The Grant County Court adopted a new property search and inventory policy for the county jail on June 12 that brings it into compliance with a state appellate court ruling.
The Oregon State Court of Appeals in 2018 found the inventory policy at the county jail to be unconstitutional in the case of a John Day man found to be in possession of methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine had been found on the man by an Oregon State Police trooper following acceptable search policy, and the man was transferred to the county jail.
During a court hearing on the drug charge, the defense counsel asked Deputy Pete DeRosier, who worked at the jail, “if there was, say, a film canister or something in a pocket, you would open that and look in it?” DeRosier responded, “Absolutely.”
The defense argued on appeal that the inevitable discovery doctrine did not justify admission of the methamphetamine evidence “because the Grant County Jail inventory policy impermissibly authorizes searches of all closed containers” — even though the defendant did not have a closed container on him when searched.
Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter told the Eagle later that the jail policy needed to be changed to address the issue.
The new policy states that all property brought to the county jail by an inmate, or received from the arresting agency as belonging to the inmate, will be thoroughly searched, and “closed containers of any kind, designed to or objectively likely to contain valuables will be searched.”
In other county court news, Commissioner Jim Hamsher warned about the possibility utilities in Oregon might declare power outages when red flag warnings have been issued.
He cited the case of Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest power company in California, which recently implemented the controversial practice in Northern California, cutting off electrical power to 27,000 customers in five counties out of concern that sparks from its power lines could ignite wildfires.
PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January as investigators looked into the cause of last fall’s Camp Fire — the deadliest fire in California history, which killed 86 people and wiped out the city of Paradise.
Since the time of the Camp Fire, three-quarters of PG&E’s market value has disappeared. The company was cleared of fault for deadly fires in California wine country in 2017, but some reports blame PG&E transmission lines for wildfires.
Hamsher was concerned that, if the Oregon Trail Electrical Cooperative adopted a similar policy, residents, businesses and public facilities in Grant County that rely on a steady power supply could be harmed, including hospitals, senior homes and emergency communications.
He also noted that, if the county court objected and OTEC agreed not to implement the policy, the county could be held liable for any deaths or damages resulting from a wildfire started by a power transmission line.
Frances Preston said she asked an OTEC official about the issue after it was raised during OTEC’s annual membership meeting in John Day on May 4. She said she was reassured OTEC had no plans to implement a similar policy and suggested Hamsher was overreacting.
Judge Scott Myers noted that snags remaining from the 2015 Canyon Creek Complex fire might still be threatening power lines. Hamsher and Myers agreed to speak to OTEC, Grant County Emergency Management Coordinator Ted Williams and the state Office of Emergency Management about the issue.