Sheriff Double Bunking Approved

In the fall of 1997, Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle began work to double the number of beds in Portland's jail cells before such an expansion was authorized by the courts. In October, a suspect died while in the custody of sheriff's deputies. The man, Reginald Gafford, had been tied to a backboard and injected with a sedative just before he died. In February, suspected marijuana grower Steven Dons was found strangled in his hospital bed while under the surveillance of Noelle's officers. About one month later, yet another suspect died in Noelle's jail. The man allegedly hanged himself with his shoelace, which had been given to him in explicit violation of jail policy.

Perhaps in a just society, such a public official would be facing intense public scrutiny, that is if he were even allowed to remain in office. Instead, Noelle is being rewarded with a budget increase of $766,000 by County Commission Chair Bev Stein. Unsatisfied, Noelle lobbied hard to get a proposal on the ballot that could fundamentally expand his power if passed. The legislation would increase the Sheriff's budget to $154 million (almost 20% of the entire county budget), as well as put the entire probation and parole system under his authority. Such a transition would make Noelle the boss of almost 1/3 of the county's 4500 employees (Willamette Week, 7/1/98).

Citizens of Multnomah County should be concerned that a single elected official whose background is "paramilitary" (as pointed out in the Willamette Week article) is working so hard to consolidate power.


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