‘A Huge Rash of Homicides’

Every occupation has its own slang, and for many years “NHI” was cop talk for No Humans Involved, meaning that a particular incident involved only dirtbags.

If both the offender and the victim were Adam Henrys (old cop slang for Ass Hole), it was NBD and NGL (No Big Deal and No Great Loss.)

Twenty-five years ago this month, five San Diego artists took that old slang for “No Humans Involved” and turned it into public works of art. They displayed billboards, an exhibition of photos, performances and a book – called “NHI.”

They focused on 45 homicide victims – all women and all prostitutes, transients and drug addicts.

Now here we are in 2017, and look how things have evolved. It isn’t just cops who treat certain casualties as no big deal.

A few days ago, an NPR reporter doing a story on the climbing murder rate in New Orleans interviewed a resident in a neighborhood near the scene of a shooting.

“(F)or the most part, these are people that are involved in activities with each other. It’s the bad people who are killing the bad people,” the resident said.

In other words, no humans involved.

NPR reporter Martin Kaste later in the story casually repeated the resident’s words, “(I)t’s ‘bad guys killing bad guys.’” (Although the victim in the above shooting was actually an innocent woman.)

Now it isn’t the cops who are writing off crime victims. It’s the media, politicians (local, state, national), social justice warriors working in nonprofits and public employees in bureaucracies dedicated to “human services.”

Earlier this month, more than 800 of these folks gathered for two days at the Salem, Ore., Convention Center for a Justice Reinvestment Summit and the 2017 What Works in Public Safety conference.

Gov. Kate Brown welcomed the crowd. Among the faces in the audience were Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill and Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese.

Some of the speakers included a few high-profile names that have been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times and other media.

They talked about why women should rarely be sent to prison (“Ladies are different”), how prosecutors need to stop prosecuting (“I did away with the misdemeanor team entirely”) and how police need to stop arresting (“Make arrests the strategy of last resort. … Turn it into a positive outcome for the person coming into contact with a police officer.”)

Two speakers received standing ovations. The first was Khalil A. Cumberbatch, an ex-con from New York, who is now Manager of Trainings for JustLeadershipUSA. The organization’s goal is to cut America’s prison population in half by 2030.

Cumberbatch served six and a half years in prison for armed robbery. He described growing up in a neighborhood consumed by the crack cocaine epidemic.

“It was very normal for me to carry a firearm. The power of a firearm is very scary in many respects. … First time I learned how it can change someone’s life was when I had one stuck in my face,” he said. “Ultimately it led me to commit a robbery of two white men at Park Avenue and 96th. … It wasn’t what we took, it was who we took it from. … The judge sentenced us to prison because we were brown children.”

In his speech, Cumberbatch seized on the language of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights: “No more about us without us.” In other words, convicted felons should have a say in how the criminal justice system is run.

Oregon state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) was among those who stood to applaud.

“It was wonderful to hear your perspective,” he told Cumberbatch.

Prozanski chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary, and it jointly convened with the House Committee on Judiciary at the second day of the conference to participate.

The second speaker to receive a standing ovation was U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block, who serves in the Eastern District of New York State.

He made news last year after a young black woman named Chevelle Nesbeth appeared before him. She was a college student studying education, hoping to become a teacher and maybe a principal someday, but she was caught transporting drugs.

“She didn’t realize her boyfriend put drugs (600 grams of cocaine) in her suitcase … she was an exemplary citizen … had a bright future,” Block said.

He had recently read Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow,” which looked at the “collateral consequences” that follow felony convictions. The judge wondered what collateral consequences Nesbeth could face. He gave the probation officer and prosecutor on her case “a homework assignment” to find out.

The probation officer and prosecutor reported back: Under federal law, she could lose her school grants for two years, any commercial license for a year, revocation of her driver’s license for six months, no teaching certificate for five years, among others.

“They are punished severely after their sentence is completed,” Block said.

So he gave Nesbeth probation.

“Justice reinvestment” refers to the concept of sending fewer people to prison, then taking the money that would be saved and spending it on various services to help rehabilitate an offender and keep him or her out of trouble.

How’s it paying off in the real world?

A couple of weeks before the Justice Reinvestment Summit, in a hearing room at the state Capitol, the House Committee on Judiciary listened as Lane County DA Patty Perlow gave an overview of her office.

“We are making huge advantages in helping people get out of the criminal justice system. … Lane County has one of the lowest recidivism rates. … We have a robust treatment court (no longer called drug court). I attend all the graduations.”

Her office has someone on staff who helps convicted criminals find jobs. Even sex offenders have found work. Perlow added that some job seekers need to learn to read first.

The downside in her testimony: “We have had a huge rash of homicides,” she said.

Rep. Sherri Sprenger (R-Salem) congratulated Perlow on having the lowest recidivism rate in the prison system.

But Sprenger thought it curious that Lane County also had a “rash of homicides.” Isn’t that contradictory to a low rate of recidivism?

Perlow replied that her office lost a third of its staff in 2012.

“We weren’t filing charges. People were amassing significant criminal histories,” she said.

Perlow became district attorney after Alex Gardner resigned a year and a half ago to take an $18,000 pay cut and become a state police captain.

While still district attorney, Gardner appeared before legislators, who were working on a bill called HB 3194 – a centerpiece for justice reinvestment – and urged them not to reward offenders. He warned that it could lead to “a danger for us that we can’t manage.”

He was already having a problem with criminal defendants blowing off their court appearances. The most unrepentant, recidivist property criminals don’t want to be reformed, Gardner said.

“They hang out in Lane County and victimize people.”

Except for Sprenger, committee members didn’t seem curious about Perlow’s reference to rash of homicides.

Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) told Perlow she was a “shining example of what we are trying to do with justice reinvestment. … You’ve really changed the trajectory in Lane County.”

Normally the politicians and professionals who push justice reinvestment love data and stats. What were the numbers behind Lane County’s homicides?

I checked and it turns out that usually Lane County has about four homicides a year. In 2015, there were 15 homicides. In 2016, there were 11. In the first two months of this year, there have been three.

Among the victims in Lane County’s rash of homicides was Sarah Ann Coleman, a 23-year-old prep cook at Hop Valley Brewing Co. In July 2015, she interrupted a burglary at a Springfield house where she rented a room. She was sexually assaulted and strangled. Her sister found her body.

Last month, Kyle Dean Pfaff, 32, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, presumably without the possibility of parole.

Pfaff was a convicted felon and registered sex offender who lived in a camper trailer behind Coleman’s rental. She had told family members she didn’t like living on the same property as Pfaff and was making plans to move.

In the data-driven world of justice reinvestment, Coleman’s story would be dismissed as an anecdote.

It makes her too human.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons


Lounging in the Life of the Mind


  • One of the saddest stories out of Lane County was the murder in 1977 of a young woma, Constance Roland,who was working her way through school at a gas station out on the “felony flats” of Highway 99. Her dead body was found and when the autopsy was being conducted the medical examiner noted that a license number had been written on her hand, obviously as she lay dying.
    From that license number police arrested David Lee Taylor, who served a remarkable 27 years. Then in 2012 Taylor murdered, again, Celestino Gutierrez Jr. for which a Lane County jury sentenced him to death

  • Thanks for that story. I checked some of the news archives for Constance Roland. She must have had incredible presence of mind right up to the end.

    When David Ray Taylor received the death penalty for killing Celestino Gutierrez, the victim’s brother Jeff told reporters, “People are saying congratulations. There are no congratulations to be had. We don’t have to live in a criminal world, we don’t have to live in a David Ray Taylor world. They have to live in our world. A world that is righteous and just and isn’t afraid to give these people the proper punishment they deserve.”

    The victim’s father, Celestino Gutierrez Sr. challenged then-Gov. John Kitzhaber to “have the guts to uphold the law.”

    Our politicians don’t have guts. They have dollar signs where their ethics should be.

    The first time I ever heard the phrase “justice reinvestment” was in 2011 when Kitzhaber appointed a Commission on Public Safety with the sole purpose of finding ways to weaken Measure 11’s sentences for violent crimes. I’ve never forgotten a quote I heard at the first meeting when Craig Prins, then-executive director of the Criminal Justice Commission, was discussing the drop in crime after voters approved Measure 11 for mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes. Prins noted that it wasn’t just criminals who are poor – so are victims: “You are also more likely to be victimized if you are poor … . The poor and destitute … have received the benefit of this drop in crime.”

    Justice reinvestment is willing sacrifice the poor and destitute, so the savings in dollar signs can be invested somewhere else.

  • Lawrence C. wrote:

    Okay I’ll bite. How are “ladies different”? I thought I knew.

    Maybe I missed it but I didn’t see anything on the news about this event. The governor thought it important enough.

  • That quote came from Associate Professor Emily Salisbury at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Her point is that tough sentencing laws are based on men’s bad behavior, and women should not be held to the same standard.

    “Women are less likely to engage in violence or use a gun … less likely to be a kingpin … they are far less dangerous.”

    Her talk was full of sound bites like, “Before they were women in the system, they were girls. … Women don’t need a time-out in prison. They need a way out.”

    Salisbury has been receiving some media attention, and The Portland Tribune featured her in its coverage of this event. She advocated for “gender responsive strategies” to guide policies and procedures specifically designed for women because they have “unique criminogenic needs.”

    Some of what she said made sense, but she portrayed women as fairly helpless.

  • Pamela wrote:

    Pantsuit Nation’s answer to handling women in the criminal justice system: Wag your finger and say “oops” and “ouch.”

  • @ Larry, ugh. I was a happier person having not watched that video.

    The question is where do we go from here as a society? 10 years ago I predicted the US has 50 years left in us before we imploded. In retrospect that was optimistic to get me to the end of my life span.

    With the likes of Steve Bannon in charge, I doubt the value of coaching my kid’s Little League team.

    Criminals are victims. Republicans like Russia. What the actual fuck?

    I’m just going to buy me some MRE’s, teach my kid to shoot instead of pitch, and hope for the best.

  • I’m not so sure Steve Bannon is in charge. How much is our debt to China?

    You should continue coaching your kid’s Little League team because it’s probably fun. When he’s older, enroll him in a gun safety course.

    I don’t have children, but I have seven nieces and nephews. I worry about their future, particularly America’s increasing tribalism. African nations have been torn apart for centuries by tribalism. Nevertheless, America’s progressives have seized on tribalism as the answer for our future. I don’t like Trump, but imagine Hillary’s response to tribalism.

    Our criminal justice system is under attack for not “correcting” thugs and drug dealers, so we’re going to stop prosecuting them. Let the social workers take over. Wraparound services for everyone who commits a felony. Did you know that a heroin or meth addict is no different than a diabetic?

    I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that Republicans now like Russia, and the Democrats are engaged in 1950s-style Red baiting.

  • SomewhereInOregon wrote:

    Your write-up missed something that struck me about this event. I’ve been to other JRI summits and What Works conferences. This one had the look and feel of a TRADE SHOW. Business selling stuff. I support the concept of JRI, not as a business model but a way to help people. I’m one of the people who didn’t give the guy from New York a standing ovation. He and some of the other speakers needed pushback. The woman you quote was a disappointment. A lot of woman don’t belong in prison but to say “ladies are different” was silly. Imagine if a man said that. I don’t know the cases Jason comments on. It’s a concern and what this event needed to give a nod to. For JRI to work we have to help the right people, not everyone. I haven’t filled out the questionnaire the event coordinators. I don’t know if they want a real critique. Fr my purposes the breakout sessions were more useful than the major speakers. They all had something to promote.

  • You’re correct it had the feel of a trade show, with all the exhibitors and such — Correctional Counseling Inc., Bridgeway Recovery Services, Outreach Smartphone Monitoring, etc. The “prison industrial complex” now includes substance abuse treatment and re-entry services for prison inmates. Some of the exhibits represented public agencies. (My favorite exhibit was the DoveLewis therapy dogs.)

    Not only wasn’t there much push-back, but out of the two days the only reference to victims I saw was in a breakout session towards the end called “Victims and Reentry: Where Do They Fit In?” I couldn’t go because it conflicted with another session I needed to attend. The title made me wonder if they were treating victims and prisoners as equals.

  • I refused to go, although invited (puts me in a very non-select group of about 1000 people apparently).

    But the mantra of Restorative Justice is exactly what you described – moral uquivalence for all…in fact their symbol is a triangle within a circle, three equal sides of a triangle whih contains the “offender” (and they can barely choke out THAT word as too judgmental) then victim, then community.
    Their view is that like it or not these acts took place in the communty and the only fair way to deal with it is make clear that just because John hit Sally with a tire-iron doesn’t goive Sally any moral dominance in that conversation.

    I, and many others, think this is insane.
    The ability to tell between stealing to feed a starviing child and stealing to get more stuff is oen of the few things that separate us from the California Condors.

  • Well, Ive got to ask a general question: Northern European women are reputedly the most “equal” of all nations.

    Yet, as I understand things, they frequently suppress the truth of refugee rapes of women and girls in Europe; I believe a woman mayor in Germany noted that the rape victims in her locale invited the behavior through their dress.

    In England the Rotherham child sex and rape crimes were evidently vast and coordinated yet covered up by women and men in positions of reprehensibility.

    On the continent rapists of both boys and girls have be given lenient sentences because of their cultural unfamiliarity with rape and etc.

    Most of this activity, if I have stated it correctly, is driven and condoned by women supportive of the cultural transition Europeans are undertaking.

    The question of course, is why do women extend patience and sympathy to this conduct, if matters are as I’ve suggested?

    Not that it could never happen here.

  • One of the worst examples of what you’re talking about is the Peace Corps’ reaction to its female volunteers being raped by the natives. This was kept quiet for years until one of them, Kate Puzey, complained about it and was murdered by a West African.

    Why do women collude against other women? Well, who gives birth to and raises rapists and violent bullies?

    What’s peculiar now is how rape is being turned into a political crime in America and is being taken more seriously by certain factions on the left — some of whom want to dismiss and even stop prosecuting other serious felonies.

    I think that women, because they are physically weaker and less likely to intimidate and cause injury, are presumed to be nicer.

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