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December 29th, 2010 WW Editorial Staff | News Stories
 

The Latest With...

WW checks back on stories from 2010 about a cellist, tax increases and an addict.

     
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“A Stitch and Time,” May 12


Harun Mustafa, the talented cello player who went to prison in November 2009 on assault and weapon charges, will serve his full 18-month sentence through April 2011.

This October, Gov. Ted Kulongoski rejected the clemency application for Mustafa, a 20-year-old Jefferson High graduate who went to prison for injuring another young man with a folding knife during a fight in a North Portland park.

Earlier this year, Mustafa told WW he acted in self-defense when he fought with an 18-year-old Roosevelt High grad in April 2009. His victim had a 1-inch stab wound in his side that required a single stitch to close.

Mustafa’s supporters say the governor’s decision disappoints them tremendously, even if it didn’t shock them.

“I expected [the governor] to say no,” says Stefana Berceanu, Mustafa’s music teacher. “To them, he’s just a number. To us, it’s everything.”

Kulongoski, who leaves office in January after two terms, wrote in a letter to Mustafa that the governor reserves clemency for extraordinary cases. Since May, when Mustafa submitted his application, the governor has granted only one pardon and commuted one person’s prison sentence.

Other events in recent months have tilted in Mustafa’s favor.

Almost immediately after WW’s cover story about Mustafa, Oregon’s Department of Corrections transferred him from a medium-security wing of the Snake River Correctional Institution in Eastern Oregon to a minimum-security facility in Portland. An added benefit of the transfer to the Columbia River Correctional Institution is Mustafa can now see visitors more frequently.

Among his latest visitors are Berceanu and Jyothi Pulla, the mother of two musicians in his previous orchestra. Pulla helped Mustafa complete his clemency application.

The corrections department also bent its rules to let Mustafa have a new cello in prison. Navin Sharma, the subject of another WW cover story (see “Good Cop, Mad Cop,” July 30, 2008), contributed much of the $1,600 to buy the instrument. (For a sad update on Sharma, see Murmurs, here.)

Behind bars, Mustafa has about an hour each day to play his cello. He attends keyboarding classes and recently started exercising in a prison yoga class. He works in the prison cafeteria many days.

Mustafa is also surprisingly well-connected to outside news, asking a recent visitor for opinions about the Somali-American teenager who allegedly tried to detonate a bomb Nov. 26 in Pioneer Courthouse Square. And Mustafa, who has caught glimpses of Portlandia previews from the Independent Film Channel on the prison TV, even asked whether the comedy series might harm Portland’s reputation.

But any impression that prison life is comfortable is inaccurate, Mustafa says.

“It’s horrible,” he says. “I try to stay humble and not give in to the pettiness.”

—Beth Slovic

“Class Warfare,” Jan. 6


There may have been no bigger political story in Oregon this year than state voters’ passage in January of Measures 66 and 67.

For Democrats, the surprisingly easy passage for the income-tax increases provided both the promise of about $750 million in new revenue for the biennium and optimism in what looked like a Republican year, even in January.

But the vitriolic campaign deepened Oregon’s partisan divide, which was reflected in the final vote of about 53 percent to 47 percent for both measures.

Notable funders of the anti-tax side, such as Nike Chairman Phil Knight and Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, had traditionally supported Democratic candidates, at least in recent gubernatorial elections. Both men moved directly from the January tax measures to pouring money into the ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Republican Chris Dudley.

State lawmakers last week got their first solid data on Measure 66, the personal tax increase. (Data from the corporate hike won’t be available until spring because corporations pay their taxes later.)

The personal income tax, which was retroactive, brought in $130 million for 2009, or 72 percent of the $180 million forecast in May 2009.

Predictably, advocates viewed those results differently.

“That’s $130 million we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Chuck Sheketoff of the left-leaning Oregon Center for Public Policy.

But the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute pointed to the fact that 10,000 fewer high-income Oregonians are paying the higher tax as evidence those people fled Oregon or otherwise engaged in tax avoidance strategies.

Paul Warner, director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office, says it’s highly unlikely a significant number of taxpayers left Oregon in 2009 anticipating a 2010 tax hike. Warner ascribes the results to a greater-than-expected drop (almost half) in capital gains.

“There are fewer higher-income earners, and they earned less because those taxpayers’ income is more cyclical,” Warner says.

Warner’s office has decreased expectations for revenues from Measure 66.

“We expect a much weaker than normal recovery,” Warner says.

—Nigel Jaquiss

“Saving Ryan,” Sept. 15


A cover story about how the breakdown in mental-health and addiction services is forcing Multnomah County judges to act as social workers focused on the case of Ryan Santana.

Our story about the 20-year-old heroin addict ended on an optimistic note—the former Portland State University business major who was kicked out of school and living on the street had finally been assigned a bed in a residential drug-treatment center after months of waiting.

The state-funded program should have lasted several months. But on Oct. 12, this reporter spotted Santana being rousted from sleep in Northwest Portland and arrested on a sidewalk about 8 am on a bench warrant.

Judge Eric Bloch had issued the warrant when the DePaul Treatment Center kicked Santana out five days earlier for using heroin. The setback was a disturbing sign of the power of narcotic addiction. Santana had spoken in interviews of his desperation to enter treatment and get his life back on track.

And it marked a setback as well for the two judges who had worked hard to bring Santana back from the edge. Using drugs violated Santana’s terms of probation from a first-degree burglary conviction. Bloch ordered Santana jailed for 15 days. But a cost-saving measure by the Legislature severely limits the time many defendants can be held in jail on probation violations.

Jail records indicate Santana was freed Oct. 19. Bloch issued another bench warrant Oct. 26 when Santana failed to appear in Bloch’s special drug court.

Santana was arrested again Nov. 7. This time Bloch ordered him held in jail until a treatment bed opened. In late November, Santana entered treatment again, this time at Alpha House. Since then he has stayed clean, remained in treatment and seems to be doing well when he appears in Bloch’s drug court each Friday, says Michael McShane, the other judge who worked to help Santana. On Santana’s story so far, McShane says, “It’s not as sad as I was worried it was going to be.”

—James Pitkin

Some Shorter Updates To Stories From 2010

“The Crusaders,” Feb. 3: Profiles of local-issue crusaders included lead-poisoning activist Tamara Rubin. She has persuaded state Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) to craft new legislation that would fight lead poisoning in kids. The bill, if approved by the 2011 Legislature, would make K-12 schools and day-care centers perform annual tests to see whether lead dust from deteriorating paint poses health concerns.“Extra Credit,”March 17:WW reported about the sometimes-easy classes Portland Public Schools’ teachers take to move up the pay scale. A subsequent policy change at the school district means teachers must now obtain principals’ approval for those classes.

“Judging Judy,” Sept. 1: The City of Portland was suing Old Town Lofts LLC, a defunct company set up by Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, for $9,000 in unpaid property-management fees on a taxpayer-subsidized condo project built in 2002. Shiprack settled the case Sept. 5 for $4,405, which was all the remaining funds for the dissolved company, says deputy city attorney Robert Yamachika.

“Pity for the Panty Thief,” Oct. 6: Two Portland lawyers had asked Gov. Ted Kulongoski to free Sung Koo Kim, who was sentenced in 2005 to more than 11 years in prison for stealing thousands of pairs of women’s underwear. Despite support for the application from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and the South Korean consul general in Seattle, Kulongoski denied the application Dec. 7.

 
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