Police chief issues video message linking officer injuries to settlement concerns

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Nov. 8, 2012

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese sent a video message to his police bureau officers about an unusual spate of officer injuries in the last week.

He said he recognizes his officers are concerned about the pending negotiated settlement between the city and federal justice officials, which includes changes to the bureau’s use of force and Taser policies.

“Your safety is a top priority for me personally,” Reese told his force. “And it’s been hard on all of us this past week to see and hear about officers injured while doing their best to resolve these incidents.”

Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner said officers are very concerned about being “second guessed” regarding their use of force. Turner said he believes the increase in police injuries since the Justice Department’s settlement was announced last month “is not coincidental.”

In the chief’s video, Reese provides a summary of each incident, starting with the Oct. 30 confrontation downtown in which a man pulled a dagger and shoved officers who he said were investigating a possible drug offense or car prowl. Officer John Billard suffered significant injuries, the chief said, and is now recovering at home.

On Nov. 2, Officers Tequila Thurman and Chad Phifer narrowly escaped injury when they made contact with two men in a vehicle in the downtown Safeway’s basement parking garage. According to Reese, one of the officers noticed narcotics in the vehicle and started to talk to the driver. The driver grabbed onto one officer as he started the vehicle. The officer was able to get out of his grasp as the driver put the vehicle in gear. The vehicle struck other cars and poles in the basement garage and the side of a police car.

On Nov. 3, North Precinct officers Justin Clary and Mark McGlaughlin responded to an assault at a gas station, and ended up in a violent struggle with the suspect. Their use of the pepper spray, batons and Taser stun gun were ineffective, the chief said. Once cover officers arrived, the suspect was Tased again and surrendered.

Later that day, the chief spoke of the protest near Holladay Park and the Lloyd Center that resulted in the controversial police pepper spraying of marchers.

Reese said it turned violent “when marchers turned in coordinated movement to directly confront” a line of police officers. The chief said multiple bicycle officers were knocked off their bicycles when “multiple rows of people used wooden barriers to ram at” a line of bicycle officers.

Police used pepper spray against the marchers.

On Wednesday, about 20 high school and community college students gathered outside Portland City Hall to protest the officers’ use of the chemical during Saturday’s march.The teens said they were marching alongside several hundred demonstrators when at least 10 teens were hit with pepper spray while attempting to turn onto Northeast 14th Avenue from Halsey Street.

Police said the crowd did not have a permit to enter the roadway. Officers deployed the spray after demonstrators used wooden shields to confront them, police said.

“I’m relieved all the officers involved in these incidents are going to be okay,” Reese said in the video. “It is a reminder that though we have a relatively peaceful city, there are times violence can occur.”

The chief also spoke of the Molotov cocktail that was hurled at a North Precinct patrol car in the precinct’s parking lot earlier this week. There were damage to the car, but no officers were injured.

“I know you are keenly aware of the Department of Justice settlement discussions, and have concerns about what that means to our policies, training and practices surrounding use of force,” Reese said.

The chief continued, “I want you to know that I support your daily work in the tough situations that officers respond to and the need to use reasonable force to take people into custody or to keep our community safety.”

He added, “Your safety is a top priority for me personally,” and urged officers to stay safe and cover each other on their emergency calls.

Turner, who leads the Portland police union, said he was dismayed that no street officers were involved in helping the bureau provide input to proposed revisions to the bureau’s use of force policies.

“We have a rash of injuries to officers in incidents that probably could have been resolved more efficiently if officers weren’t so concerned about being Monday morning quarterbacked,” Turner said. “We believe the proposed use of force policy will hinder officers from using tools that are available to them.”

Getting to know Tequila Thurman

Doorstepped: Defendant Allegedly Tasered Three Times, Beaten By Cops, Trying To Open Her Own Front Door, Portland Mercury, February 2, 2009.

Vancouver man sues City of Portland after police arrest him — he claims, for failing to consent to a search, Oregonian, November 7, 2011

Vancouver man wins $11,250 after illegal search by Portland police officer, Oregonian, November 7, 2012

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Community input prompts changes to settlement agreement

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Nov. 8, 2012

Attorneys, community activists and mental health providers filled Portland City Council chambers Thursday to voice concerns about the city’s pending agreement with federal justice officials on police reforms.

Many argued that until an independent civilian panel with subpoena powers is created with the authority to investigate alleged police misconduct, abuses will continue within the Portland Police Bureau.

Speakers played videos of recent police confrontations with community activists and relayed stories of their own negative experiences with officers.

“As long as we have a system where police are investigating the police, we’re never going to get the police department we want,” said attorney Greg Kafoury, who represents people who sue the police.

His son, attorney Jason Kafoury who works with his dad, said 98 percent of the calls they receive regard citizen complaints against Portland police, not against Beaverton, Gresham or other police agencies.

“There is a cultural problem here that has to be addressed,” Jason Kafoury said. He drew applause from the crowd, dismaying the mayor who cautioned that people  applauding during the hearing could be asked to leave.

Greg Kafoury called the proposed changes to the current police oversight system in the federal Department of Justice settlement an “astonishing waste.”

“It’s the establishment of new levels of bureaucracy in a system already described as Byzantine,” Kafoury said. “All we are doing is spinning our wheels.”

The earliest the council may vote on the negotiated settlement is next week, Mayor Sam Adams said. But it’s clear there’s no support, at this point, from city or federal officials for an independent civilian oversight panel to investigate Portland police.

“That’s not in this agreement,” Adams said after the hearing. “But I hope the public would recognize the federal justice department will be overseeing this agreement for five years.”

The agreement follows the federal findings announced in September that Portland police engage in excessive force against people with mental illness. Thursday, the mayor presented a revised agreement that included some changes in response to complaints raised at a hearing last week.

The amendments keep intact the city’s existing Community Police Relations Committee, which works to improve race relations between police and residents. The initial plan had been to scrap and replace it with a new Community Oversight Advisory Board.

Under the changes, the chairs of the city’s Human Rights Commission and city’s Commission on Disability would appoint members to the new Community Oversight Advisory Board, and each City Council member also would appoint a representative.

Other amendments: Meetings of a new Portland police training advisory council would be public; a new Compliance Officer Community Liaison responsible for monitoring the reforms would report to the City Council; the Citizen Review Committee, which now hears citizen appeals of police findings stemming from their complaints against officers, would be able to request further police investigation that includes multiple inquiries.

Several speakers urged the city to ensure when police officials talk about being “transparent” with the public, they actually carry through.

Jan Friedman, an attorney with Disability Rights Oregon who has been a member of the bureau’s Crisis Intervention Team advisory panel since 1999, said the bureau refused to share training curriculum with her. She said a “new police culture” must exist to ensure the specialized crisis intervention team works closely with mental health providers and consumers.

Others called the agreement’s deadlines for new mental health care centers, or the sped-up 21-day deadline for appeals investigations to be done by the Citizen Review Committee not feasible.

Janet Meyer, interim chief executive of Health Share of Oregon, called the agreement’s plan for the opening of a new crisis drop-off center by mid-2013 “too energetic” a deadline. Derald Walker, of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, urged stronger coordination between the city and county and the local coordinated care organizations.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CCOs address clients’ need for mental health, substance abuse treatment

There’s a very high preponderance of people on the Oregon Health Plan who have a mental health or substance abuse problem, according to Mary Monnat, president and CEO of LifeWorks NW. In the Portland metropolitan area, such problems affect 70 percent of that population.

Now that coordinated care organizations are under way, it’s not only important for people to receive better coverage, but mental health professionals also need to connect their patients with primary care physicians, said Monnat, who serves on the board of Health Share of Oregon (formerly known as the Tri-County Medicaid Collaborative).

“We were very concerned about the people we were seeing,” said Monnat, who initiated a partnership with Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Clinic to provide such services.

Working with that clinic and Providence Health & Services, her agency began analyzing claims data to identify the highest users of emergency services, and help people find a medical home.

Once they realized that people were visiting emergency rooms because they were unable to get time off work during the day, Virginia Garcia extended its clinic hours to accommodate evening visits.

The clinic has also assembled healthcare teams that respond to patients’ needs so that a mental health provider can screen for depression or substance abuse as part of a primary care visit.

“We really need to provide culturally diverse care,” said Monnat, since racial and ethnic minorities tend to be overrepresented in the Oregon Health Plan.

When the coordinated care organizations were formed, “there was a big concern that mental health would be left behind” said Ed Blackburn, executive director of the Central City Concern who’s also on the board of Health Share. “So far I have not found that to be true.”

Blackburn has firsthand experience bridging the gap between mental health and physical health services at Central City Concern, which started out as a substance abuse treatment facility, but gradually expanded into those other areas.

“We find that people with lower level mental health diagnoses, we can treat effectively through integrated primary care,” Blackburn said. “A coordinated care model for people with mental illness that includes primary care and social services intervention helps across diagnoses on the mental health side.”

Monnat is optimistic about how coordinate care organizations can make a difference in peoples’ lives. “If you keep the patient, the consumer, at the center of all this, that’s what grounds me,” she said. “I’m working hard to keep that front and center.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potluck in the Park volunteers serve a warm meal in downtown Portland every Sunday to anyone who needs one

From The Oregonian, November 9, 2012

Denise Williams has been the “Ticket Lady” at Portland’s Potluck in the Park’s free Sunday dinners for 12 years.

At noon, hungry people, many of them homeless, head downtown to O’Bryant Square, where Williams hands them numbered tickets.

“I love doing it,” she says.

Denise Williams, a long-time Potluck in the Park volunteer, crochets scarves, which she gives as Christmas presents to the people who attend her group's free Sunday meals. Williams also crocheted blankets for a raffle during Potluck in the Park's Winter Warm 6 fundraising dinner and concert on Nov. 29.

Denise Williams, a long-time Potluck in the Park volunteer, crochets scarves, which she gives as Christmas presents to the people who attend her group’s free Sunday meals. Williams also crocheted blankets for a raffle during Potluck in the Park’s Winter Warm 6 fundraising dinner and concert on Nov. 29.

Volunteers call out groups by their numbers to claim their meals. Williams joins the diners after she finishes her task.

The 21-year old nonprofit serves whoever wants a warm meal every Sunday, 52 weeks a year, retreating to the parking garage below O’Bryant in inclement weather. The organization engages hundreds of volunteers and will serve 30,000 meals this year to thousands of people. All of the group’s money comes from donations and fund-raisers such as the upcoming Winter Warm 6 Concert.

The Sunday meals draw people who often have fallen through cracks in the mental and physical health care systems, and many of them are the working poor, says Cheri Baber, Potluck’s board chairwoman.

People do not always choose the situation in which they find themselves, Baber says, and Potluck doesn’t ask that they do anything but enjoy a meal, providing people one simple thing to make their lives easier.

“We’re not out here to change the world,” Baber says. “But we can do one thing. And by us doing this one thing here, that leaves others to help (the victims of Superstorm Sandy) back East or people in India or anywhere other people might need help.”

Romance in the park

Williams says Potluck did more than offer her meals; it helped her meet her future husband. She was giving out tickets nine years ago when a homeless man named Julius Brown approached her. Back then, she was homeless, too.

“She wasn’t smiling, and I told her to smile, and we just started talking,” says Brown, 51, who became a Potluck volunteer shortly after meeting Williams.

“It was love at first sight,” says Williams, 55.

Julius Brown, a long-time Potluck in the Park volunteer, passes out meal tickets for the group's meals last Sunday.

Julius Brown, a long-time Potluck in the Park volunteer, passes out meal tickets for the group’s meals last Sunday.

Williams now is on Social Security Disability Insurance and Brown, who suffered a back injury, hopes to get aid soon. When they were living under the Ross Island Bridge eight years ago, members of JOIN, a nonprofit that helps homeless people find places to live, extended its service to Williams and Brown. The two found housing and will wed in about two months.

Gov. John Kitzhaber will honor them and other long-time Potluck in the Park volunteers at the 2012 Oregon Governor’s Volunteer Awards ceremony today in Salem.

Changing the rules on home-prepared food

Eight years ago, Potluck in the Park learned it was violating Oregon food sanitation rules that prohibit an establishment from serving people home-prepared food.

Groups such as Christ Church Episcopal Parish in Lake Oswego, which has a licensed kitchen, stepped up to keep Potluck running, and most of the food is still prepared in licensed kitchens, says David Utzinger, a Potluck volunteer for 21 years.

Utzinger says Potluck and its supporters changed the food sanitation rules in 2008 to allow benevolent organizations to serve food to the needy that volunteers prepare in an unlicensed kitchen. Cooks must meet conditions, including obtaining a food handler certificate.

“This was the first such statewide rule in the nation and may still be,” he says.

Potluck in the Park, a nonprofit, engages a staff of 250-to-300 volunteers each month, whether they cook, clean, schlep boxes of food or help plan events.

Donations are crucial for most nonprofits, but they comprise Potluck’s entire budget, about $150,000 cash and at least $200,000 in products and services each year. Organizers expect Potluck’s Nov. 29 fundraiser, the Winter Warm 6 Concert, to bring in $30,000, about what it usually garners, says Baber. At least 300 tickets will be sold, she says.

The fundraiser moved this year from the Acadian Ballroom to the Tiffany Center, which will provide Winter Warm with its first dance floor. Oregon Culinary Institute is donating the event’s dinner, which will include seafood, meat and vegetarian soups.

Denise Williams greets each guest with a warm smile as she hands him or her a ticket for a meal at Potluck in the Park. Gov. John Kitzhaber will honor Williams and other Potluck volunteers at the 2012 Oregon Governor's Volunteer Awards ceremony today in Salem.

Denise Williams greets each guest with a warm smile as she hands him or her a ticket for a meal at Potluck in the Park. Gov. John Kitzhaber will honor Williams and other Potluck volunteers at the 2012 Oregon Governor’s Volunteer Awards ceremony today in Salem.

Winter Warm will offer a raffle of donated prizes, including one of Williams’ crocheted blankets, dining gift cards, household items, a charcoal grill and wine. There will be a paddle raise, during which guests raise a paddle when an announcer names a sum they wish to donate. There also will be a wine wall where people buy wrapped bottles without knowing what fermented grape drink awaits them.

Musicians help

Jazz pianist Tom Grant launched Winter Warm five years ago after he performed with jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore at Potluck’s free Christmas dinner. He spotted fellow musicians partaking of the meal.

“I thought, ‘Oh God, this could happen to anybody owing to the right kind of circumstances,'” Grant says.

The Tom Grant Band with drummer Jeff Frankel and bassist Dave Captein will play Winter Warm again with an extra pair of hands, drummer Ron Steen.

The band will jam with well-known northwest musicians, who, while not volunteers, will receive “vastly below what they would normally get for such a concert,” Grant says. “I’ve done a lot of work for charitable organizations, but this is one that I’ve really grown to respect and care for a lot.”

Benefit concert for Potluck in the Park
What: Winter Warm 6 Concert
When: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 29
Where: Fourth floor of the Tiffany Center, 1410 S.W. Morrison St.
Cost: $45 per person for general concert admission; $75 per person for light dinner, two drinks and concert.
For more information, visit www.potluckinthepark.org or www.tomgrant.com

The organization began when founder Sharon Darcy — now executive director of nonprofit social service agency Pathfinders of Oregon — and her friends fed a group of homeless men home-cooked meals in the South Park Blocks on a Sunday in August 1991.

Since then, the service has grown, with each meal feeding 400-to-700 people. Attendance rose this year 9 percent from 2011, says Baber, who this month becomes the operations manager, the organization’s first paid position.

The board chairman-elect is Steve DeAngelo, president of DeAngelo’s Catering and Events, which has donated to Potluck for about 20 years. Brown and Williams also serve as board members, and Brown says he loves helping however he can.

“When I was homeless, Potluck in the Park was always there on Sundays to feed me,” he says, “so I just really feel it’s my way to give back and to help other people.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Update on the killers of James Chasse

Former Portland Police Bureau officer Christopher Humphreys has won the position of Sheriff for Wheeler County, Oregon.

A radio journalist who broadcasts in Central Oregon called yesterday to ask, “are persons with mental illness no longer safe in Central Oregon?” No, but they have never been safe in Central Oregon.

If persons who live in Wheeler County have concerns about Humphreys, contact the Jeanne Burch Wheeler County Judge at 541-763-3460 or at jburch@co.wheeler.or.us

READ – Controversial former Portland cop Chris Humphreys elected Wheeler County Sheriff, Oregonian 11/7/2012

Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Kyle Nice is now back on patrol at the East Precinct. Below, in a photo by Ross Hamilton of The Oregonian, he pepper-sprays non-violent ‘anti-austerity’ protestors on 11/3/2012

Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Kyle Nice pepper-sprays nonviolent protestors, 11 3 2012

Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Kyle Nice pepper-sprays nonviolent protestors, 11 3 2012

READ – Sgt. Kyle Nice, subject of two investigations, back on street with Portland police, Oregonian 9/27/2012

Portland Police Bureau officer Brett Burton was recently highlighted on Australian TV in the documentary, Taser Troubles. Burton was a Multnomah County sheriff’s deputy when he used a Taser on James Chasse repeatedly after he had been tackled and beaten by Humphreys and Nice.

Australian TV news aired the 20 minute story on Tasers, highlighting Portland, Oregon as a community where Tasers have been in use. There is interest in Oz to have their cops use Tasers as an alternative to pistols, rifles, shotguns, cudgels, fists and feet.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public testimony about the Portland & DOJ settlement

Public testimony about the City of Portland & Department of Justice settlement from the November 1 2012 session.

READ – Settlement agreement in United States v. City of Portland

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Controversial former Portland cop Chris Humphreys elected Wheeler County Sheriff

From The Oregonian, November 7, 2012

Chris Humphreys, the Portland police officer who faced public scrutiny for two separate on-the-job incidents in 2006 and 2009, and also gained notoriety for his involvement in the city’s most expensive settlement in recent history, was elected Tuesday as the Wheeler County Sheriff.

Chris Humphreys, Sheriff of Wheeler County, Oregon

Chris Humphreys, Sheriff of Wheeler County, Oregon

Wheeler County elections clerk Barbara Sitton said unofficial results show Humphreys garnered 453 of the 824 votes cast. Write-in candidates received 372 votes, with most of them going to chief deputy Mike Garibay. Because he lacked the requisite length of experience in law enforcement to qualify for the ballot, Garibay had to run as a write-in, officials said.

Humphreys replaces Sheriff Bob Hudspeth. The job pays $46,463 a year based on an hourly salary of $22.34, Sitton said. He will be sworn in on January 2.

“It was a long, hard campaign, but I guess nothing comes easy,” Humphreys said. “But I’m very, very happy.”

The sheriff’s office has three full time positions, a sheriff and two deputies. Emergency calls for the rural Northeastern Oregon county are dispatched through Gilliam County. Wheeler County’s population is approximately 1,500, Sitton said. The town of Fossil is the county seat.

Humphreys, 37, worked as a Wheeler County sheriff’s deputy for three years before joining Portland police in February 1999, where he was an officer for 11 years. He was the first to file paperwork on Feb. 10 for the position of Wheeler County sheriff.

On his website, Humphreys said he grew up in Spray, graduating from Spray High School and marrying his high school sweetheart. In 2005, his brother Paul, a deputy sheriff, was killed in a car crash.

He was medically laid off from the Portland Police Bureau Nov. 23, 2010, because of the length of time he was off work collecting disability payments – a move the city is taking more often to ensure officers or firefighters on long-term disability don’t remain on city staffing rolls forever.

Yet, as allowed, he continued to receive disability checks, recently collecting monthly checks of $1,546.86. Humphreys retired for medical reasons from the Portland police last year, according to a police department spokesman.

But as of April 7, Humphreys “no longer meets the eligibility criteria” for disability benefits after a medical report confirmed he’s “now able to perform the required duties of his job,” according to Portland’s public safety fund.

“I’m more than capable of being an officer, but I do not want to be an officer in Portland,” Humphreys told The Oregonian in April.

Humphreys was at the center of the city’s most expensive settlement in recent history after a mentally ill man, James Chasse Jr., died in police custody in 2006, after he suffered numerous injuries after being tackled by officers. The case ended in 2010, when the city agreed to pay Chasse’s estate $1.6 million.

Humphreys again faced scrutiny in 2009, when he shot a 12-year-old girl in the leg at close range with a beanbag gun after she punched another officer in the face. He was suspended during the department’s investigation but was cleared of wrongdoing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Alec Bates’ struggle to beat heroin addiction ends in death

By David Stabler, The Oregonian, Nov. 3, 2012

Alec Bates (center, in white shirt) celebrates graduation from a diversion program. His mother, Connie Miller, is at right.

Editor’s note:  The Oregonian first wrote about Alec Bates in a Nov. 20, 2011, story, “Homeless, but not helpless.” At that point, Bates was three months clean after years of heroin addiction, and eager to turn his life around. “I want people to know that there is hope,” he said. “If you’re willing, you can get out of active addiction.” The Oregonian’s David Stabler and Motoya Nakamura followed Alec for the next 11 months as he attended recovery meetings, found a job, went back to school and graduated from a Multnomah County drug rehabilitation program. On Aug. 22, he passed his one-year clean date and celebrated with his smiling family outside the courthouse. His mother, Connie Miller, wants readers to think of her son as more than a drug addict.

Alec Bates had wriggled free from heroin’s hold. He was 23, out of jail. He had a job and a plan and 14 months clean.

His mother, Connie Miller, was just getting used to having him back. For 18 months, she’d lost him. Longer than that, really — ever since she found him in the basement shooting heroin and kicked him out. He lived on Portland’s streets, in and out of jail, in and out of treatment, in and out of his family’s grasp.

And then he came back. He got clean, sweating and puking and shaking. For real, this time. One day, one hour at a time. Those clean months were a gift. Connie stopped being afraid of him. He stopped calling for money. They talked every day.

And so when he dropped from sight last month and she got a call from his panicked girlfriend, Connie phoned police and asked them to check on her son.

She drove downtown looking for him, the way she used to do when he lived on the streets. She texted him over and over.

“Call me. No matter what’s happening.”

She arrived home to a message from a stranger on her answering machine.

“Please call this number.”

The Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s office said they found a spoon and a belt. They also found a note in pencil, single-spaced, in Alec’s spiral notebook.

“I’m so so so sorry.”

The lowest point

Alec Bates in his room at a clean residential hotel in Old Town, where he lived for five months.

Alec Bates in his room at a clean residential hotel in Old Town, where he lived for five months.

Miller first realized her son was living on the streets when his sister’s friends saw him digging in the trash for food. She didn’t know he broke into cars, slept in doorways, stole from stores. Every few weeks, he’d call asking for money. Will Miller, Alec’s stepdad, would meet him at McDonald’s and buy him something to eat. Connie couldn’t make herself go. Every week, she called the morgue and Will searched police websites to see if Alec had been arrested.

One day — she calls it the lowest point — she went to Voodoo Doughnut and found him panhandling. Their eyes locked but he was so strung out he didn’t recognize her. She ran across the street so she didn’t have to look at him. She couldn’t stop sobbing.

Home had been relatively normal. Alec’s dad worked at Nike and Connie ran a daycare center out of their house. They divorced when Alec was 5 and Connie raised Alec and his younger sister, McKenzee, on her own. One Christmas, they gave handmade scarves to the homeless on Burnside Street.

At 13, Alec tried pot. At 16, cocaine and ecstasy. At 18, heroin. He remembers that first hit, how it radiated like a heat wave through his body, starting at the back of his neck, spreading to his feet. It calmed him, made him feel all right in his own skin. It was so simple, and just like that he was gone.

Heroin Facts
  • Heroin is an opiate drug that comes from morphine, extracted from the seedpod of the Asian opium poppy plant. It can be white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” It is injected, snorted or smoked.
  • Heroin depresses the central nervous system by entering the brain, where it binds to opioid receptors. These receptors involve the perception of pain and reward.
  • After injecting heroin, users feel a surge of euphoria, a warm flushing of the skin, heaviness of the extremities and clouded mental functioning.
  • About 23 percent of people who use heroin become dependent on it.
  • Only 7 to 8 percent of heroin addicts seek professional treatment.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Treatment
Heroin addiction is hard to beat but not as hard as other drugs, said Dr. Melissa Weimer, an addiction medicine provider at Oregon Health & Science University. “If you engage in therapy and some of the good medications we have, it could be easier to treat than cocaine or meth dependence. The main reason that prevents people from quitting are the negative symptoms they experience. Because of that fear, they will continue to use.”

When Connie kicked him out, she never thought her heart would harden out of fear, but she could no longer help him or love him the way he was — stealing money, jewelry, maybe even hurting her or his sister. She comforted herself with memories — his first Christmas, how he walked around the house in her shoes, how hard he tried to ride a skateboard.

He was a solemn and melancholy child. He loved Legos and dinosaurs and going to the museum, but stress undid him. He was the kind of kid you had to tell, we’re leaving in 10 minutes, we’re leaving in five minutes. He was black and white, no ambiguity. He needed to know what was going to happen. Connie understood because she was so much like him.

“Divine intervention”

Alec Bates

“I don’t wish addiction on my worst enemy,” Alec Bates said. “It’s taken me to places I never thought I’d go.”

That first week on the streets, Alec was terrified, but he learned which abandoned buildings were safe to sleep in, where to eat, where to dry his socks. He had one change of clothes, deodorant and a toothbrush in a backpack that was always with him.

He learned that the combination of his baby face and a sign that read “Trying to get home” brought pity and a few bucks. He broke into hundreds of cars, 15 in one night. He stole iPods, laptops, valuables. He couldn’t steal from stores anymore — he stunk so bad, they knew he was homeless. He was on benzodiazepine and heroin, so any crazy idea seemed good. “Oh, there’s a computer. I’ll take it.”

He got a job stocking women’s shoes but lost it after he got caught shooting up in the bathroom. He found a gun and thought about killing himself by the freeway, but the police stopped him. He called it divine intervention.

He ended up with three felonies and 15 misdemeanors and spent a total of five months in jail. It got worse. On July 14 of last year, he and a friend got high. His friend overdosed and died right there, next to him. They had been close in a culture where close barely existed.

“I don’t ever feel like I have this in the bag”

Drug addicts can’t imagine anything better than dope. It quieted the chaos in Alec’s head. It felt so great, he did it over and over. He lied, he hustled, he became a criminal.

Addicts say they have to hit bottom before they’ll get help, and when his friend died, Alec did. He went to Hooper Detox. The date was Aug. 22, 2011.

Portland’s social services took over. The first three weeks of rehab typically see the highest failure rate, so Central City Concern found him a room in a clean building in Old Town, gave him a mentor, sent him to multiple recovery meetings every day, put him in therapy and tested his urine once a week.

He’d tried recovery before, but this time he faced 26 months in jail if he didn’t complete the diversion program.

Heroin deaths in Oregon

In 2011 heroin was the leading cause of drug-related deaths in Oregon, according to the Oregon State Medical Examiner:
  • Multnomah County, 2011: 85 deaths, up 63 percent over 2010
  • Oregon, 2011: 143, up 59 percent over 2010
“The sharp rise in illicit drug deaths in just one year is alarming,” said Dr. Karen Gunson, state medical examiner. “The numbers are driven by the availability of heroin and how cheap it is. More than ever it’s just a flood — especially of heroin. It’s like a tidal wave.”

Heroin addiction is a relentless craving, but recovery can feel worse. It’s like the worst flu — vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, gooseflesh, dread. You want to die, your skin can abscess where you shot up, you may develop infections of the heart valve, your kidneys may fail.

By December, four months clean, days for Alec were still up and down. If someone asked how he was, he’d say, “Fine, for the next 15 minutes.”

His addict voice said “You’re not going to make it through this. It’s all fake.” His recovery voice said “Stop that” and he’d try to distract himself with a book or TV.

One day he had $20 in his pocket, enough to get high. He bought a hoodie instead. Nothing’s permanent when you’re an addict. Stuff comes and goes. He kept the hoodie instead of trading it for drugs.

“I don’t ever feel like I have this in the bag,” he said.

His mentor, Dave Fitzgerald, talked to him every day. Little stuff: What’s your plan? You going to meetings today? A recovering addict himself, Fitzgerald saw something in Alec.

“There ain’t nothin’ he can’t do. He sees the possibility of meaning in his life. I can tell he can feel it, but he’s still scared.”

By January, Alec felt stagnant, ready to get a part-time job, maybe take a class at Portland Community College. Outside In, an agency that assists homeless kids, helped him prepare a résumé.

In March, he graduated to the Madrona Studios near the Rose Quarter. The building was less supervised than downtown, but he requested a clean floor anyway. He had his own bathroom, a whole fridge and he didn’t have to wear shower shoes.

He took math and a college survival class at PCC. It felt weird going to class and not be stoned. A kid offered him weed but he said, I’m all right, man. He mentored homeless kids. His urine tests were down to once every two weeks.

He was less defiant.

“A lot has to do with surrender,” he said. “I was pretty stubborn, running around on my will.”

Later that spring, he and a friend started attending a church off Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. His buddy had a tattoo based on C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters,” a book about Christian faith, temptation and failings. A few days later, Alec stood on a Max platform and there on the ground was “Mere Christianity,” another book by Lewis.

He started reading it. He couldn’t dismiss the coincidence.

“Whatever my higher power is, it put that there,” he said. “Surrender. I’m turning my will over to my higher power, whatever that is. I have to figure that out.”

July 19 was a big day, the day he graduated from Multnomah County’s drug rehabilitation program that kept him out of jail. Alec’s mom and stepdad, aunt, uncle, nieces and friends joined a packed courtroom for the ceremony.

“I’m here because I believe in miracles,” Judge Angel Lopez told Alec and one other graduate.

You will have to say no the rest of your life, court staff told him. But it’s easier today than a year ago.

Connie reached for a Kleenex before Alec stood up to read from his spiral notebook. He took a deep breath, then thanked the judge, his mentor, Outside In, his family and friends.

“So Mom, I love you. I’m proud I get to make you cry in a good way today. … My one piece of advice to you all today is to surrender. It makes this process easier.”

When the judge asked if Connie wanted to say something, she replied “I don’t think I can say anything without crying.”

Outside on the sidewalk, Alec lit a cigarette and posed for photographs with his smiling family.

“He seemed like he was doing it”

Alec’s room at Madrona looked west to the city skyline and the Rose Garden. He thought it was fitting because he loved the Blazers and could tell you all the stats on the players and coaches. His room was spare, like a hotel room, but Connie helped him fix it up to be modern. Modern was simple, uncluttered.

A memorial service for Alec was held Oct. 13.

A memorial service for Alec was held Oct. 13.

They talked nearly every day, about school, work, whatever was on his mind. She told him she was proud of him, she’d do anything to help him succeed.

August 22 came, one year clean. Addicts remember their clean date and Alec celebrated at Connie and Will’s house, where he requested homemade mac and cheese and chocolate chip cookies. Later that month, Connie and Will went to Hawaii for two weeks and needed someone to watch their dog. Before, they never would have asked Alec but he was doing so well, they trusted him. He teared up when they asked.

Before they left, he asked them to lock up their medications and alcohol. He called every day to say everything was fine, he’d borrowed change for the bus, he’d met the neighbors, how good it felt to walk to work.

“It seemed like he was doing it,” Connie said. “Doing it for himself, not to make me happy. He said, ‘It feels good to get up in the morning like a normal human being.'”

Connie stopped calling the morgue. Will no longer looked for him on police websites.

“I have hope, and hope, I decided, is the best thing ever,” she said. “Maybe, just maybe, my son will function in society the way I had hoped he would.”

“I can feel him looking at me”

Friday, Oct. 5, was a normal day. Connie called Alec and thought she woke him up.

“He wasn’t coherent — he said he just woke up, no school today.”

But something struck her as odd.

“I had paid a court fine for him, part of his birthday present. He didn’t seem to care I’d done it.”

She didn’t hear from him Saturday.

On Sunday, Connie and Will were getting ready for church when his girlfriend called in a panic. She and Alec always met at a coffee shop on Saturday mornings and he hadn’t shown up. He wasn’t texting or answering his phone.

Connie checked their shared phone account and found his last text was at 12:06 p.m. Saturday. She kept texting him. She called numbers he had called.

After driving around looking for him, they came home to a voicemail from Multnomah County. The medical examiner asked if Alec had given them any indication of suicide.

Alec’s note began: “Mom, I’m sorry it has to end this way but being a drug addict is just too hard.”

Connie never saw it coming. When she searched his computer, she found his last Google search was how to shoot up and die. An autopsy is still weeks away and the police continue to investigate his death.

The note ends: “Know that I will be watching you from above and that I’m happier and in a better place.”

Connie will never know why Alec came to believe there was only one way out.

“He knew I would be OK. He didn’t say that, but reading between the lines. Every morning now, I wake up and say, ‘Thank God I had 14 months with a child who was happy and proud of himself.’ Only Alec could write a note like that. I just got used to having him in my life daily, his corny texts. I can feel him looking at me — it’s not your fault.

“I know I will never be free of the millions of questions that rattle in my head but I am thankful for the deep talks Alec and I had. All of them ended with, ‘You can never blame yourself, Mom. I made the choices and you are the best madre ever.'”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment