The Weekly Churn

Mother of Trayvon Martin Speaks at OSU
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, spoke at OSU on Monday in advance of a “Peace Walk” sponsored by The Trayvon Martin Foundation. Martin was an African-American teenager who was shot and killed in Florida in 2012 by a neighborhood watch member named George Zimmerman, who suspected Martin of burglarizing houses near his home. The case caused a national outcry around the dangers of simply walking around as a young African-American man, especially after Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges.

Fulton created The Trayvon Martin Foundation after her son’s death, she says, “to stop people from hating, and teaching them to be more tolerant.” She spoke at the event about transforming the grief and sadness of her son’s death into the driving force behind the foundation. They run support programs for parents who have lost children to gun violence, sponsor STEM education programs, and offer college scholarships.

After the event on Monday, Fulton lead participants in a “Peace Walk”, a version of the event that the foundation plans to hold on February 9 in Miami, FL, a few weeks before the anniversary of Martin’s death. The walk is supposed to be “a signal to everyone that they have a right to walk — without being followed, chased, pursued, profiled, or murdered.”

Ashbrook Teacher Arrested on Multiple Child Sexual Abuse Charges
A music teacher at the Ashbrook Independent School in Corvallis was arrested earlier in January on first and second-degree counts of encouraging child sexual abuse.

According to staff at the Linn County Jail, Albany’s Scott Gerweck, 35, was arrested on January 4 and released on bail the next day. Albany police were unwilling to reveal any further details about the case, as it was being referred to the Oregon Department of Justice’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit.

Some reports describe Gerweck’s crimes as “child porn,” but this is not confirmed. These conclusions are drawn from the language of the Oregon statute on first-degree child sexual abuse, which refers specifically to possessing or viewing sexual audio or video material involving minors. 

Oregon Department of Justice officials have declined to comment on specifics as well, citing the ongoing investigation.

Gelser’s Bill to Restrict State Payouts to Abusive Parents
Senator Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 474 this week, a proposal to raise the threshold on parents filing wrongful death lawsuits for children held in state care. Reports detail issues involving neglectful or abusive parents seeking payments from wrongful death settlements with the state.

Currently, Oregon law states that parents seeking wrongful death settlements can only be denied payments if there has been 10 years or more of demonstrated neglect. SB 474 would reduce that number to one year.

One such case was presented to Gelser, who describes it as her reason for tackling the issue. The parents of Gloria Joya, a 15-year-old Albany girl who died in state custody in 2016 of “untreated gastrointestinal issues,” were paid $260,000 by the state in November 2018 in a wrongful death settlement. However, the details of the wrongful death settlement and an investigation by the Department of Human Services showed that Joya’s mother exhibited a pattern of abusive and neglectful behavior, the reason Joya was taken into state custody to begin with. 

Five Saudi Exchange Students Evade Charges in Oregon
An investigation by The Oregonian revealed that at least five Saudi exchange students have disappeared while awaiting trial for crimes ranging from driving under the influence to first-degree rape and second-degree manslaughter. 

It was reported in December 2018 that Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, accused of killing a 16-year-old Portland girl in August 2016, had disappeared, possibly with the help of the Saudi Arabian government. Oregonian reporters investigated if there had been any other similar cases in recent years. They found five, all involving foreign exchange students from Saudi Arabia, who all disappeared before the proceedings for the charges began. 

One such case involved Ali Hussain Alhamoud, who lived in Corvallis at the time of being indicted for multiple sex crimes in Lincoln County, including first degree rape. His bail was posted by the Saudi government in 2012, and a criminal complaint states that he boarded a plane back to Saudi Arabia on the same day of his release, according to The Oregonian. His case remains open in Lincoln County.

In four of these cases, the Saudi government officially paid high bail amounts for the accused, and the passports were taken from three of them. This has led to speculation that the only means of escaping the country for these five would have been the money and documentation possibly provided by the Saudi government. 

Four of the five investigated as part of the story were represented by the same attorney, Ginger Mooney of Hood River. She has stated that these cases make up only a small part of her practice, and that she could not release information about those clients without their permission. Mooney has temporarily closed her practice in response to dozens of threats over phone and emails she received after the release of this report.

Thousands Unpaid as Federal Shutdown Continues
As the federal government remains shut down for its third week, Oregon state workers are filling in for their federal counterparts while federal workers struggle to secure unemployment support and make ends meet. 

Federal land has remained open despite furloughs, and lack of staffing has caused facilities and trails at national parks to collect enormous amounts of trash and waste. Oregon State Parks officials said they intend to begin working to clean trails and restrooms on federal land, but they recommend that hikers and trail-seekers look to state and county land for their outings.

Reporting shows there are 9,583 federal workers in Oregon not receiving paychecks, 2,000 of which have applied for unemployment benefits. Some federal employees are required to work without pay and cannot collect unemployment benefits, including air traffic controllers. 90 air traffic controllers at Portland International Airport have accrued $562,500 in back wages, and have joined a collective lawsuit against the Trump Administration in response. 

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 prohibits federal workers from striking, despite their ability to unionize. 

Governor Backs Rent Control Bill
As we reported in last week’s Churn, the Oregon Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) intends to propose a bill to cap rent increases and limit no-cause evictions for tenants across the state. The Oregon legislature reconvenes on January 22, but the plan has already gained support from prominent Democrats in both chambers. 

Governor Kate Brown was unsure of her support until recently, as she voiced skepticism about rent control as a policy solution to the state’s housing crisis during last year’s election. Now, it seems she supports at least the basics of the proposal, and noted in her inaugural address on January 14 that “spiraling rents” must be addressed.

A similar bill died without a vote in 2017, as enough Republican Senators blocked it from the floor. However, Democrats will control three-fifths of the legislature come January 22, a “supermajority” that can pass bills directly to the governor’s desk, bypassing Republican opposition.

By Ian MacRonald

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