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Portland Wants Washington Court To Block Defense Attorney's Public Record Request

<p>City Hall in downtown Portland.</p>

Laura Klinkner


City Hall in downtown Portland.

Attorneys with the city of Portland are preparing to go to court in Washington state to try to stop a defense attorney from obtaining a 26-year-old police report in a child sex abuse case.

It’s an unusual case because the record Portland leaders want to withhold belongs to another jurisdiction: the Clark County Sheriff’s Department.

The record in question is a Portland Police investigation of child sex abuse that took place in 1992. The victim was under 12. The perpetrator, James Clark, pleaded no contest to attempted sex abuse in the third degree.

The Clark County sheriff's office received a copy of the Portland Police investigation of the incident when Clark  registered there as a sex offender.

Clark is homeless and recently began camping in Portland. In 2017, he was arrested and charged with failing to register as a sex offender in Oregon, a felony.

In April, his public defender requested a copy of his sex offender registration file from the sheriff in Washington. Clark County notified the Portland Police Bureau that it was preparing to release the file, which included the bureau's 1992 investigation.

Washington’s public records law strongly favors disclosure of all public records. In cases involving child sex abuse, the victim’s name, photo and any other identifying details, including family relationships, are redacted. Clark County is planning to release the file June 13.

“The narrative in a police report is not protected, just because it’s an investigation of a crime involving a sex act,” said Bill Richardson, a deputy prosecutor for Clark County. “In the state of Washington, the people have the right to oversee how they are governed. In this context, that means they have a right to oversee the process of the investigation of the crime, to see if it was done correctly.”

According to Richardson, Washington’s law applies to records generated by other jurisdictions. “Nothing in the law addresses record generated by another state,” he said.

But on Wednesday, the Portland City Council directed their attorney to seek a court injunction to stop Clark County from releasing the Portland investigation file on the basis of Oregon’s public records law.

In Oregon, child abuse investigation records are exempt from public disclosure in most circumstances. City attorney Tracy Reeve said the city will argue that the Washington court should follow Oregon’s standard in this case.

“We believe that with the events having occurred in Oregon, the record being a PPB record and the victim being located here, that Oregon has the predominant interest,” she said.

Reeve said a victim’s advocate with the Portland Police Bureau contacted the victim in the case, and the victim does not want the police report released.

Members of the City Council argued that fighting the release of the records is necessary to protect the victim, now in their 30s.

“We don’t do nearly enough to support sexual assault victims to begin with. This could be very devastating to this individual,” said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

During her presentation to the council, the city attorney misstated a significant fact in the case. Asked by Commissioner Dan Saltzman who had requested the record from Clark County, Reeve said she believed it was the perpetrator.

That detail appeared to disturb council members.

“That’s even worse,” said Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

In fact, Christian Eickelberg, an attorney with Metropolitan Public Defender law office, had requested the file. Eickelberg is defending Clark against charges that he failed to register as a sex offender in Oregon.

Eickelberg declined to comment on why he asked for the record, but said he had no intention of publishing the information in it.

“It’s part of an attorney-client work product that I wouldn’t disclose,” he said.

Eickelberg said Portland city attorneys had not notified him they intend to seek an injunction to block his record request in another state.

“This is surprising and baffling to me,” he said Wednesday.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amelia Templeton is a multimedia reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting, covering Portland city hall, justice and local news. She was previously a reporter for EarthFix, an award-winning public media project covering the environment in the Northwest.