District Attorney Patty Perlow spoke at Springfield City Club on how the courts have been impacted by COVID-19 and then fielded questions ranging from use-of-force investigations to prosecuting rioters.
Perlow is the first woman DA in Lane County and was appointed in 2015. She was re-elected in May to what she said would be her last four-year term.
She described the justice system during COVID-19 as “not ideal but functioning.” They have been holding one criminal trial a week in socially distanced courtrooms, and are looking to move to two trials a week.
Another challenge is the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that in-state criminal trials for serious offenses must have unanimous jury verdicts. This means cases on appeal that didn’t have a unanimous verdict will be coming back for a retrial.
“It’s a mess here and justice isn’t being served for our community,” Perlow said, pointing to delays in trying the people who have been arrested. “We will struggle through.”
She said her focus has been processing work as it comes through and continue with programs like treatment court meetings.
They have had their first local person test positive for COVID-19, so they are isolating everyone for a quarantine period, she said. Dorms have been cut in half to maintain safe social distancing and inmates are being released who normally would be kept in due to their risk factor.
“It’s not ideal for community safety,” she said.
The office has also been responding to community members within Black Unity and Black Lives Matter in an effort to be more culturally and racially aware, which she is “happy and proud to be part of.”
During the Q&A portion, Perlow explained what the “Brady list” is — a document containing the aims and details of law enforcement officers who have repeated instances of untruthfulness, criminal convictions or candor issues. Perlow said it’s not a literal list, but rather she has performance and personnel files that will inform her actions with officers who are out-of-scope in behavior.
She also described the process for use-of-force, and what constitutes lawful versus unlawful use of force. Lawful force is what is required to make an arrest, with the caveat officers can only use the same level of force that the person arrestee has used.
In all of Oregon’s counties, the community has a use-of-force investigation plan due to 2001 Senate Bill 111. In Lane County, if an officer uses deadly force and injures or kills someone, then an investigative team is called out. The team is co-chaired by the state police, Detective Sergeant and Lane County Sergeant.
The legislative committee, however, might change that. It is discussing the idea that involved agencies might not be involved in the investigation at all, and the Attorney General would take on officer-involved shootings. Although the cost associated is still up in the air, more resources would need to be allocated in that area.
When it comes to funding in general, many of the victim services come from state-funded grants, and if there are financial problems there could be a reduction in those grants. To combat potential money concerns, Perlow is not filling the open positions in the DA’s office.
Residents have raised concerns with the investigation into Travis Paul Waleri, who drove through a children’s march June 28 and hit Isiah Wagoner, a community activist, with his car. Perlow said the investigation is complete and the case is pending a grand jury; however, federal investigators are taking a look at it and could take over the case.
Perlow said her goal in everything they do is to try and achieve justice for victims; the pandemic, however, the right to justice “will be delayed dramatically” and anyone victimized in the next several months is not going to feel like they achieved justice.
“We will do what we can, but it would be a lie if I said we’ll provide justice,” she said. “It’s going to take a long time before people feel like they’ve been heard and cases are wrapped up.”