Thirteen Oregon Lawmakers Call On Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum To Stop TriMet’s Random Stops To Check Fares

"A policy of sweeping fare enforcement searches violates the constitutional rights of transit riders," they write.

Thirteen Oregon state legislators led by Rep. Diego Hernandez sent a letter to the state's top law enforcement officer asking her to halt random searches to check TriMet fares.

The letter, sent to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum Wednesday morning, indicates that several Oregon lawmakers agree with a Multnomah County circuit judge who ruled that TriMet's approach to a random search during a fare evasion enforcement effort was unconstitutional. The decision may implicate the agency's practice of corralling TriMet customers at big events like Timbers games and checking every rider's fare as they exit the train.

"A policy of sweeping fare enforcement searches violates the constitutional rights of transit riders," the legislators write. "This practice exacerbates disparities in the criminal justice system and contributes to the over-policing and over-prosecution of people of color, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness and other forms of economic insecurity."

At a TriMet board meeting this morning, General Manager Doug Kelsey stood by the agency's fare checks, describing them as "frankly, very lawful."

TriMet's enforcement practices are at the heart of the criminal case at issue, so the Attorney General's Office must decide whether to defend the agency's practice in any appeals or future criminal cases that may arise.

Rosenblum has the power to appeal the judge's decision from last week and challenge his opinion. But the legislators want her to accept the judge's decision and consider it a precedent for fare enforcement actions moving forward.

Rep. Hernandez, Rep. Chris Gorsek, Rep. Carla Piluso, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, Rep. Margaret Doherty, Rep. Sheri Malstrom, Rep. Janeen Sollman, Rep. Rob Nosse, Sen. Michael Dembrow, Rep. Susan McLain, Rep. Karin Power, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, and Rep. Alissa Keny Guyer signed the letter. All are Portland-area Democrats.

They ask the attorney general to take steps to ensure that TriMet employees do not continue a practice that a judge has deemed unconstitutional. (Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, the co-owner of WW's parent company.)

"We believe this ruling presents the kind of accountability our law enforcement needs to fairly administer the law within our communities, and that the precedent set through this decision should be allowed to stand," the legislators write.

UPDATE, 11:27 am:

Rosenblum says her office is still reviewing the possibility of an appeal, and the state may appeal the ruling if the Department of Justice's appellate team believes the judge's decision was wrong.

"We appreciate the thoughtful letter from a diverse group of prominent legislators of all backgrounds, including law enforcement," Rosenblum says.  "Our office is doing what we do in every case presented to us by a DA for possible appeal from an adverse (to the position taken by the state) ruling. First, we review the ruling, then we discuss it with the DA, convene our appellate team to review the law to determine whether there is a legitimate basis for appeal. Finally, we decide whether, under all the circumstances, this is a proper case to take up on appeal."

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