After Portland Police fatally shot an unarmed 25-year-old African-American man in the back last January, Lisa McCall wrote an editorial published in the Feb. 14 Sunday Oregonian.
“The tragic death of Aaron Campbell has brought home some of the worst fears the mother of a young black man could have,” wrote McCall, a K-8 assistant principal for Portland Public Schools.
Now McCall says another of her worst nightmares has come true. Her 21-year-old son, Desmond Moore, has spent more than a week in Washington County Jail facing a Measure 11 sex-abuse charge she believes is the result of simply sharing a kiss with a white woman.
She says a grand jury is set to decide Wednesday, Oct. 27, whether to indict Moore for first-degree sex abuse, which carries a mandatory six years in prison.
“I have to say, I wonder how much race plays in this. My son is African-American. She’s a white female,” McCall says. “I have no idea why this charge was brought upon him.”
Rob Bletko, the Washington County chief deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, declined to comment. Sgt. Dave Thompson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, says race had nothing to do with the arrest but declined further comment.
Moore, a graduate of Decatur High School in Federal Way, Wash., began studying for his associate of arts degree at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus in Washington County in September.
On the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 19, Moore’s stepfather, veteran Associated Press reporter Bill McCall, drove Moore to class at Rock Creek. Moore’s license is suspended from traffic violations in Washington state. He also pleaded guilty to a DUII in Oregon this year.
When Moore failed to call home later that night Oct. 19 to request to be picked up, Lisa McCall began to worry. Finally, at 10:41 pm, she got a call from Moore, who had been booked into Washington County Jail on suspicion of first-degree sex abuse, second-degree kidnapping, attempted third-degree sex abuse and harassment.
For reasons that remain unclear since law enforcement won’t comment, three of those charges have since been dropped. But the single Measure 11 count of first-degree sex abuse remains. The DA’s office has not responded to a request to release the police reports, but Lisa McCall provided WW details based on conversations with her son.
On Oct. 7, McCall says, her son kissed a fellow student while the two were on the PCC campus. McCall does not know the woman’s name but says her son told her she’s 22 years old and a friend.
“He’s adamant that they shared a mutual, consensual kiss,” McCall says.
Twelve days after the kiss, sheriff’s deputies confronted Moore when his step-dad dropped him off for class. Moore was handcuffed and booked into jail, where his bail was set at $250,000. His only criminal record is the DUII and a charge of minor in possession of alcohol.
McCall says in the beginning, Moore assured her the arrest was a mistake and he’d soon be free. Now when she visits him, he’s scared.
“It’s gone from a confident young man to almost a kid again, saying ‘How can I be in here?’” McCall says.
If Moore’s version is true, he wouldn’t be the first person to face dubious Measure 11 sex charges in Washington County.
In 2007, a judge there declined to sentence 25-year-old Veronica Rodriguez to the mandatory minimum when Rodriguez was convicted of first-degree sex abuse. Rodriguez allegedly held the back of a 13-year-old boy’s head to her clothed chest at the Boy & Girls Club in Hillsboro.
The Oregon Court of Appeals overturned Circuit Judge Nancy Campbell’s sentence of 16 months in 2007 and imposed the mandatory six years. But the Oregon Supreme Court later ruled in 2009 the Measure 11 sentence was unconstitutional and Rodriguez should not return to prison.
Just 2.1 percent of Washington County residents are African-American, according to the U.S. Census.
State Rep. Lew Frederick (D-North/Northeast Portland) says he hasn’t heard complaints about Washington County specifically. But he says African-Americans like himself have learned to suspect unfair treatment anywhere they go.
“If you fail to expect that, you could get hurt even more,” Frederick says. “It’s something that you learn to understand early on.”
McCall says she’s prepared to hire a lawyer and call the national NAACP if Moore is indicted.
“We’re not going to just sit back and hope the system will do the right thing,” McCall says. “I fight all the time [as an educator] to make sure kids are not scarred by this system, and I am not going to let it happen to my son.”
FACT: Oregon voters in 1994 approved Ballot Measure 11, which provides mandatory-minimum sentences for murder, rape and other violent crimes.