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TriMet

It's been nearly one year since Ana del Rocío was arrested for not giving her full legal name to a TriMet fare inspector.

While the charges against her were eventually dropped—and were ruled unconstitutional by a Multnomah County judge—a Portland lawmaker has introduced two pieces of legislation that could prevent this kind of interaction from occurring in the first place.

Del Rocío was stopped on a MAX platform in Old Town Chinatown last March during a routine fare inspection—when TriMet employees, assisted by transit police, ask everyone exiting a MAX train for proof of fare. Del Rocío, a regular MAX rider, had left her annual TriMet pass at home. She expected to be issued a fine for the violation and go on with her day.

That's not how it played out. Instead, TriMet fare inspector Deanna George plugged del Rocío's name into an online database to track down her TriMet pass. Her full name, Ana del Rocío Valderrama, didn’t come up. George then asked for her address, which del Rocío refused to provide. (As a Latinx, getting prodded for this kind of identification sets off alarm bells for del Rocío, who later told the Mercury: "In this climate of increased targeting on immigrant communities, I didn’t feel safe giving out my address.")

That's when Officer West Helfrich, one of many Portland police officers contracted by TriMet to help conduct fare inspections, stepped in. Helfrich pressed del Rocío to correctly identify herself, and ran her information through a Portland Police Bureau (PPB) computer system. Again, her name didn’t appear.

Del Rocío was arrested for giving false information to a police officer.

Later, del Rocío realized that in the confrontational moment, she had given George and Helfrich the first name she’s used since birth, Ana, instead of her legal name, Rosa—which is probably why her name didn’t come up in a search. It also probably didn't help that Helfrich had misspelled her last name when looking her up.

Multnomah County Judge John Wittmayer threw out del Rocío's charges in September, and instead blamed TriMet for perpetuating a type of fare enforcement that violates the Oregon constitution, since the agency allows officers like Helfrich to stop riders "without individualized suspicion." However, TriMet has rejected this conclusion and continues to involve officers in fare inspection sweeps.

That's probably why Portland Rep. Diego Hernandez introduced House Bill 3337 Monday, a bill that could altogether prohibit police officers from conducting transit fee inspections.

Del Rocío told the Mercury that, while she wasn't involved in proposing or drafting this bill, she's thrilled that it's been introduced.

"There's no reason to have armed officers monitoring public transit," del Rocío said Tuesday. "It creates a sense of fear for passengers... like everyone's being targeted. I support any effort to move away from a hyper-criminalized system."

TriMet opposes HB 3337. In a statement emailed to the Mercury, TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt says that transit police—made up of officers from multiple local jurisdictions—"provide a vital security presence day in and day out, interacting with riders, providing help and guidance when needed, discouraging misuse of the transit system and, on occasion, checking fares."

"While fare evasion is not a crime," she adds, "wanted suspects have been arrested after found without a fare."

Yet this kind of interaction—where an officer arbitrarily stops a person without having any "individualized suspicion" that the person has actually committed a crime—is the exact constitutional flaw that Wittmayer underscored in his September ruling.

Hernandez pitched another bill Monday that could have prevented del Rocío's 2018 arrest. House Bill 3336 would keep Oregonians from being charged with "giving false information to a peace officer" if they don't identify themselves by their legal name. At least, in some scenarios.

The bill specifically protects people who give officers a “preferred name,” or a name that is used regularly by the person as a nickname, for professional purposes, to avoid risk to public safety, or as a form of gender expression.

Del Rocío says she's glad her story can help illuminate the two distinct issues Hernandez' bills address, but knows she's just one of hundreds who've been impacted by interactions with transit police.

"The fact that [Hernandez] is taking these issues on is proof that it's not just me," she said. "This is a deeper, wider problem that impacts all Oregonians who rely on public transportation."