Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Portland Confidential

I finally got around to reading Phil Stanford’s excellent book Portland Confidential, and boy am I glad I did. Stanford has been one of my favorite Portland writers since I stumbled on his old Oregonian column years ago. In this book he uses his breezy style to tell the fascinating story of Jim Elkins and the corruption in Portland that brought national attention to the Rose City in 1957.

Stanford calls this Portland’s dirtiest little secret. It has been mostly unmentioned for half a century. Stanford has exposed the secret once and for all and tells the dirt on some of the larger than life figures of Portland history, such as Terry Schrunk, Jim Purcell and Jim Elkins himself.

Portland was embarrassed in 1957 during televised Senate Racketeering Committee hearings Senator Karl Mundt said, “It is embarrassing to me to think of the people of Portland, Oregon, with a mayor (Terry Schrunk) who flunks a lie-detector test and a district attorney (William Langley) hiding behind the Fifth Amendment. If I lived there I would suggest they pull the flags down to half-mast in public shame.”

Stanford gives us the story of the massive racketeering and political corruption that flourished in Portland in the 20th century. He tells his story mostly through the life of Jim Elkins, a dope-addict, pimp and armed robber, who came to Portland in 1937 and started a small whorehouse.

In just a few years Elkins was challenging the possibly mob-connected boss of Portland vice, Al Winter. Within a few more years Winter retired to Las Vegas and Elkins was the main controller of prostitution, drugs and stolen goods in Portland.

The early Fifties saw a struggle between rival powers over gambling revenue in the Rose City. What brought Senate staffer Robert Kennedy to town was the possible Teamster role in this struggle. Blubber Maloney, one of the Seattle mobsters who tried to horn in on Elkins' empire, claimed that he had contacts with the Teamsters, but when push came to shove the Teamsters backed someone else, Stan Terry and the slot machine question was settled.

This book is full of great historical color and Stanford’s interviews with people like Little Rusty, a former prostitute who had an affair with a high ranking Portland Vice cop, and the mysterious Old Vice Cop add a personal touch that goes down well.

Stanford shines a light on some of the more interesting visitors to Portland during this time: the notorious – Ben “Bugsy” Segal, Mickey Cohen; the prominent – William O. Douglas, Robert Kennedy; the famous – Sammy Davis Jr. Not many people know he got his start in show business singing with the Will Mastin Trio in Portland.

Stanford’s book puts a couple of interesting Portland murder cases into context: The Tatum murder of 1947 and the Hank Case of 1954. I will write more about these in a later post. He also tantalizes us with hints of more obscure killings like Nippy Constantino who was gunned down on October 23, 1944. I will have to look into this one.

He also added a couple of obscure locations for my Crime Map: Jim Elkins' last home in Portland, the Pago Pago Room and the Clover Club, where Sammy Davis Jr. sang.

Thanks, Phil for a great read. I loved it and will read it again. Everyone else should too.

Monday, June 26, 2006

When Criminals are Victims

Clackamas County Sheriff’s dispatch received a strange phone call at about 7:00 pm on Friday, June 16. An anonymous caller said that someone was being held against their will in a house on SE 25th in Milwaukie. The caller said the received a call from someone at that location who said “if they didn’t get their stuff back” they would kill their hostage.

The hostage was Paul Abelino Canul, 18. Canul was a burglar who broke into the house on SE 25th, probably for the second time. The owner of the home, Bradley John Poppino, 43, was a grower for a medical marijuana club with as many as 50 marijuana plants in his house. Burglars had stolen at least a pound of drying marijuana from Poppino’s home while he was away on a camping trip.

Poppino returned home on Thursday and discovered the break-in. He hid his car and made the house look as if no one was home and enlisted the help of his next door neighbor, Andrew Paul Kester, 27. A group of young men arrived as expected and Poppino and Kester were able to capture Canul, even though his accomplices escaped.

Canul said he pulled a gun, but the two men disarmed him and dragged him to the garage where they duct-taped his wrists and ankles and kicked him to the floor. According to Canul the two men berated him and threatened him for hours, threatening to hurt his family if their marijuana was not returned.

Threatening to cut off one of his toes for each hour until their marijuana was returned, Poppino and Kester forced Canul to make calls to his friends telling them to bring the merchandise back. During the calls Canul was able to let someone know where he was and they finally called the police.

At one point Canul’s eyes were covered with tape and a third man threatened to dispose of his body by cutting it into bits with a chain saw. Canul said, “I’m not a very religious guy, but I prayed.” Photographs of Canul show evidence that he was threatened with a knife on his throat and face. (I wish blogspot would let me put pictures up. Anybody have any advice?)

Canul says he passed out after the chainsaw threat and when he woke up the men seemed to be running out of steam. They were talking about ordering a pizza when a car pulled up in front of the house. Canul hoped that his friends had arrived to save him. It wasn’t the crooks and it wasn’t Domino’s, it was the Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies.

After a brief conversation with Poppino and Kester in the front yard it became apparent that the anonymous caller was correct. Police arrested and charged all parties in the case. “It’s a bit unusual when everyone involved is a victim and a defendant,” said Chris Owen, the prosecutor on the case.

Paul Canul remains in custody in the Clackamas County Jail for the charge of Robbery 1, Attempted Burglary 1, and the unlawful possession of a weapon with the intent to use. The total bail is set at $100,000, in addition to the measure eleven offenses of Robbery 1; with no bail amount.

Bradley Poppino remains in custody in the Clackamas County Jail for the charges of Kidnapping 1 and manufacturing marijuana. This bail is set at $250,000. A preliminary hearing for this matter is scheduled for June 26th, at 3:00 p.m.

Andrew Kester remains in custody in the Clackamas County Jail for the charge of Kidnapping 1, with an associated bail of $250,000. A preliminary hearing for this matter is scheduled for June 26th, at 3:00 p.m.

The marijuana charges for Poppino stem from the fact that he was growing more than the legal amount covered by his permit. This is what Prohibition does; it creates a group of criminals who control the source of the product. So as marijuana becomes legal, the criminals who produce it still think like criminals. They break the rules and take the law into their own hands.

Paul Canul, the only party in the case talking with the press yet, says he thinks he had it coming. “I’d be pretty mad if someone stole my pot,” he said, “I’d probably have done the same thing.”

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Lot of Blood

“Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening,” Marissa Manwarren, 17, said to one of her roommates, when she heard of her boyfriend Cevelino Capuia’s arrest in Beaverton on June 11, 2006. Manwarren and Capuia were hiding out at a house in Hillsboro. Capuia had gone into Beaverton to rob a Plaid Pantry.

“That car is stolen, and they killed someone to get it,” said Manwarren. Capuia was driving the car of Chai Taphom who was shot to death on May 13 in northeast Portland.

Later that day Shawn Womack, 21, and his girlfriend, Jasmine Lesniak, showed up in Hillsboro looking for Manwarren. She told her roommates that she was going to Corvallis with Womack and Lesniak. Womack drove to North Portland and gave Manwarren $200 to buy drugs for him from a drug house.

Womack is a cold-blooded killer who has confessed to gunning down Chai Taphom and Michael Burchett for their cars. When Manwarren returned with no drugs and no money, Womack forced her into Burchett’s car and started driving south.

Somewhere south of Portland, Womack forced Manwarren out of the car, shot her twice in the head and put her in the trunk. He then drove to Beverly Beach, near Newport and dumped her body on an isolated road. Womack told police he “had a lot of blood” on him after the killing. He returned to Corvallis and threw his bloody clothes into a dumpster on 25th and Harrison.

Womack and Lesniak were arrested in Corvallis on June 13 driving Michael Burchett’s car. Police found a 9mm handgun in the car that they believe is the weapon used in all three shootings. They found blood on the back bumper and “a large amount” of blood in the trunk.

Capuia admitted his part in the crimes. He had been present at the shootings of Taphom and Burchett and had driven the cars away after the crime. He received Taphom’s silver 2005 Honda as his payment.

On June 20 Police searched the Corvallis apartment where Womack and Lesniak had lived. They found car seats used by Taphom’s twin daughters, mail to the two dead men, extra keys for both cars, identification and credit cards in the dead men’s names and a baseball cap.

Portland Homicide Detective Brian Grose recognized the baseball cap. He had seen it in surveillance videos from the Blue Spot Video Store. Michael Burchett was wearing it when he entered the building shortly before he was killed.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mamie Walsh Part One

Work of a Fiend

1892 was a boom year for Portland. Portland consolidated with East Portland and Albina (North Portland) in 1891 tripling the city’s acreage and increasing its population by half to over 70,000. In 1892 Portland was the largest city in the northwest and business was booming. The depression that would hit the city in the spring of 1893 was still over the horizon.

On June 22, 1892, school was out and Mamie Walsh, 14, the daughter of a prominent Milwaukie farmer, was staying with family friends, the Luellings, near the Willamette River just south of Sellwood. That day she went out to pick berries by the river at about 4:00pm. She didn’t come back that night.

Alfred Luelling enlisted neighbors to search for the missing girl. Shortly after dawn Mamie’s body was found. She had been raped and strangled. Her underwear, hat and bucket were missing. The search party turned into a posse, determined to find and lynch the killer.

To read the rest of the story you will need to get my book:

Monday, June 19, 2006

Killer Thieves in Portland

It started with a shooting in a quiet residential neighborhood early on a Sunday morning. May 13, 2006 Chai Taphom, 28, was shot several times and his silver 2005 Honda Civic was stolen. The murder drew very little attention and police seemed to have no leads.

Two weeks later, May 28th, Michael Burchett, 38, from Vancouver was gunned down in the parking lot behind Blue Spot Video on NE 82nd Ave. The Blue Spot is a 24-hour video peepshow. Burchett had spent the day doing yard work in Vancouver. He spent the evening at a friend’s house in Gresham watching a boxing match.

News reports of Burchett’s death mentioned Taphom’s murder as another violent crime in the area, but police did not believe the killings were related. It was interesting that Burchett’s black 2000 Honda Civic was stolen from the scene of the murder.

Two weeks later on a Monday night Beaverton police responded to a robbery at a Plaid Pantry. Suspects fled the scene in a silver Honda Civic. After a short chase the Honda crashed and Cevelino Capuia, 19, a student at Portland Community College was arrested.

Police noticed something odd about the car, the license plate didn’t go with the vehicle. It soon became apparent that Capuia had been driving the car stolen from Chai Taphom. By this time police had already connected the two killings. Ballistics showed that the same gun had been used in both attacks. The investigation also showed that Taphom had visited Blue Spot video about 2:00am on the Sunday he was killed a few blocks away.

Police believed that the killers had waited in the dark parking lot and they may have picked their victims because of the cars they drove. Tophom was probably taken away from the parking lot before being killed, because the killers intended to come back for another car. Capuia led the police to his accomplice Shawn Womack, 21, a Linn-Benton Community College student from Corvallis.

By the time police caught up with Womack, who was arrested in Corvallis after a chase in Michael Burchett’s car, on May 14th, Marissa Manwarren, 17, was also dead. Manwarren was Capuia’s girlfriend. The adopted granddaughter of an Oregon State Senator, Manwarren had run away from home in April. She was shot to death near Beverly Beach in Newport, OR sometime between May 12 and May 14.

After Capuia was arrested, comments left on his account led police to believe that there was a third victim in the Newport area. Together with officers of the Lincoln County sheriff’s department they found Manwarren’s body on a secluded road.

Capuia and Manwarren both had accounts. From comments she left Manwarren was worried about Capuia’s “actions”. Her website shows that she was very attached to Capuia, under occupation in her profile she wrote: CAPUIA.

Capuia portrayed himself as a devout Christian on his website, quoting extensively from the bible. He also was very active at PCC, where he participated in an African-American literature event in February.

Shawn Womack ran for student body President at LBCC. Police said that neither of the young men had extensive police records. Capuia was arrested for second-degree burglary in 2005. Womack has a conviction for reckless driving the same year. Both were bright, well-liked young men. Capuia’s bible-quoting has led to some speculation that the two targeted men visiting the pornography store because they disapproved of pornography.

There has been a lot of speculation and rumor in this case. At one point it was reported that Manwarren had been pregnant by Capuia. Autopsy showed that she was not pregnant at the time of her death. Much of the early reporting, and web discussion, made it seem as if Capuia had killed Manwarren.

Capuia may have been the source of the pregnancy rumor; he may have told the Police Manwarren was two months pregnant. It is pretty clear now that he was in custody when she died. He was said to have burst into tears when told of her death. Maybe now he knows how the Burchett and Taphom families feel.

Womack and Capuia are both charged with the murders of Taphom and Burchett. No charges have been brought in Manwarren’s death yet, but police say they are confident that her killer is in custody.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Running Trouble

Eric Walter Running was trouble waiting to happen. Given up at birth by his mother, Running was raised by an alcoholic couple who physically abused him from an early age. His adopted mother abandoned him at the age of four.

Running began drinking when he was 11 and before he left high school he was injecting heroin regularly. He worked on and off as a long-haul truck driver and somewhere along the way he moved from San Francisco to Portland.

The earliest example of violently acting out on record is an armed robbery Running committed in San Francisco in 1975. Running was 24. That wasn’t the last time, but after this his violence became more and more directed at women.

His wife took a lot of abuse. She testified later that he had beat her “too many times to count” before she finally entered a woman’s shelter. Eric Running commemorated their marriage with a tattoo. On his left wrist he had tattooed a portrait of his wife with her throat slit and blood oozing out of her mouth.

Girlfriends, a step-daughter and women he had never met were abused or threatened by Running. In one road rage incident he threatened two women in a car on a Portland Bridge with a gun. He violated parole in that case and spent a little time in jail.

In 1991 Running was charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of a transient in O’Bryant Square. Charges were dropped in that case. For such a violent guy, Running spent a surprisingly small amount of time in jail.

For five years in the 1980s Eric Running achieved sobriety. He attended college with the intention of becoming an addiction counselor. This is often a powerful goal for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It worked for Running, for a while.

By 1996 Running was a heavy daily drinker and heroin addict. It was that year that Running met Octavia Anderson. Anderson was an unusual Portland artist and poet who worked part time as an accountant on NE Sandy Blvd. Octavia liked to play pool and watch soap operas at a local bar, the Ambassador Lounge.

Eric Running fell “madly in love” with Octavia. Friends of his later testified that Running seemed to be obsessed with Octavia. Anderson, who’s legal name was Jacqueline, was a lesbian who had been in a long term relationship with another woman, Barbara Gilpin.

Gilpin and Anderson had been romantically involved for more than a decade and owned forty acres of land near the Oregon coast in Clatsop County. Their relationship was described by some as “on again, off again.” When Octavia met Running, the relationship was off. Gilpin and Anderson remained friends, though and often contacted each other.

It is hard to tell what relationship there was between Anderson and Running. Court papers say that they lived together from shortly after their meeting until Anderson’s death. Stacey Speidel, a bartender at the Ambassador, who had served Running for years and who considered Octavia a friend, said she didn’t think they had a “romantic relationship.” “They'd laugh. They'd dance,” she said, “I think they were just good friends.”

At least in Eric Running’s mind there was more to the relationship. 1997 was a bad year for Running. In February during a heated argument with his father, Harry Running finally confirmed Eric’s suspicions that he was adopted. He may not have experienced a sober moment from this meeting until his arrest one year later.

At least five times in that year Running was admitted to the Hooper Detoxification Center, a rescue center for people who are found in an extremely intoxicated condition in public. It takes a life threatening situation to get into this exclusive club.

Running’s relationship with Anderson was deteriorating. Surprising, huh? Meanwhile Octavia was making her mind up to go back to Barbara. It all came together on February 24, 1998.

That Tuesday Eric and Octavia had lunch together. They met again in the evening and after drinking and smoking together they “ended up at the Ambassador.” The purpose of the meeting was for Octavia to break the news to Eric that she was going back to her lover Barbara. Witnesses saw them arguing in the pool room and about 8:00pm Running went to the bar and sat alone.

Running only stayed a little while and then left the bar. Octavia spent about twenty minutes on the phone, then ordered another drink and spent a while leafing through the karaoke list. Around 10:00pm Barbara Gilpin arrived.

Anderson and Gilpin had dinner and went in to play pool. About 11:15pm Anderson came to the bar to order drinks. Running had returned to the bar. Running said, “[c]ome outside right now, you fucking bitch. I'm going to kill you.” Octavia rolled her eyes at him and he drew his finger across his throat, echoing the tattoo on his wrist with his actions.

Running left the bar and Anderson told the bartender, “I don’t like him very much anymore.” She took her drinks back into the pool room. Almost immediately Gilpin came out with a pool cue headed for the front door. Octavia had probably told her of Running’s threat.

Before she got to the door Running reentered the bar with a shotgun and fired at Gilpin. Barbara Gilpin was killed instantly. Running then walked into the pool room and cronfronted Octavia Anderson.

She felt at home at the Ambassador. Witnesses say she showed no fear as Running advanced on her with a shotgun. “Are you gonna shoot me like you did her?” Anderson asked.

Running answered with his weapon, wounding Anderson in the hip. While she was on the floor he put the gun next to her cheek and fired once more, destroying her head. As he left the building he took out his rage on Barbara Gilpin’s corpse. He kicked her as he passed by and then put the muzzle of the shotgun next to her head and fired again.

Witnesses heard Running say, “I’ve got to get the fuck out of here.” As he escaped through the parking lot the gun discharged accidentally. He hid it in a nearby back yard behind a woodpile.

The next day Running got rid of the leather jacket he wore during the crime. He cut his hair and started wearing glasses. He bought some heroin and hung out with friends the rest of the day. When one friend went to get cigarettes he saw Running’s picture in the paper as wanted for questioning.

Running spent a few hours with his friends watching news coverage of his crime. His friends advised him that he had three choices; he could turn himself in, he could go on the run or he could kill himself.

The next day Running was found inside a downtown construction site with a large gash in his throat. When he was rescued by paramedics he said he wished that he had saved the shotgun and used the last round on himself. He gave a false name to police, but they were not fooled.

In 2000 Running was convicted of one count of aggravated murder and one count of intentional murder. He was sentenced to death for Octavia Anderson’s murder, but he got life without parole for Barbara Gilpin’s. The jury justified the unusual split verdict, because they believed “he wasn't intending to go back to the bar and kill Gilpin -- he asked Octavia to go outside so he could kill her.”

Running’s death penalty was upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2004 and he remains on death row in Salem. Oregon rarely executes prisoners, although it is not unheard of, but finally Eric Running is put away where he can’t hurt anyone else.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


There have been some new developments in a couple of the cases that I have been following, so I thought I would pass the info on to bring everyone up to date.

Betrayed Trust

The Academy of Alternative’s School has had their business license reinstated after they completed background checks of the rest of their staff. This is the school that hired Daniel Alcazar, a convicted murderer, as a teacher’s aid without performing the required background check. Alcazar was arrested on May 1, for having sex with a 15-year-old student.

Susan Castillo, Superintendent of Schools said that the investigation will continue to see if there is any activity that can be prosecuted in this case. “This is not a simple matter of missing paperwork,” Castillo said. “These requirements are in place to protect students, and I take the violation by the Academy of Alternatives very seriously.”

Castillo is calling for changes to state law to allow her to revoke the license of a school in similar circumstances. Jay Scalise, director of the Academy, who hired Alcazar less than a month after he was released from prison, said, “They should do anything they need to do to make sure everybody is secure. This has been a horrifying experience for all of us.”

Some more than others Mr. Scalise. Some school districts are sending students back to the Academy on a temporary basis. Others will not send students to the Academy again. Last week Alcazar was indicted for third degree rape and sodomy and faces up to ten years in prison.

Unanswered Questions

Some questions are being answered in the murder of Gary Douglas George, 51, who was found beaten to death in his North East Portland home. Bobby Donald Barnes, 51, (aka Michael Tucker) has been charged with aggravated murder in this case.

Barnes, a transient, was an acquaintance of George and is believed to have killed George while burglarizing his run-down home. Police are not saying what Barnes was trying to steal.

Barnes was arrested on the day of the murder, April 24, 2006, on an unrelated parole violation, at a house where he occasionally stayed near the murder site. Police now say that the gunfight that George had with an ex-girlfriend and her ex-husband at his home seven weeks before his death is unrelated.

It seems to be quite a coincidence that George shot it out with one group of people and then was killed by someone else, but George did have a history of violence. He also seemed to attract violence. Police had been called to his home eight times between 1994 and George’s death for various crimes.

Some questions still need answers.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's a Family Affair

Crimes will often focus on certain neighborhoods in Portland. Sometimes they will cluster in families. Northeast Portland and North Portland are both neighborhoods where certain types of crime flourish. Gang activity is sometimes pretty intense in these two areas.

We have already seen how violent crime and drug addiction have taken a huge toll on the Mandley family, in my earlier posting A Tragic Story Gets Weird. The extended family that unites Perlia Bell, 43, and her cousin Areba Strickland, 50, has six murder victims since 1979. Four of these murders are still unsolved, although in some cases police believe they know who committed the crime. Three other members of the Bell-Strickland family are in jail for violent crimes.

Bell and Strickland have reacted to the violence and pain in their lives by activating their community against violence and working to end the G-code (for Gangsta) of silence that keeps the killers of their family members from facing justice. Bell has organized an annual September 11 march in memory of her daughter Asia Bell who was killed by gunfire outside her home. She also organizes anti-violence events through her church.

Strickland is active in Project Hope, a youth employment program, and is the founder of the Isaiah Strickland Foundation against Violence, named for her son who was gunned down in Northeast Portland. They are both active in Families Affected by Violence.

Less than a week before Bell’s Stop the Violence Worship Service, two of her cousins Willie Bell and Wilando Bell became the latest victims of violence in her family. On February 7, 2005, Willie Bell, 24, and his girlfriend were robbed at gunpoint allegedly by Domenicke Sanders who had just robbed a nearby convenience store.

Wilando came to his brother’s aid and was shot to death. Willie was wounded. Fortunately the G-code didn’t play into this case and Sanders was arrested a few days later in Vancouver, WA. Sander’s is awaiting trial on murder charges.

Reba Strickland’s son Isaiah, 17, was shot and killed near the corner of NE Fremont and 7th on the night on November 2, 2003. Reba knows her son wasn’t perfect. According to a questionnaire he filled out shortly before his death, Isaiah had begun using alcohol and marijuana at the age of 14 and had been arrested twice for truancy before dropping out of school. She also knows that the argument that led to Isaiah’s death may have begun with his hitting a young woman at a party.

Reba Strickland also knows that her son did not deserve to be brutally shot down in the street. She knows that his killer must be brought to justice, but he never will be until witnesses come forward. Reba knows that a dozen of her son’s lifelong friends stood on a corner a block away from her son when he was shot. Some admitted at first that they knew the shooter, now none of them know who did it.

Police believe that Donnie Crawford Jr., 20, and Charles Crockett, 21, are responsible for Strickland’s shooting. Crawford is the brother of the woman that Strickland reportedly hit. You can read more about Crockett here and here. Crockett has been pretty good at intimidating witnesses and enforcing the G-code.

Asia Bell, 23, Perlia’s daughter, was shot to death and her husband Tyrone James, 26, was blinded in a shooting at their home in North Portland on November 20, 2002. They were celebrating Tyrone’s 26th birthday and stepped onto their front porch for a cigarette, when 17 shots were fired.

Asia was killed instantly. Tyrone was badly wounded in the face and both of his eyes were damaged. A friend who was visiting was also slightly wounded in the shooting. Asia and Tyrone, parents of five children, were working hard to get away from the drug abuse and violence that has plagued their families. They were both employed in the health care industry and had recently purchased their first home.

The North Mississippi neighborhood, where they lived, is one of the most vibrant and interesting neighborhoods in the city. It is also a neighborhood that has been plagued by gun violence and drug dealing. It is a neighborhood of beautiful old homes that are still affordable, because of the problems in the area. The police have no suspects or leads in this case and it is one of the featured cases of Portland’s Cold Case unit.

On January 19, 1996 Perlia Bell’s brother, Kern McClure, 34, was beaten and stomped to death in a house near NE Fremont and Rodney. Not only is this murder still unsolved. It seems to have been forgotten. There is very little information available about this crime.

Perlia herself had a personal brush with violence in 1993. At the time she had been addicted to cocaine for more than a decade and was in an abusive relationship with another drug addict, Andre Favre. Neighbors of Favre and Bell said that the couple kept to themselves, but seemed to fight all the time. Many believed that Favre was beating Bell on a regular basis.

On August 21, 1993 during a fight with Favre, Bell stabbed him in the chest, killing him. She went to jail for eighteen months, kicked her addiction and began to organize for the end of violence in her community.

Wilbert Menafee Sr., 48, Perlia’s uncle, was shot and killed in another unsolved murder on April 7, 1979. Menafee’s son, Wilbert Jr., 27, was shot to death on November 29, 1986. Menafee Jr.’s death was one of Portland’s earliest gang-related shootings. Carl Lee Rucker was convicted of his killing and was paroled in 1998.

Wew. Murder takes a terrible toll on the people it leaves behind. In some way the victims themselves are the lucky ones. They don’t have to deal with the fear, guilt, anxiety, loss and depression that plague the survivors. Perlia Bell, Reba Strickland and Tyrone James have taken an active part in changing the community that has damaged their family so badly. They are an example to all of us.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Betrayed Trust

Privatization of public school programs creates its own problems, but does it get worse than this? On May 18, 2006, Daniel Alcazar, 27, a teacher’s aide for the Academy of Alternatives School, was arrested for having sex with a 15-year-old student. When Alcazar was arrested it became clear that Alcazar was in violation of his parole as well. In October 2005 Alcazar was released after more than ten years in jail for murder.

The Academy of Alternatives was a private school that contracted to several school districts in the region to conduct special education classes for students with special needs due to alcoholism, drug abuse and other social and academic problems -- the most vulnerable students in our schools.

Jay Scalise, Director of the Academy, discovered the sexual abuse (which he called “consensual”) during a regular meeting with the student, parents and staff. “I am horrified. It is just devastating,” said Scalise. “We all feel violated. It is a betrayal of the student, the population here, this entire school of people who trusted him.” Scalise seems to be most upset because Alcazar violated a policy that teachers are never to be alone with students.

If anyone violated the trust of the “entire school”, not to mention the community, it was Scalise. Scalise, aware of Alcazar’s past after speaking with his “mentor” at the Going Home program which helps ex-convicts re-enter society, failed to do an official background check.

“The background check is when I talked to the people at the Going Home program,” Scalise said. “They told me what his background was. Would a formal background check have shown anything different? I don't know.”

That’s right. Scalise didn’t know because he didn’t check. One thing that a real background check would have done would have been keeping the Academy in compliance with its contract with the Multnomah County Education District. Another would have been alerting state authorities who could have informed Mr. Scalise that it is not a good idea to give convicted murderers access to the most vulnerable children in our schools. Something that Scalise still doesn’t seem to get.

In August 1994 Daniel Alcazar, then 16, shot and killed Joan Ann Borisch, 42, an oncology nurse at Providence Hospital, while burglarizing her home in southeast Portland. Borisch’s body was discovered by her 18 year old son. She also left behind a 16 year old daughter.

Daniel Alcazar now faces up to ten years in jail for his latest crime, as well as the revocation of his parole. The Academy of Alternatives no longer has a license and will not be allowed to conduct classes until they perform required background checks on all current employees. Jay Scalise, I’m sure, is very sorry.