State Police Find Gaps in County Investigation of Jail Deaths

Multnomah County launched a one-year project meant to address criticisms and improve conditions at the jails.

Multnomah County Jail (Brian Burk)

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office quietly released two state police reports last month identifying gaps in the sheriff’s internal investigations of two recent jail deaths.

The two reports, authored in February by Oregon State Police Lt. Sarah Kelly, offer a second opinion on the sheriff’s investigations of the suicide of Donovan Wood and the overdose of Josiah Pierce. They identify what appear to be a series of oversights by investigators, particularly in their scrutiny of Pierce’s death.

Interviews with staff at the jail, in some instances, were cursory and done over email, Kelly noted. Objects at the scene had been moved prior to the medical examiner’s arrival. Kelly also noted that investigators didn’t document whether Pierce’s cell had been searched the day before his death, which would have been logical: He’d been “exhibiting odd behavior” and had been sent to the hospital for observation.

The state police reports recently appeared on a county website for its new “Corrections Recommendation Project,” alongside a series of other reports critical of the county’s jail system, in which seven inmates died last year. The project, which was previously announced in April, will last one year and is meant to address criticisms and improve conditions at the jails.

Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell commissioned the OSP reports last summer.

“This request was to create another layer of accountability,” her spokesman, Chris Liedle, says. “We are incorporating the OSP considerations into our overarching corrections recommendations project.”

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