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Eugene Weekly : News : 06.24.04

News Briefs: Alamo Residents Get the Boot | Luers Support Group Objects to Coverage | McGowan Recovering from Assault, Surgery | Hempfest May Need to Find New Location |

Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes.


'Officer Blow Job'

EPD didn't respond to complaints about Magaña.


Hospital vs. Riverfront

Should we pay Triad $25 million to pave over riverfront, or build a park?



Residents at the house known as The Alamo, at 426 E. 12th Ave., have been evicted in what they feel is a move to gentrify their west university neighborhood. The Alamo is one of several rental properties owned by the late Fred Rankin, who died in February. The properties, part of Rankin's estate, are now managed by Sterling Management Group, Inc.

Speidel and his roommates had hoped to sign a lease with Sterling. However, after inspections, Sterling deemed the residence too great a liability and felt the safest move was to vacate the property. Sterling owner Jami Sterling-Counard explains that because of its rundown condition, the residence is difficult to insure and is "just too great a liability … we don't want to see anyone get hurt." (The properties, says Sterling-Counard, were left by Rankin to be sold, with the profits going to charitable trusts.) Alamo residents were given 30 days notice with what Sterling-Counard hoped would be enough time to finish out the school year. Rent was due within those 30 days, and after failing to pay, residents were evicted June 22 with 72 hours notice.

Speidel says that under Rankin, maintenance had definitely been "let go." But, at $750 a month rent, the house, with its central location and space for roommates, was a bargain. "The plumbing is bad," concedes Speidel, noting a drainpipe in the basement that needs regular attention to prevent sewage backup into the house.

The Alamo highlights, once again, Eugene's affordable housing issues. Speidel says, "There are no housing standards in Eugene. Landlords can come in and do what they want to us. Feels like they're really shafting us."

At the urging of Eugene Citizens for Housing Standards, the Eugene City Council is working on an ordinance based on a Corvallis program that works with tenants and landlords to explore all options for complaint resolution before using the court system. Councilor David Kelly says that on May 24, the council voted unanimously to draft the ordinance, which they will review by Aug. 11, and prepare for public hearing in the fall when students — a major part of the 54,000 renters in Eugene — will be back to voice their opinions.

This, however, does little to ease pressing situations for Alamo residents. Neva Gruber, 23, an artist who was hoping to be added to the lease, says, "I'm going to be homeless and living in my van. The plan? Get the tire on my van fixed and maybe go camping or something."

Bobbie Willis




The local prisoner support collective Break The Chains is distributing a letter protesting what the group sees as unfair and biased media coverage of an International Day of Solidarity for prisoner Jeffrey "Free" Luers, who is serving a 23-year sentence for burning three SUVs at a Romania dealership. The month of June marks the fourth year of his imprisonment.

The Day of Solidarity June 12 included a WOW Hall gathering and benefit to support Luers' legal fund. But Break the Chains says local mainstream media didn't question "the FBI's attempts to portray this public event as an 'eco-terrorist' gathering sponsored by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF)."

"In the lead-up to the Day of Solidarity the FBI put out a press release to media outlets, police departments, car dealerships, construction companies, and logging companies saying that they should be on high alert for 'eco-terrorist' groups using the event as a jumping off point. The press release went on to say that Jeff is a 'convicted eco-terrorist and member of the ELF.' This was faithfully reproduced in The Register-Guard and other corporate media outlets."

The statement says "none of the groups connected with the International Day of Solidarity has any connection to the ELF. That is a completely baseless and absurd charge. Break The Chains is a prisoner support collective dedicated to providing help to a class in this society that is often powerless and voiceless: the two million people in American jails and prisons. The FBI attempted to connect Break The Chains to the ELF in order to discredit our collective and limit the effectiveness of the June 12 event. By not engaging in independent corroboration, the R-G collaborated in this attempt." The R-G editorial management did not respond to an EW request for comment by press time.

The group says the purpose of the Day of Solidarity was to "demonstrate our frustration with [Luers'] sentence of 22 years and eight months in prison, when no physical harm was done to anyone." — TJT



Joanie McGowan

Ashland political theater activist Joanie McGowan is back on her feet doing stand-up comedy and her alleged assailant Coleman Nelson has been arraigned on a charge of second-degree assault.

McGowan, a regular on Eugene stages, was attacked by a drunk young man on the streets of Ashland the night of June 2 and sustained a fractured skull, requiring reconstructive surgery (see Slant 6/10). Ironically, her alleged attacker graduated last week from SOU with a degree in criminal justice. McGowan says Nelson has "no memory" of the incident.

Friends and supporters have raised more than $6,000 to help McGowan with her out-of-pocket medical expenses. Any leftover funds will go toward establishing a hotline for attack victims in Ashland. McGowan is also reaching out to other women in the area who have been assaulted and have been afraid to report it.




Leave it to hemp to generate controversy.

The second annual Emerald Empire Hempfest was meant to be a gathering to raise awareness about the positive — and legal — uses of hemp at the Washington-Jefferson Street Park July 17-18. Instead, after Eugene officials denied the Hempfest's organizers a permit, saying drug use and dealing at last year's festival posed an "unreasonable danger" to the community, the celebration may turn into a legal battle involving the ACLU and the city.

Hempfest Executive Director Dan Koozer called the threat the celebration poses "preposterous" and said that he met with ACLU lawyers on June 21 and that he plans to appeal the city's decision. "Our argument is: How many other public events generate the same kind of activity?" Koozer said.."It shows how ridiculous things are; all of these problems over the use of a plant."

Organizers have 15 days from June 16 to announce their intention to appeal, said Johnny Medlin, director of parks and open spaces in Eugene. Then, the Hempfest case would be argued before a hearings official within 30 days. But with less than a month to go before the Hempfest, Medlin said the process would be dealt with as quickly as possible.    

Medlin said the parks division's decision to deny the permit came from a "judgment call" by the Eugene police that the festival was a danger to the community. While there were no arrests, plain-clothes police officers did document at least two cases of drug dealing, said police spokeswoman Pam Olshanski.

Koozer said the Hempfest may be relocated to private property, but "changing the venue at this late date isn't ideal." — Andrea Damewood





For years we've been drumming out the tedious message that PeaceHealth's hospital development plans were ill-conceived, overly ambitious and legally flawed. Meanwhile, those plans had to be taken seriously since they were backed with many millions of dollars, eager Springfield city officials and a team of hot-shot lawyers. Rival McKenzie-Willamette/Triad had little choice but to react to the threat of a mega-hospital next door and advance a plan to move its hospital to Eugene. Now that the Oregon Court of Appeals has set back indefinitely PeaceHealth's plans, we're stuck with the absurd prospect of Eugene having two major hospitals, and Springfield none. Call us dreamers, but this would be an excellent time for the executive committees of the two hospital boards to sit down together, set aside all their pretty drawings, re-read their mission statements and ask some basic questions: What can we do together to best meet the short-term and long-term medical needs of our metropolitan area? How can we work together to make sure both cities have excellent facilities strategically located to serve their respective populations? At last resort, the two CEOs can flip a coin. The winner gets to build a big regional medical center in Glenwood, and each hospital maintains ER and basic care facilities in the two city centers. If PeaceHealth wins the toss, it can partner up with UO and OHSU to dedicate part of its Hilyard campus to medical training programs.

Starting in EW this week is a new occasional columnist, Scott Thiemann, who writes about his experiences as a man who happens to be gay in rural western Oregon. Thiemann's "Out in the Country" column has run in several small papers, most recently the Port Orford News. But Port Orford Editor Matt Hall tells us he was forced to drop Thiemann's column due to advertising pressure. Ad revenues are down and he "can't say exactly how much was the result of Scott's column," but he kept getting "friendly words of advice" and "concerned queries" from readers. "Our margin isn't strong enough that I can sink the ship over principal," he says. "If nothing else, we broke the ice. Small town, some folks just weren't ready for it."

So Dr. John Kitzhaber has come out of political hibernation with a science-based plan to protect watersheds and perhaps end the Northwest's logging gridlock. Does that mean our popular former governor is back to fight for the environment, the Oregon Health Plan, and other causes close to his heart? Next question: If Gov. Ted decides this job is no fun and he doesn't want to run again, could Dr. John go for the governorship again? The secretary of state's office says he could.

Our local District Attorney Doug Harcleroad has a tough job, but if he can't handle stings he should abandon bee-keeping. Harcleroad has shown some serious lapses in judgement over the years regarding selective prosecution and now he's "burned out" and wants six months off before he starts his next four-year term. Let's find somebody more worthy of the public trust.

SLANT includes short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, editor@eugeneweekly.com

'Officer Blow Job'

EPD didn't respond to complaints about Magaña.


Roger Magaña, accused of raping or sexually abusing a dozen women while a Eugene Police Department officer, was known on the street as "Officer Blow Job," a woman victim alleged last week in court. Other victims claim EPD did not respond to their complaints about Magaña's behavior.

Roger Magaña

One alleged victim, a 39-year-old recovered heroin addict and mother, appeared to be the most frequent target of Magaña. She cried as she alleged how Magaña molested her and forced her to give oral sex numerous times by threatening to arrest her, kill her or have her child taken away.

At one point, the woman pleaded with Magaña to stop forcing sex from her after he had touched her breasts and put his finger in her vagina, she alleged. Magaña had taken her in his patrol car to an area near Chambers Street where school buses are parked.

"I was upset," she said. "I just said I couldn't take it anymore." Magaña responded angrily, she said, "he acted like he was just doing me favors or something."

The woman alleged Magaña put his police gun against her chest and told her, "If you ever tell anyone, I'm going to fucking kill you."

Later, Magaña threatened to tell drug dealers she was ratting on them to police, the woman alleged. On the street such an action "can be life threatening," she said.

The first time Magaña picked her up off the street in his patrol car, he drove her to a remote area of the Eugene Airport and threatened to jail her for possession unless she gave him oral sex, she alleged. "I was crying and panicked and shocked."

The next time he picked her up, Magaña repeated the threat and drove to a remote area near the Whiteaker railroad tracks. She says she feared the "absolutely horrendous and physically painful" drug withdrawal she would have in jail and felt she had no choice but to perform oral sex.

Another time Magaña threatened arrest again and took the woman to a "disgusting" restroom in Monroe Park where junkies shot up and forced her to get on her knees and again perform oral sex, she alleged. Afterwards, "he walked out of the bathroom and I vomited."

The demands for oral sex on threat of arrest happened over and over again, the woman alleged. "Every time it got worse and worse. There was more aggression and more threats," she said. After she was excused for the day, the woman left the courtroom and sobbed in the hallway.

On cross examination the next day, defense attorney Russell Barnett asked if she was motivated by her civil lawsuit against the city.

"I don't think there's any amount of money that could ever make it up," she said of what happened to her.

Another woman, a 28-year-old former heroin user and prostitute, alleged Magaña directed his trainee officer Juan Lara to drug search her "in a very demeaning way."

At Magaña's direction Lara touched her vaginal area and breasts and pulled her pants down on a busy street corner at rush hour, the woman alleged. The woman said she asked for a female officer to conduct the search, but Magaña threatened to jail her. The officers found no drugs and let her go, she said. Officer Lara was convicted earlier this year of sex abuse and sentenced to five years in prison.

Later, the same woman alleged Magaña picked her up in his patrol car in the Whiteaker neighborhood and said he would arrest her unless she performed oral sex. Magaña told her that no one would believe her if she complained, saying, "you're a prostitute and a heroin addict and I'm a police officer," the woman alleged.

Magaña pulled over near a vacant lot and "took a handful of my hair and forced my head into his lap," the woman alleged. She said, crying, that she fought back yelling, pleading and elbowing and finally struggled free and out the car door.

Magaña hopped the curb in his patrol car after her and nearly hit her, the woman alleged. She said she managed to escape into the night. "I was running for my life. I was scratched up and bleeding from blackberry bushes, nails from fences."

When Magaña later saw her on the street, the woman alleges he threatened, "if you tell anyone what happened, I will make your life a living hell," she said. "I was scared for my life, so I moved to Springfield."

On cross examination the woman denied she was motivated by a $2.25 million lawsuit she has filed against the city. But she said, "I think Magaña needs to pay for what he did to me and others."

Another alleged victim, a 43-year-old woman, said Magaña responded to a domestic dispute at her house four years ago. The woman alleged Magaña threatened her with arrest and made her perform oral sex on her knees in the hallway. "I was very intimidated," she said. "I felt like I had no choice."

Another woman, 26, alleged Magaña followed her home and tried to hit on her. She said Magaña held her hand tight and asked for a kiss on the cheek outside her home. Feeling like she had to kiss him, the woman said she tried to kiss his cheek, but "he turned his face and slopped his mouth on mine," she alleged. She said Magaña left after she told him her uncle worked for the county Sheriff's Department.

A 31-year-old woman alleged Magaña also forced oral sex from her numerous times by threatening to send her to jail or take her daughter away. She said she grew fearful that the officer would kill her and at one point she spat his semen out on a pair of sweatpants to keep as evidence. Prosecutor Bob Lane alleged the semen DNA matches


The woman's 10-year-old daughter testified that she saw "officer Roger" French kissing her mother while Magaña was in "his officer suit."



The trial, expected to last until mid July, continues to raise questions about how Magaña was allegedly able to sexually abuse and rape so many women without the EPD stopping him.

The 39-year-old woman testified that she told Eugene Police Officer Jerry Webber what Magaña was doing, but the department did nothing. "I hollered for help to the police department and he didn't do a damn thing for me," the woman alleged angrily.

The lack of action by the EPD left her feeling "hopeless and helpless," the woman said. "I didn't understand how he [Magaña] could do this and not get caught when he's supposed to be someone you could trust."

The only apparent result of her complaint was more abuse from Magaña, the woman alleged. Magaña came to her "infuriated" that she had complained, demanded more oral sex, ripped off her pants, "touched my genitals with his gun," and said, "If you tell anyone anything about me, I'll blow you up from the inside out," she alleged.

Magaña later threatened her until she would restore his reputation by writing a glowing commendation letter, she alleged. "He was going to hurt me, kill me, hurt my daughter, take my daughter away."

Officer Webber testified that he asked Officer Magaña about the woman's allegations, but Magaña denied it. Webber said Magaña told him the woman had made the same allegations about him.

Webber said he asked the woman if she had accused him of abuse while the officer drove her to jail. Webber said the woman denied she had and also recanted her allegations against Magaña.

Another woman screamed out to municipal court Judge Wayne Allen that Magaña had made her perform oral sex, Allen testified. But Allen and his clerk did not report or pursue the incident.

A female police officer, Dallas Hall, testified that Magaña once called on her to arrest a naked "bitch" in a bathtub at a hotel. She thought the incident "very strange" and "unprofessional" but she did not report Magaña to her superiors. The woman in the bathtub was one of Magaña's most frequent alleged victims.

The EPD might have saved a dozen women from sex abuse had it acted on a sexual harassment complaint against Magaña almost a decade ago. An Hispanic woman testified that when she was 17 and a police cadet, Magaña hit on her and pressed his chest against her breasts and pushed his crotch against her against her will. The woman said she complained about Magaña to Officer Jennifer Bills.

Officer Bills testified that she told Magaña that his sexual advances on to the woman were inappropriate because she was a minor and he was married. Bills said Magaña continued to flirt with the cadet, but she said she did not file a written report on the problem nor did she tell superiors. Bills is now in charge of investigating officer misconduct for the EPD.

The cadet alleged Magaña retaliated after her complaint by having another cadet spray foam on her. She said she dropped out of the cadet program and gave up her dream of becoming a police officer. "To become a police officer it seemed like I had to deal with a lot, like officers like Roger Magaña."

The 28-year-old victim who struggled away rather than give Magaña oral sex said she asked the officer how a cop could expect to get away with forcing sex. She said Magaña replied, "Oh, you would be amazed at what I can do, and I can get away with."



Hospital vs. Riverfront

Should we pay Triad $25 million to pave over riverfront, or build a park?


McKenzie-Willamette/Triad hospital's proposed relocation to the riverfront EWEB property appears headed for stiff opposition as the relocation has linked itself to one of the most controversial development plans in the city's history.

Triad's hospital plan

Plans for the new hospital include a new highway along the riverfront through the UO's controversial Riverfront Research Park. The UO's and city's plans to develop the riverfront natural area have been stymied for decades by strong community opposition. In 1998 about 650 members of the university community signed a petition opposing the riverside development and 250 students and community members marched to the river to protest the project.

"I think it's a terrible idea," says Friends of Eugene President Kevin Matthews of the hospital road proposal. Matthews says the new road along with the railroad tracks and an already planned new highway along the south side of the tracks will create a 200-ft.-wide barrier to accessing the river. Long stretches of the roadways, he notes, will be in deep trenches to descend down to underpasses under the tracks. The road plans are "completely contrary" to the city's adopted plans to reconnect downtown to the river, Matthews says.

At a City Council meeting last week, Councilor Bonny Bettman warned that the hospital was "guaranteeing delay" by tying itself to the controversial Riverfront Research Park road.

Councilor Betty Taylor said she "would never vote for" degrading the riverfront by extending the Research Park road to the hospital. She said it appeared the city was using the hospital as "a back door" excuse to develop the research park area.

The council approved a motion for staff to study other options for accessing the site, but a strong majority of councilors appeared to back the riverfront road.

Councilor David Kelly, a possible swing vote should the issue reach the newly elected council in January, said he was willing to sacrifice the riverfront for the hospital. "I recognize that is something that may have to give," he said of protecting the riverfront from the new road.

But even if the city does find an alternative to the riverfront road, building such a massive hospital along the river is a bad idea, Matthews says. The hospital will be like "a large tall wall of commercial development between downtown and the river," Matthews says. "The hospital is way too much intensive commercial development for that site where it should be Eugene's downtown riverfront."

A better option for the EWEB site would be to create a riverfront park with pedestrian walkways and perhaps small restaurants and a city natural history and local history museum in a renovated EWEB steam plant, according to Matthews.

Other cities, such as Portland and San Francisco, have gone to great time and expense to remove riverfront highways and create parks to reconnect their cities to the river, Matthews points out. "It makes me shake my head," he says.

Jan Spencer of Citizens for Public Accountability agrees that the area should be a park. "There are cities all over the country that would love to have a riverfront like that," he says. "It just doesn't make any sense."

The cost of the hospital will be more than a lost riverfront park. The city also plans to give Triad up to $25 million for the project. Most of the money will come from using a controversial urban renewal district to divert property tax revenues from city and county services and schools to instead fund new roads to serve the hospital.

"It seems like a big waste of money," Taylor said.

The taxpayer subsidy will support higher profits for Triad, a for-profit Texas corporation that owns 53 hospitals across the nation. Triad paid its CEO James Shelton $1 million in salary, plus a $1.1 million bonus, plus $5 million to $13 million in stock options last year, according to a 2003 annual report.

It's unclear exactly what the city will gain from the huge expense in riverfront land and tax subsidies. The city will meet its goal of locating a hospital near downtown. But Triad's design features acres of surface parking lots paving over the entire site almost to the river and appears to do little to encourage the use of alternative transportation and won't create an attractive, walkable urban area.

The city will gain new hospital workers near downtown, but it will also lose 460 EWEB employees when the utility likely relocates to the edge of the city. It's also unclear how the site is better than other central locations for the new hospital, such as in Glenwood.

But despite lingering questions, the city appears to be rushing forward with the massive project. The council meeting on the momentous decision lasted only 30 minutes and the plans never went to the city Planning Commission nor to a public hearing.

Taylor said the city has been too secretive about the plans and should leave the decision to the next mayor and council. The recent election "showed pretty clearly that people were unhappy with the policies of the current council."

"For this to be going forward willy-nilly with zero public process is just really shocking and horrible," Matthews said.