Murmurs: Downtown Drug Market Gets a Scrubbing

This week’s edition is packed with the results of our reporting.

DOWNTOWN DRUG MARKET GETS A SCRUBBING: There’s been a flurry of action in recent days at Washington Center, the cluster of abandoned commercial buildings in downtown Portland that’s become an open-air drug market. Last week, WW reported on the efforts—or lack thereof—by the city and Menashe Properties, which controls the block through a series of limited liability companies, to clean it up. Within days, the wheels started turning. First came down the badly broken fence that circled the property, which appeared to do a better job keeping trash in than keeping people out. On Monday, workers hired by Menashe boarded up the shattered windows of the KeyBank on the complex’s southwest corner, which had become a hangout for squatters. Then, the following day, crews from Downtown Clean & Safe swarmed the block, pressure-washing sidewalks and hauling away hundreds of pounds of trash. The Menashes allegedly owe tens of thousands of dollars to the organization, which cleans up sidewalks with funding from local property owners. “We will be more than happy to pay when the city is clean and crime is properly attended to,” Lauren Menashe told WW last week. Clean & Safe director Mark Wells tells WW he’s been asking the Menashes to board up the alcoves, which have proven fertile hunting grounds for the city’s current crop of fentanyl dealers. Wells says this is the third time since October that his crews have focused on the block at the urging of nearby businesses and despite the Menashes’ lack of payment. Says Wells, “We went above and beyond.”

ROBERT KING DENIED PAROLE: The Oregon Parole Board announced March 23 that Robert King, the twice-convicted contract killer, will be imprisoned for at least three more years, adding to the four decades he’s already spent behind bars. It’s a turnaround from six months ago, when the board said it was tentatively planning to release King in May after concluding the 72-year-old man was rehabilitated. In January, a WW cover story detailed King’s crimes and the terror he’s instilled in the many people who have drawn his ire over the years. “I’m really relieved,” said Gillian Salter, the daughter of Julie Salter, whom King paid a hit man to kill in her Lake Oswego home while Gillian attended elementary school down the street. “I’m really grateful for the people who were brave enough to stand up with me,” she added. In its decision, the board cited King’s refusal to take responsibility for his crimes and his ongoing twisting of the truth. One of his brothers, Daniel, submitted an affidavit to the board opposing King’s release to Alabama after being informed of King’s plans to work for the family firm there by a WW reporter. King had submitted a letter to the board bearing Daniel’s signature. In the affidavit, Daniel denied signing it. It is unclear whether King will appeal the board’s decision, as he has done in the past. His attorney, Venetia Mayhew, declined to comment.

COURT AFFIRMS BOY SCOUT BANKRUPTCY PLAN: On March 29, Judge Richard Andrews of the U.S. District Court in Delaware affirmed the bankruptcy plan of the Boy Scouts of America. The judge’s ruling means the 82,000 men who filed sexual abuse claims against the BSA are one step closer to payouts that could range from $3,500 to more than $2 million in the most severe cases. The bankruptcy, filed in February 2020 by the Boy Scouts’ national organization, stems from a 2010 verdict against the BSA in Multnomah County Circuit Court, which led to the release of thousands of secret files detailing abuse in scouting. Crew Janci LLP, the Portland law firm that won the 2010 case, also represents more than 380 abuse survivors in the bankruptcy case, many of them from Oregon. The $2.5 billion total award in the bankruptcy, the largest ever for a youth-serving nonprofit, could grow substantially as additional insurers settle. Steve Crew, one of the lawyers in the case, cheered the ruling. “This is the best result for the most people given all the difficult circumstances there are in this case,” Crew says. “It gives survivors some closure.”

OFFICIALS SUPPORT CHRISTENING NORTHWEST DARCELLE XV STREET: Portland is poised to change the street name of one of its main drags. In the hours after the March 23 death of Walter Cole, beloved as the female impersonator Darcelle XV, pedicab driver Ryan Hashagen papered over a street sign outside Darcelle XV Showcase in Old Town. For the weekend, Northwest Davis Street became Northwest Darcelle XV Street. All five members of the Portland City Council tell WW they’re open to making the change permanent. “I love this idea,” says Commissioner Carmen Rubio. “Darcelle deserves recognition in our city so that future Portlanders know her impact.” Northwest Portland’s street names run in alphabetical order, giving the neighborhood its “Alphabet District” moniker. Davis Street’s namesake was Anthony L. Davis, Portland’s first justice of the peace and the first director of the city’s public school system.

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