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Eugene Weekly : News : 1.29.09





News Briefs: Peacehealth Lawsuit | An Auditor for County Cops, Too? | Taser Case Controversy Continues | 4J Seeks Input on Budget | Field Burning Bill Coming | Activist Alert | War Dead |

Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes


PEACEHEALTH LAWSUIT

Dea Isis Ferguson is a little girl. She’s a very little girl; at 7, she is smaller than most 5-year-olds. Her parents say she is in the third percentile for her height in her age group. They recently lost a court case against PeaceHealth medical system, which they allege was negligent in Dea’s care. Her attorney says the jury did not get the proper instructions.

Dea (right) and a friend. The girls are the same age.

For the first 16 months of her life, Dea suffered from a diaper rash so severe that it sometimes bled and her diapers stuck to her skin, says her attorney, Marianne Dugan. Her doctor prescribed a steroid cream — Lotrisone — for the rash. Dugan says the cream gave the appearance of helping the rash, but masked the underlying problem, a zinc deficiency. 

Lotrisone, according to a doctor who testified at the trial, is 30,000 times stronger when used under a diaper than its over-the-counter steroid counterparts. Dugan says the package insert — which Dea’s parents, Shaun and Teri Ferguson, were never given with the cream — instructs that the cream should not be used on children under 17, used for diaper rash or used on the groin for more than two weeks.

Dugan says the use of cream and lack of treatment for Dea’s actual condition for the first two years of her life caused her to suffer from a variety of illnesses, from nutritional deficiencies to infections, and finally caused her to abruptly stop growing. When Dea was taken to a new doctor, who diagnosed the zinc deficiency, her symptoms improved. Though she is still small for her age, Dugan says Dea’s doctors say she could attain normal growth.

In the lawsuit, the Fergusons asked for 1.1 million dollars to pay for economic damages to them, that is to pay medical bills and other expenses, and to pay noneconomic damages to Dea herself.

Dugan says that during the trial PeaceHealth alleged that Dea’s grandmother Cathy Griffin, who worked in the Florence office, used another employee’s password to improperly authorize a four-tube refill of the steroid cream prescription. Dugan says PeaceHealth used Griffin as a “big red herring.”

“It doesn’t really matter who at PeaceHealth did this,” says Dugan, “because if an employee broke the rules, the employer is liable.”

She says the jury, which she says ruled 9-3 against Dea after five hours of deliberation, “was not given the full instruction on the law in Oregon regarding employer liability,” and the Fergusons would like to appeal if their finances allow it. Part the the appeal would center on spoliation of evidence says Dugan. Spoliation refers to when evidence is destroyed, lost or tampered with. She says that information that should have been in the computer logs about the prescription is missing.

PeaceHealth gave a statement in regard to the case: “PeaceHealth appreciates the jury’s hard work in concluding this case, and we believe the court correctly instructed the jury on all points of law. Because this case has been concluded, PeaceHealth will not be commenting further.”

Teri Ferguson says that what troubles her is PeaceHealth’s “insensitivity to the harm that was done to Dea. They went so far as to even blame her grandmother. Shame on them.” — Camilla Mortensen

 

AN AUDITOR FOR COUNTY COPS, TOO?

An ad-hoc committee is busy debating rules for the city of Eugene’s police auditor, and former Councilor Bonny Bettman says the process shouldn’t stop there. “I’d like to see oversight for the Sheriff’s Office and district attorney, too,” she said at the annual meeting of Citizens for Public Accountability (CPA) Jan. 21. 

“As you’ve seen with the Taser incident, protesters filed a complaint with the Eugene police auditor and were prosecuted by the district attorney,” she said. The action by the DA was an “intentional effort to interfere and to protect police officers,” she said. Bettman added that the election of Rob Handy to the County Commission provides four years to work on improving accountability and oversight at the county level so that the “ability to monitor police in the city is not overruled by the county.”

Bettman was joined on the panel by Interim Police Auditor Dawn Reynolds, activists Tim Lewis and Carol Berg-Caldwell, Civilian Review Board member Rick Brissenden and Police Commissioner Juan Carlos Valle. 

“Oversight is the new game,” said Reynolds, and it’s needed at the local level. She said it was statistically “impossible” that every allegation of EPD excessive force last year, each determined by EPD to be unfounded, would actually be unfounded. After the meeting, Reynolds elaborated, saying her office documented “47 allegations of excessive use of force, including improper use of pepper spray and Tasers. Within the cases that have been adjudicated, the auditor recommended sustaining the allegation in seven instances. Thus far none have been sustained, and there are several 2008 cases which have still not been adjudicated.”

Reynolds also said in the meeting that effective oversight should be a “relief for good officers, the ones who are doing their jobs and doing them well.

Valle talked about the problems he faced with police after arriving in Eugene as a migrant worker, not knowing the language or his rights. Lewis talked about how residents with camcorders can help document police actions. “On the streets is where the shit’s going on,” Lewis said.

Other topics raised in the panel discussion included increased responsibilities for the auditor, such as subpoena power, getting involved in the police hiring process and establishing an appeals process. Also discussed was the importance of attending and testifying at meetings and the prominent role of police unions nationwide in resisting independent oversight. — Ted Taylor

 

TASER CASE CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

At a pre-trial hearing in the Ian Van Ornum Tasering case on Tuesday, defense attorney Laura Fine requested access to more information that could help the defense. The presiding judge granted three of her seven requests, but not one that sought to discover if one of the officers involved had served as a private police officer in Iraq prior to the May 30 Tasering incident.

Van Ornum was Tasered by a Eugene police officer during an anti-pesticide rally on May 30 of last year, and witnesses say that another officer dragged him by the hair and slammed his head against the ground. He has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of obstructing traffic and resisting arrest. 

Recently more controversy has arisen in the case, with the Eugene Police Department suspending its investigation of officers’ actions until after legal proceedings are finished. 

At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Jack Billings allowed the defense access to the Taser records of all officers at the scene. Fine said that hard drives within the weapons record when they are fired and should clear up confusion about when Van Ornum was first Tasered. The DA said only one Taser was deployed, but Fine requested records of all Tasers carried by officers at the rally. Fine said Van Ornum was shot twice while he was prone. Some witnesses report seeing him Tasered once while he was standing, in order to “get him down,” Fine said. 

Billings also granted the defense access to some EPD disciplinary records, if they exist, of any prior unlawful and excessive use of force by the two officers involved in the case. Fine argued for access to all complaints of unlawful or excessive force by the involved officers, but the judge said that he would allow access only to complaints against the officers that had been “affirmed and sustained” by an internal review.

The defense will also be able to use interviews conducted by agents of the state or the city of Eugene, said Billings. That means the defense will be able to use any reports given to the police auditor by witnesses sympathetic to its case. 

The judge granted access to officer Bill Solesbee’s department cell phone records, if available, after Fine requested a recording of Homeland Security’s two calls alerting the officer to the rally. Because the calls went to a cell phone, the DA said they were not recorded. The times of the calls would show up on the cell phone records.

Among the requests Billings denied was one in regard to an officer who came forward 11 days after the incident saying she had witnessed Van Ornum during the setup of the rally. Fine said coming forward 11 days after in incident was unusual and wanted to see if it was in response to an internal memo or email. The judge ruled that request irrelevant after the DA said it would require searching through hundreds of documents. He also denied a request for a time record to see if the officer was at the rally when she said she was.

Judge Billings also said the question of whether Solesbee’s possible service as a police officer for a contractor in Iraq prior to Tasering Van Ornum was not relevant. According to a 2007 story in the  New York Times, many contractors are coming back from Iraq with the same kinds of combat-related mental health problems that afflict United States military personnel.

A trial date for Van Ornum is currently set for Feb. 10.  — Jessica Hirst and Camilla Mortensen

 

4J SEEKS INPUT ON BUDGET 

Eugene School District 4J is preparing for significant budget cuts due to the worsening Oregon economy and declining projections for tax revenues. The district is asking students, parents and community members to weigh in on priorities via an online survey posted on the district’s website: www.4j.lane.edu The survey will be open through Sunday, Feb. 1.

The district is expecting a budget shortfall of $14 million to $17 million for next year. That’s about 10 percent of the district’s operating budget, or equivalent to the cost of operating two of the district’s high schools for one year.

 

FIELD BURNING BILL COMING

The Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene has kicked off its 2009 “Campaign to End Field Burning.” In the near future, Rep. Paul Holvey will introduce a new bill banning field burning. Unlike Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s bill, which proposes a phase-out, Holvey’s bill will call for an outright ban. Holvey’s last field burning bill was held up in committee and never voted on by the Legislature.

According to WELC attorney Charlie Tebbutt at the Jan. 16 kickoff at Davis’ Restaurant, the campaign has only raised 22 percent of the funding that he says is really needed to stop the practice.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Reps. Chris Edwards and Nancy Nathanson attended the event, as did Commissioner Rob Handy and City Councilors Andrea Ortiz and Betty Taylor. Holvey briefly discussed his forthcoming bill, which he said will have fewer exemptions than Kulongoski’s bill. Holvey said there may be an exemption in his bill for farmers in the Silverton hills who use field burning for red fescue and bent grass crops as well as an exemption for disease infestations, if burning is the only way to get rid of the disease and if the farmer can prove public health will not be affected by the burn.

Speakers also included Eugene pulmonologist Bob Carolan, who said of field burning smoke, “This is going to shock you — smoke in the air is bad for your health.” Rural resident Holly Higgins spoke of the 50,000 Oregonians living in “sacrifice zones” that are affected by the smoke that is directed away from urban areas to their homes and farms. The affect field burning smoke has on rural Oregonians is one of the focuses of the anti-field burning campaign.

Steve Rodewall, the brother of a victim the 1988 23-car wreck on I-5 caused by field burning that killed seven people, including two small children who burned to death, also spoke at the gathering. He said that during a drive home from his son’s soccer game, he saw a field in flames. “It sort of brought me back to what my brother must have seen,” he said. “I don’t want history to repeat itself.”  — Camilla Mortensen

 

ACTIVIST ALERT

 • Eugene’s Police Auditor Ordinance Review Committee meets at 5 pm Thursday, Jan. 29 in the McNutt Room at City Hall.  The city attorney’s recommendations and a finalized schedule, including public hearings, are on the agenda. Public testimony time is at the beginning and at the end.

• The 2009 Bike/Pedestrian Summit will take place all day Saturday, Jan. 31, starting at 9 am at South Eugene High School on 19th Avenue. For more information on the summit and supporting active transportation go to www.eugenegears.org/news

• As part of CALC’s People’s Agenda for a New America series, 150 people turned out at the UO Law School last week to hear author David Bacon speak about how globalization creates migration and criminalizes immigrants. Bacon is still in Oregon and will speak at 1 pm Sunday, Feb. 1, at Western Oregon University, room 211 in the Instructional Technology Center. The next forum in the Eugene series is 7 pm Feb. 4,  Harris Hall, 8th and Oak, featuring Susan Cundiff of WAND speaking about “Removing the Nuclear Option.”

• Peace groups in Oregon have kicked off the “Campaign to Keep Oregon’s Guard in Oregon.” Peace and Justice Works in Portland, and Veterans for Peace in Corvallis delivered more than 7,000 signatures to Salem lawmakers last week, demanding our state militia not be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. The Oregon campaign is part of a concurrent national “Bring the Guard Home! It’s the Law” movement. For more information, call (503) 236-3065.

 

WAR DEAD

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):

• 4,236 U.S. troops killed* (4,228)

• 30,984 U.S. troops injured* (30,960) 

• 167 U.S. military suicides* (167)

• 317 coalition troops killed** (317)

• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)

• 98,731 to 1.1 million civilians killed*** (98,731)

• $591.6 billion cost of war ($589.6 billion) 

• $168.2 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($167.7 million)

* through Jan. 26, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly

** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil

*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.1 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)



 

 

SLANT

How is RiverBend doing in this economic crisis? Hospital bed census is running at a respectable 80 percent, but we hear rumors that the facility is losing money and is planning layoffs of 10 percent of its management ranks. That’s an exaggeration, says PeaceHealth’s PR person Jenny Ulum, but she does say some 13 people in administration are losing their jobs, and some other unfilled positions are now on hold. Managers are also taking a 4.5 percent pay cut between now and June. What’s going on? Ulum says more patients are showing up without insurance, and people are delaying medical procedures because of the economy. It all has an impact on PeaceHealth revenues.

Ulum says patient care staff will not be cut at RiverBend, but rumors persist of overworked and overstressed nurses and aides.

• Economic worries could also interfere with PeaceHealth’s plans to relocate its Nurse-Midwifery Birth Center from its current location at 511 E. 12th Ave. to a new facility planned near RiverBend. Advocates for the move are lobbying for the new center at PeaceHealth’s corporate board meeting in Washington state June 30 and have gathered 523 signatures on a petition. Not everyone’s happy with losing the center at its handy 28-year Eugene location, but one source tells us she’s worried PeaceHealth’s board might see the Birth Center as redundant and simply close it and not build the new $417,000 facility on its $600,000 one-acre lot. However, the Birth Center appears to be a priority for the hospital’s foundation. Advocates for the move have a blog at www.lanecofbc.blogspot.com

• How can Eugene’s form of government be improved? Eugene is a city that’s too large for a manager/council model where the council only sets policy and the unelected manager has power over everything else. The issues were outlined at the monthly Brewhaha political gathering Jan. 21 sponsored by The Lane Bus Project and EW. On the panel were Steve Candee, an LCC political science prof; Bonny Bettman and Paul Nicholson, both former councilors; Josh Foster, UO grad student; and Gary Gillespie, union activist.

Several points stand out from the discussion: Meaningful oversight and transparency are more important than our form of government, and our current system has little of either. The trend nationwide is to move away from our current manager/council model, and a growing number of cities are adding independent performance auditors and bringing legal services in-house. We’d have a more balanced and democratic city government if we gave our mayor a vote on everything (instead of being just a tie-breaker), allowed our council to vote on major contracts and the hiring of key department heads, paid our councilors a living wage and provided councilors with staff support.

All these things, and more, can be done by updating our current form of government.  

Springfield’s elected officials are eager to grow the town in land size and population, but do the residents of Springfield understand what it means for them? Developers and speculators will rake in short-term profits, but property owners will pay long-term higher taxes to fund expanded sewers, streets, public safety and schools. And higher property taxes mean higher rents.

One reason cited for expanding Springfield’s urban growth boundary is the need for industrial land, but will recruiting new manufacturing to Springfield help or hurt the city’s economy? Some lessons can be learned from the jobs rollercoaster caused by Hynix, Sony and other large manufacturers who have come and gone. 

Here in Eugene, economic hard times are generating a desperation for jobs, and unscrupulous profiteers and politicians are circling to prey on that desperation. Will a new Lowe’s on the edge of town “create” more jobs? No. There’s only so much stuff local people will buy. Such big chain stores are more likely to take jobs from already existing local businesses. Will tax breaks for a university area housing developer create jobs? No. If there is demand, the housing would have been built anyway. With the economy sick, people should be wary of those who are selling snake oil.

Sam Adams this week decided to not resign as mayor of Portland, and this is good news. Portland has a multitude of challenges that far exceed the significance of hanky-panky that appears to be consensual and otherwise legal. We suspect the hullabaloo is driven by political agendas more than moral outrage. Let’s get past this distraction of pubic business and get on with public business.

• A new blog gives us a peak inside the large brain of UO economics professor and scientist Bill Harbaugh, who’s currently on sabbatical. Harbaugh’s interests are exceptionally broad. He writes about everything from neuroeconomics (what’s that?) to improving access to Oregon public records. You can also find quirky comments from Harbaugh’s students. Check out harbaugh.uoregon.edu 



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