Michael Dougan
It's a story that is both funny and sad at the same time. Brent Canode, deputy director for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) and in charge of programs designed to help neighborhoods battle drug dealing, was busted two weeks ago for allegedly buying crack cocaine on the street in Old Town. What's even more ironic is that because the bust occurred in one of the city's Drug Free Zones (DFZ), Canode would ordinarily not be allowed to travel through the Central Precinct--a downtown turf that includes his office in City Hall. However, Canode has been given an exception to travel into the DFZ during work hours. Though the DFZ have been challenged by civil rights attorneys, ONI has vigorously defended both their constitutionality and their value in fighting crime.

Canode has been an up-and-coming persona at city hall, who for the past few years has been groomed and mentored by city council firebrand Randy Leonard. A former policy advisor for Leonard, in April, the 31-year-old Canode was placed in his current position at ONI. At the time of his hiring, he was the subject of mild controversy and grumbling because Leonard, who serves as the bureau director for ONI, placed Canode in the job without conducting an extensive search for other candidates.

The bust occurred on Friday, September 17 in the heart of Old Town, near NW 4th and Couch. At about 10 pm, Canode apparently bought the drugs right out in the open as nearby officers watched the transaction.

After making the alleged purchases, Canode hopped into a taxi cab. When the cab stopped two blocks later, officers stopped him and reportedly found a small amount of crack. He was ticketed for second-degree attempted possession of a controlled substance and released that evening. The man who allegedly sold the drugs to Canode was also arrested.

The arrest has also reignited the debate over the city's notorious DFZ. Under the rule, an officer can boot a person from these zones for 90 days based on the mere suspicion that he or she is using or selling drugs. A year ago, Multnomah County Court Judge Michael Marcus declared the DFZ were unconstitutional because they violate the basic principles of criminal process--that is, the conviction of a person without the benefit of judge or jury. But two days after DFZ were determined by Judge Marcus to be unconstitutional, city council (including Leonard) voted to tweak the rules around DFZ in an attempt to sidestep the constitutional concerns. Under the new rules, the level of suspicion needed by an arresting officer was raised to a "preponderance of evidence" as opposed to "mere suspicion" of drug activity. Those new rules have yet to be challenged.

Council member Leonard, who has known the accused for the past five years, is the most visible city official connected to Canode.

"I felt like I had been hit in the stomach when I heard," Leonard said.

He also noted that while certain members of his own family have battled drug addictions in the past, Leonard did not recognize any similar indications with Canode. He spoke highly of Canode, saying he is "a very talented man." But, Leonard was also clearly disappointed, saying that "it would be unfair to have the rules (of the DFZ) applied any differently (for Canode)."

Canode's incident adds to a growing list of shame and irony at city hall. Earlier this year, Elise Marshall, the assistant director for the city's Office of Emergency Management--a position calling for a cool head under pressure--was accused of verbally assaulting a cyclist downtown, and a few weeks later, physically abusing her boyfriend.

And two weeks ago, it was discovered that city officials at the Water Bureau placed a winning bid on eBay for the city's own reservoir caps. In that incident, the Water Bureau had tried to unload floating plastic covers that had originally been commissioned for Mt Tabor reservoirs at a price of $400,000. Under a code name, the city officials placed a winning bid of $18,100--or about five percent of the original price. It is still under investigation whether the officials were making bids during work hours--which would be a violation of their contracts.