State and local officials, led by Canby state representative and gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan, are continuing to denounce Governor Kate Brown for the latest use of her clemency powers, including her November decision to commute the sentences of 70 prisoners who committed serious crimes as teenagers.
Drazan sent Brown a letter last month that was signed by a dozen Clackamas County elected officials, including Canby’s state senator, Bill Kennemer, Clackamas County commissioners Tootie Smith, Paul Savas and Mark Shull, Canby Mayor Brian Hodson, Molalla Mayor Scott Keyser and Oregon City Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith, among others.
In the letter, Drazan and the other officials expressed concern for the safety and wellbeing of their communities, as well as fears that her move would retraumatize the victims of violent crime.
“By commuting the prison sentences of violent offenders, you are not only reversing the work of our justice system to keep our communities safe, but you are prioritizing offenders and directly harming the victims and their families,” the letter states.
The officials also expressed concerns that Brown’s decision represented a unilateral circumvention of the will of Oregon voters, who passed the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing law — popularly known as Measure 11 — by a nearly two-to-one vote in 1994.
“As a state, we voted in Measure 11 for violent crimes and our governor doesn’t see fit to listen to the voters,” Keyser said in a statement to the Current. “What we’re hoping for is that the governor quits taking advantage of the voters of the state and listens to what the voters asked for.”
Drazan’s letter decried Brown’s actions as an “abuse of commutations.”
“Releasing violent offenders to advance political priorities at the expense of victims and community safety is wrong,” she wrote. “We call on you to uphold the law, keep Oregonians safe, and stop abusing commutations to bypass existing processes for early release of offenders.”
Earlier this year, Brown commuted the sentences of more than 70 people convicted between 1988 and 2019 for crimes such as murder, assault, rape and manslaughter while they were younger than 18 — including four former Clackamas Countians who were sentenced to life in prison as teenagers.
Among them was Todd Daniel Davilla, who pleaded guilty to the brutal murder and attempted rape of a 22-year-old woman in 1991, when he was a junior at Canby Union High School.
Commuted prisoners are not immediately released, but do become eligible to petition the State Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision for review of their case. The clemency order received pushback from officials across Oregon, including Keyser, who said the issue was also personal because his stepdaughter was assaulted by one of the commuted prisoners.
“It’s scary that other parents are going to have to be dealing with that this year,” he said. “No parent deserves to have to deal with that.”
The move also received criticism because of an apparent miscommunication from state agencies that resulted in some media outlets receiving the commutation list before district attorneys and victims were notified.
Keyser said Sunday that Brown’s office had not responded to the December 22 letter from Clackamas County officials or a similar one from Polk. However, she has defended the move in the past as being in line with Senate Bill 1008, which the Legislature passed in 2019.
The bill reformed Measure 11 guidelines significantly, requiring that youth offenders are offered a “second-look hearing” halfway through their sentence.
The individuals in Brown’s November 2021 commutation order would not have been eligible for rehearings under SB 1008, as it was not retroactive, but she evidently chose to apply it retroactively to individuals who would otherwise qualify for a second look.
Cases will be individually reviewed to determine eligibility for release on parole. Parole hearings are expected to begin in spring 2022.
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