Friday, August 18, 2017

Butane hash oil explosion sentencing

If this had happened in a basement downtown, we could have had a fire of 1922 proportions. The point is...WHERE THE HELL IS THE REGULATION?

Two sentenced in Astoria butane hash oil blast
By Noelle Crombie
The Oregonian/OregonLive
Updated on August 18, 2017 at 12:32 PM Posted on August 18, 2017 at 11:21 AM

Two men were sentenced Friday to three years of probation for their roles in a butane explosion last fall in Astoria that injured two people.

William "Chris" West, 41, and Jason Oei, 45, entered Alford pleas in Clatsop County Circuit Court to third-degree assault, a felony, and reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Under such pleas, a defendant doesn't admit guilt, but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction.

West and Oei were making butane hash oil for their business, Higher Level Concentrates, when the space filled with the flammable gas and exploded. At the time, the company was on a state-approved list to process marijuana for the medical market.

A construction worker, Jacob Magley, 34, was working in the building when the blast occurred. He spent a month in a Portland burn unit recovering from his injuries.

Magley is suing 11 businesses and three people for violations of workplace safety laws. He filed the suit in Multnomah County and is seeking $8.9 million in damages.

Magley listened in to Friday's court proceedings by phone and declined to give a statement.

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis said the case represents the first felony conviction tied to a legal cannabis extraction business.

But Marquis, who opposed Oregon's marijuana legalization efforts, said the case isn't about cannabis.

"This is really not a drug case; this is a case about recklessness and an industrial accident," he said after the sentencing.

Attorneys for the men didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Higher Level Concentrates operated during a transitional period for Oregon's marijuana program when the health authority oversaw cannabis processors. The business wasn't inspected by regulators. Those businesses have mostly transitioned to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which has stringent fire and safety requirements in place for those businesses.

Marquis said the two had what's known as a closed loop extraction system designed to keep butane from escaping into a room, but they abandoned it because it "had sort of fallen apart on them."

Instead, he said, they used a more primitive and dangerous approach called "open blasting," which allows the gas to fill a room.

He said investigators found hundreds of butane canisters, all of which were "crudely punctured," despite labels warning not to tamper with the containers, Marquis said.

They started pouring the butane into the system "and literally throwing (the cans) into the corner," Marquis said.

It doesn't take much to ignite a butane blast. Something as mundane as a light switch can set off the odorless gas.

The business was fined $5,300 for a series of workplace safety violations related to the explosion. Oregon OSHA cited it for failing to ventilate the building, failing to have an adequate electrical system and failing to obtain city permits.

-- Noelle Crombie
503-276-7184; @noellecrombie

Read the piece on the OregonLive website.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oregon makes drug possession a misdemeanor

By Andrew Selsky
Associated Press
Published on August 15, 2017 5:21PM
“The message it sends is this is just not that big a deal,” Marquis said. 
The district attorney called heroin and meth “scourges” in Clatsop County and communities across the nation. “They’re not just a minor problem. They’re a huge problem,” he said. 
Marquis said felony drug possession charges often acted as leverage to steer drug abusers into treatment and drug court. “We know that people don’t seek treatment until they either bottom out or they have no choice,” he said. “By making it a felony, it does threaten people with some consequences.”
SALEM — A bill signed by Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday makes personal-use possession of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs a misdemeanor, not a felony.
Oregon joined just a handful of other states in defelonizing drugs under the new law, which was supported by some law enforcement groups and takes effect immediately.
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who spoke out against the idea at the state Legislature, said possession of the dangerous drugs is now as serious as shoplifting or minor vandalism.
“The message it sends is this is just not that big a deal,” Marquis said.
The district attorney called heroin and meth “scourges” in Clatsop County and communities across the nation. “They’re not just a minor problem. They’re a huge problem,” he said.
Marquis said felony drug possession charges often acted as leverage to steer drug abusers into treatment and drug court. “We know that people don’t seek treatment until they either bottom out or they have no choice,” he said. “By making it a felony, it does threaten people with some consequences.”
Jo Meza, owner of Amazing Treatment, a rehab center in Salem, applauded the new law. She has seen the damage caused by drug addiction in her 30 years in the field.
“There’s a huge crisis out there, and locking people up is not going to work,” Meza said.
Looking to kick their addictions, patients ascended a flight of stairs into Amazing Treatment, located above a Mexican restaurant and a barber shop in downtown Salem.
Inside the center, someone had drawn a syringe on a whiteboard with the words “No more.” Above that was a quote by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”
Meza said imprisoning first-time offenders with limited or non-existent treatment opportunities is not a solution. But the goal can be achieved with treatment for six months to a year with support from recovering addicts and training in how to remove oneself from the environment that led to the drug abuse, like a circle of addicted friends or relatives, she said.
“Jailing is not helping the problem,” Meza said. “All you’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on it and ripping it off when they get out of jail.”
Among the law’s supporters were the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, which said felony convictions include unintended consequences, including barriers to housing and employment. But the two groups, in a letter to a state senator who backed the bill, said the new law “will only produce positive results if additional drug treatment resources accompany this change in policy.”
“Reducing penalties without aggressively addressing underlying addiction is unlikely to help those who need it most,” the groups warned. Another measure appropriated $7 million that can be used to pay for drug treatment.
Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny had tried to convince lawmakers to dump the defelonization of dangerous drugs from the legislation, which also targets police profiling.
“To change the classification of this behavior from a felony to a misdemeanor is tantamount to telling our schoolchildren that tomorrow it will be less dangerous to use methamphetamine than it is today,” he wrote.
Those who have a prior a felony conviction won’t be afforded misdemeanor consideration, nor will people who have two or more prior drug convictions or possess more than user amounts.
The new law also directs a state commission to develop methods for recording data concerning police-initiated pedestrian and traffic stops. The measure is aimed at ensuring police aren’t stopping people based on racial or other profiling.
Marquis described the legislation as a “wolf dressed up in lamb’s clothing” because the drug provisions were tacked on to the profiling language, which had broader support.
The Daily Astorian contributed to this report.
Read the article on the Daily Astorian website.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Recording Oregon's grand juries is wrong

The bill that would require recording all grand jury testimony is about to pass, will likely add about $150,000 to Clatsop County costs and will have a particularly chilling effect on the testimony of domestic violence and child sexual abuse victims...

Recording Oregon's grand juries is wrong
By Guest Columnist
By Joshua Marquis
Posted on June 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis argues that recording grand juries will have a chilling effect on justice.  

Spencer Weiner/AP
When it comes to public safety, Oregon has long led the way on progressive policies: Allowing small amounts of marijuana in 1973. Creating some of the nation's first drug courts in 1991. Providing citizen involvement in grand juries, where criminals are charged. Now criminal defense attorneys and a phalanx of well-financed lobbyists who oppose victims' rights are pushing to record grand jury proceedings and make these secret proceedings public.

Their clarion call is "transparency," a new buzzword that, ironically in this case, obfuscates the truth. The fact is that defense attorneys want a new tool to badger and intimidate witnesses, prolong litigation and tie up courts with procedural challenges.

Rather than being honest with the public and the legislature, they enlist surrogates like Irene Kalonji whose commentary "Police killed my son and I deserve to know the truth," was published in The Oregonian's Opinion section on June 6. Kalonji wrote that 19-year old son barricaded himself in a room with a rifle in 2016 and "told emergency responders that he was going to die, threatened to shoot children, and said he believed someone had been sent to torture and kill him." After hours of negotiations with law enforcement and mental health professionals, the standoff tragically ended with his death.

Though not required, the district attorney presented the case to seven grand jurors. Again per Kalonji's commentary, the grand jury concluded that a young man who everyone agreed suffered significant mental health issues "committed suicide by police."

The outcomes Ms. Kalonji seeks are simply not relevant to the debate over recording grand jury proceedings. The legal purpose of an Oregon grand jury is not to bring closure for victims, witnesses or family members of the accused. The grand jury is a reality check for prosecutors, who have been known to "fall in love" with a case only to be told by citizen grand jurors it lacks legal merit. A main reason grand jury proceedings are "secret" is to protect the reputations of those who are accused, but not indicted.

Further, recording grand juries will have a chilling effect on justice. What domestic violence victim will be willing to share her story when she knows that a recording of her statement could be handed over to the man who beat her or her children just days earlier? Even the most optimistic among us know how tragically that could end.

For decades, grand juries have operated inexpensively and efficiently. Adopting recording that would achieve the current judicial standard could exceed $10 million. Recording equipment would be required in every county, expert clerks would be required to operate and service the equipment, and the thousands of hours of recordings would need to be stored for years.

Assuming the legislature adopts this dangerous, misguided policy, most district attorneys, including myself, are likely to reserve grand juries for unusual cases. Instead, we will conduct preliminary hearings, the way California, Idaho and more than 20 other states have to bring cases to trial.

Preliminary hearings offer the most transparency, yet take much more time and could cost the state as much as $10 million annually for a process, which currently isn't required.

Why "fix" a system that isn't broken? In 1994, I was appointed by Gov. Barbara Roberts after my predecessor lied to the Clatsop County grand jury to falsely charge two police officers for crimes they never committed. Her secret indictment and subsequent conviction reassured citizens that the grand jury system works.

There is no chance that recording grand juries will prevent the next violent interaction between a troubled teenager and law enforcement. Rather, it could mean the mental health services Christopher Kalonji desperately needed will be even further out of reach for others. Instead of sinking millions into a solution for which there is no problem, how about the legislature invest the millions on desperately needed mental health services? We might then have a chance to prevent the next tragedy, instead of just recording its aftermath.

Joshua Marquis is in his seventh term as the Clatsop County District Attorney. He also served as president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association in 2001, as well as vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.

Read the column and its comments on the Oregonian's website.