: Redacted, a searchable web app of OPRL exemptions.

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Robert McClure's picture

Bigger cleanup, but no end to fishing restrictions on the Duwamish

Seattle’s biggest toxic mess is going to take more cleanup than previously thought, federal officials said Tuesday in releasing their plan for the Duwamish River Superfund site. But when the cleanup is finished, people will still be warned against eating seafood from the river, officials acknowledged.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final cleanup plan boosts by one-fifth the amount of river bottom to be dredged up and hauled away. In a draft plan released last year, EPA said it would require 84 acres of contaminated river bottom to be removed, while the final plan released Tuesday would expand that to 105 acres. The cost for the remaining work increases from $305 million to $342 million.

That accumulated pollution from a century of industrial activity, municipal sewage, and stormwater runoff contaminates not just the riverbed but also marine life. For decades, almost no fish or seafood caught in the river has been safe for people to eat, although authorities have been unable to keep people from fishing there.

Key questions left unanswered Tuesday were how safe Duwamish seafood will be after the cleanup, and to what degree people will ever again be able to safely eat the fish. In any case, the river cleanup will end up taking a full generation. The Duwamish was designated a Superfund site in 2001. About half the pollution has been dug out so far. Further dredging is expected to start in 2015 and last seven years. Then it will take another 10 years for fish pollution levels to be reduced to the maximum extent under the cleanup blueprint EPA selected, the agency said.

“We think this plan gets it right,” said Dennis McLerran, head of EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10. “This cleanup plan keeps the Duwamish River open for business and will reduce risks” to locals who fish for their dinner, people playing in the river and to Duwamish wildlife.

Byline: 
Robert McClure's picture

EPA boosts required cleanup budget for Duwamish River Superfund site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued its long-awaited final decision about the extent of cleanup that will be required at the Duwamish River Superfund site — the biggest toxic waste site in Seattle.

Details are still emerging and the agency is conducting a news media briefing this hour. But it's clear that EPA has boosted cleanup requirements from the tentative plan the agency issued last year: The pricetag has gone from $305 million to $342 million. That's to be spent over seven years of active cleanup and 10 years of "natural recovery" that involves allowing sand, dirt and mud washed down the river to cover what the agency describes as low levels of contamination on portions of the river bottom.

The Boeing Co., King County, the city of Seattle and the Port of Seattle all lobbied to hold down cleanup costs, as InvestigateWest reported last month. Environmentalists, community groups and others banded together as the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition have pressed for a plan that would cost substantially more and would call for all the contaminated river bottom to be dug out and hauled away. That plan would have cost about $500 million.

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Robert McClure's picture

How government and Boeing fought to curtail Duwamish River cleanup

Photography: Paul Joseph Brown/ecosystemphoto.com

After a decade of studies that cost millions of dollars, the time had come for the people living around Seattle’s biggest toxic mess to tell the government what a cleanup should look like.

On a spring night in 2013, Spanish-speaking residents of south Seattle approached a microphone that sat beneath the basketball hoop at the South Park Community Center. One by one, they envisioned a new future for the Duwamish River and the neighborhoods it passes through. Today those neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown are home to some of King County’s highest rates of hospitalization for childhood asthma. Locals regularly fish the river, despite government prohibitions due to high levels of toxic chemicals in seafood caught there.

Clean up as much as you can, the people said, overwhelmingly.