BACK IN FEBRUARY 2009, it turns out civil rights attorney Elden Rosenthal went a little too far in comparing a Portland police officer and his coworker to Nazis, all for running a controversial drug treatment program dubbed "the secret list."
Because in a ruling filed last week, the Oregon Court of Appeals finally upheld the constitutionality of the list—a cop-curated roster of frequent arrestees targeted for specialized drug treatment. While the court acknowledges that secretly targeting people in an arbitrary geographic area is unconstitutional, in theory the program as it operates in Portland remains constitutional because prosecutors still decide whether to actually file charges against anyone on the list, the court said.
Got it? Good.
The complex ruling reflects just how controversial the secret list remains, with critics saying it singles out poor black people for special attention by police. But the program's chief proponents, including City Commissioner Randy Leonard and Mayor Sam Adams, continue to back the list with millions of your tax dollars each year.
The program's official name is the "Service Coordination Team," in case you're struggling to identify the secret list among its scant, largely upbeat coverage in other local papers. Meanwhile, only the Mercury has scrutinized the program's civil rights implications ["The Secrets Behind the Secret List," News, Nov 5, 2009].
Rosenthal, who joined with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon to argue the case in state court two years ago, indirectly compared 6' 8" blond downtown cop Jeff Myers to a member of the Gestapo for compiling the secret roster of addicts. Myers, who began the list in 2003 and gave the list the unofficial name "the dirty 30," told a reporter outside the courtroom he had been "speechless" at Rosenthal's comparison.
Rosenthal later contacted the Mercury saying he was "disappointed" to have been quoted on his remarks, and asked for a correction and apology. But Myers, whose muscular jaw was twitching in the gallery as he sat next to the list's program manager, Bill Sinnott, had certainly felt that Rosenthal's comments were pretty clear.
Rosenthal was on vacation and couldn't comment on the ruling. But ACLU of Oregon boss David Fidanque said the organization was "disappointed."
"The court's decision paid scant attention to the secret nature of this program and the dangers it poses," Fidanque emailed. "Because the decisions of who gets added to the list—and who doesn't—are made behind closed doors, the program is subject to mission creep and arbitrary decisions without any meaningful review by the public."
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark McDonnell emailed a statement praising the court's decision, and highlighting improved "livability" downtown as a result of the program. He also wrote that the secret list has "substantially reduced the cost to the criminal justice system" of dealing with Portland's hardcore drug addicts.
But given three days, McDonnell could not supply numbers to support his contention. McDonnell referred that question to Austin Raglione, former chief of staff to Tom Potter, Portland's last one-term mayor. Raglione now coordinates the program for the city, but was also on vacation until well after deadline.
Meanwhile, even though they were both once only too eager to expound on the benefits of the secret list, Commissioner Leonard and Officer Myers did not respond to requests for comment. It's not clear whether Myers continues to keep a copy of his "dirty 30" list stuffed down the front of his uniform as he prowls the streets of Old Town, looking for his next bust.