In letter to DA, lawyer demands stronger punishment for dangerous drivers

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland lawyer Chris Thomas* is so fed up with the state of traffic enforcement in Portland that he fired off a letter to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, Police Chief Chuck Lovell, and City Auditor Simone Rede urging them to take the prosecution of dangerous drivers more seriously.

The letter, which I share in its entirety below, comes after one of Thomas’ clients, Megan Little, was hit by a car driver on March 1st and dragged along the street as she walked in a crosswalk on a walk signal across NE Broadway at 21st. Little suffered a concussion and serious foot injuries that still plague her with pain and symptoms nearly four months later. Yet Thomas says, despite the driver making an illegal turn, being unlicensed and uninsured, and having a long history of traffic violations, the Portland Police Officer who handled the case declined to issue a citation or arrest and appeared to politicize the incident by telling the victim to take up their concerns with Portland City Council.

In a conversation with BikePortland this morning, Thomas said he understands police must prioritize, and that they often treat traffic collisions as a civil matter for insurance companies to handle. “But sometimes people don’t have insurance,” Thomas said. “And sometimes drivers need something on their public record saying they got into a crash so that we can, as a society, keep track of these people, hold them accountable, and keep them from doing the same thing over and over again.”

Here’s the letter:

Dear District Attorney Schmidt, Police Chief Lovell, and Auditor Rede,

I am a personal injury lawyer in Portland. My practice involves representing victims of negligence, including on our City’s roadways. Many of my clients are pedestrians and bicyclists, who are particularly vulnerable to serious injury by negligent drivers. I am writing to inform you of the recent experience of Megan Little. On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at about 10:30 pm, Megan and her boyfriend walked across NE Broadway at 21st Avenue in a crosswalk with the walk signal. As they crossed, Jason Davis made a high speed, left turn onto Broadway, striking Megan and dragging her 15 feet from the crosswalk down the street before coming to a stop.

In the days after the collision, Portland Police Officer Shawn Schroeder, badge #58932, informed Ms. Little that Mr. Davis was unlicensed and uninsured. Despite his clear violation of Oregon law for making a dangerous left turn through a crosswalk, and causing a serious injury, Officer Schroeder told Ms. Little that he would not issue a citation or arrest Mr. Davis. He explained that Portland does not have a traffic division, that she should take up her concerns with City Council, and that she should feel fortunate that the driver did not leave the scene. Over the following weeks, as Ms. Little began to recover from her injuries, she made several calls to a variety of Portland Police phone numbers, often encountering busy signals, long wait times, and being told to call another number. Finally, after several complaints to the City about Officer Schroeder’s inaction, on April 11, Mr. Davis was cited for driving while suspended and uninsured. He was not cited for making a dangerous left turn, failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, or other violations of the Oregon Vehicle Code, and he was not charged with vehicular assault or any other crime. His vehicle was not impounded.

Mr. Davis has a long history of irresponsible driving, including several other citations for driving unlicensed and uninsured, as well as reckless driving, and driving under the influence, over the last 20 years. Following his citation, Mr. Davis received a $715 fine, which remains outstanding on top of another fine from November 2022, also for driving unlicensed. Ms. Little sustained a fractured right fibula in the collision and lacerations requiring several stitches. [Note: Thomas included photos with his letter, but they are too graphic to share here.]

She missed seven weeks of work and now, more than three months after the collision, continues to experience pain and limitations in her foot that prevent her from returning to full employment and limit her physical activity. She also sustained a concussion in the collision, which caused symptoms including light sensitivity and memory issues. Due to Mr. Davis’ failure to carry insurance, Ms. Little will receive no compensation for her medical expenses, lost income, and pain, suffering and disruption to her life. Mr. Davis has faced no significant consequences for his actions, and there is no reason to think he has stopped driving irresponsibly, unlicensed, and uninsured through the streets of Portland. I understand that our City faces multiple crises and that Portland Police are on the front lines of combating them. However, traffic violence has worsened in recent years, disrupting the lives of injury victims like Ms. Little, and making many citizens of Portland fear for their safety while walking, bicycling, and driving. I write on behalf of Ms. Little to request that the City prioritize proactive enforcement of irresponsible, unlicensed, and uninsured drivers. Further, I ask that when serious injury collisions occur, the Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County District Attorney’s office cite and/or prosecute dangerous drivers without the need for injury victims to repeatedly follow up and request action.

Thank you for your service to our City and for your attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact me to discuss further.

Sincerely yours,

Christopher A. Thomas
Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost

Asked what he wants the DA and the PPB to do, Thomas said, “I just want them to treat these situations more seriously in terms of holding dangerous drivers accountable, and send a broader message that this is a widespread problem that’s gotten worse, and that a lot of people in our city are fearful for their safety because of it.”

*Note: Thomas is employed by the law firm of Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost; a BikePortland advertiser.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Michael
Michael
1 year ago

As a proud union member, I know a work slowdown when I see one. “We don’t have a traffic division, take up your complaint with [our bosses],” sounds a hell of a lot like a work slowdown when there’s a responding officer on site ready to investigate, write a report, and cite or arrest any lawbreakers, as appropriate.

J1mb0
J1mb0
1 year ago

I keep telling my wife that as a consequence of us living here that someday, I will be hit and probably killed by a reckless driver. After the driver kills me, the police and media will find some way to blame me and the driver may be mildly inconvenienced. That is why I have maxed out life insurance and we spend so much on health insurance. I tried driving for every single trip, but that is a slow death of another fashion.

I am still alive, so I will continue to fight against this toxic culture and infrastructure. I think our direction is changing, and we may even find ourselves headed the right way soon. When I lose that hope, we will move to the Netherlands. I don’t want to, as I’ll be giving up my nice American salary, friends, family, and beloved wilderness. But better to be there than dead here.

Chrystal
Chrystal
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

I have had the same conversation with my spouse…

Johnny Bye Carter
Johnny Bye Carter
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

If it were that easy to move out of the country most of the good people would already be gone.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago

The way PPB treats the citizens that pay their generous salaries is completely disgusting, and would be a fireable offense in any other job sector. Unfortunately I no longer believe that this officers attitude is an isolated case or limited to this particular officer. It seems to be widespread in the department. PPB needs to step up to the plate, put behind them whatever resentment or grudges they may harbor from the past, and start serving the community again. We are their client, we pay their bills. We need a strong police chief that can clean house in this cities police department and turn this extremely low level of service around.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

We pay their bills, but they have the guns. Quite the tricky spot we’ve put ourselves in. Much easier to stick your head in the sand and just believe that it’s only a few bad apples and we can just give them more money and training to solve the problem.

Michael
Michael
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

That’s a nice city you’ve got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it…

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Solution: traffic cameras at every signaled intersection, automatic tickets for speeding, red light running, and driving/parking in bus/bike lanes. If the ticket goes unpaid then impound the vehicle. Use the money to build safer infrastructure for walking and bicycling.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

*every signalized intersection

maxD
maxD
1 year ago

thanks for amplifying this message Jonathan!

Lizzie M
Lizzie M
1 year ago

The recent spate of violent incidents where cars (mostly trucks) have hit pedestrians and cyclists and so far faced few repercussions is weighing on me. This incident in Broadway is just blocks from my house. The incident in Hollywood with the River City Bicycle CEO and the killing of the Vancouver teacher by a truck recklessly speeding and refusing to move over are just three examples this year. Every time I leave my house not in my car, I wonder if I’ll be hit and maimed or killed because I chose to walk or ride my bike (or bus and then walk). The decline of cycling in Portland has many root causes, but fear cannot be excused. I fear if I am killed or maimed by a car or truck, they will face zero repercussions. I’m an abolitionist, so I am not looking for them to be locked up. But I do want them to be held accountable for their actions in driving recklessly. Whether that’s a citation or having to take a remedial course to learn or having to issue a public apology and atone for their actions. Because when it’s okay for truck and car drivers to run lights and not move over for bikes, it means we as a society are saying that it’s OK to kill pedestrians and cyclists. And that is so far from what I know Portland values.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Lizzie M

There is a straight forward, abolitionist-compatible approach (I think) – take their license. They shouldn’t be allowed to drive after most types of traffic infractions, at the very least actual crashes. People may complain that that leaves them unable to function in society and I’d say good. That’s a good motivator to fix public transit and increase active transportation.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Yes, but note that the driver in this case had had his license suspended and he had no insurance – yet he continued to drive. Unlicensed driving is a bigger problem than we probably realize – I don’t want to think about it when I’m out there cycling.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

So the car should be confiscated. Any instance of unlicensed driving should result in loss of the vehicle. Most people without a license aren’t going to be caught when they kill someone, since most traffic incidents don’t result in a death. And in that case, the discovery of a lacking license should result in them no longer having the vehicle. It makes it an expensive habit to drive unlicensed.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Back in 1986 4 former class/school mates of mine were driving from Sheridan into McMinnville. While driving down an off ramp they were hit head on by a drunk driver in a van.

This man had had his license revoked and had multiple vehicles impounded.

The youngest (sister of 1 of my class mates) was left a paraplegic.
Her sister had her pelvis shattered – when I saw her at the 20 year reunion she needed crutches just to get around.
My across the street neighbor had her (sub?) orbital bones shattered and required multiple surgeries.
My other classmate had her ear shorn off.

Simply revoking licenses and even impounding cars is not enough for people who are demonstrably sociopathic.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

I guess we shouldn’t have any laws at all because someone can always find a way around them? What is your proposed solution exactly?

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

These are the types of crimes for which imprisonment is actually the right answer – if a person persistently endangers the life of other poeple, they shouldn’t be allowed to mix with othe people.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

That’s a sad story and I’m sorry it happened.

The world is a big place with a lot of people in it, there are going to be exceptions to everything. Lets not allow those tragic exceptions to prevent us from taking obvious steps in the right direction. Unless you literally just put everyone in chains from the day they are born, nothing you do is going to stop someone from killing people if they want to.

None of the vehicles in these recent stories were inexpensive fifth beater cars driven by people with a revoked license. Furthermore, “multiple cars impounded” sounds like a situation where more should have been done on subsequent incidents.

Lizzie M
Lizzie M
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I think that’s a good start. Making it more expensive to buy insurance as a consequence of having traffic violations doesn’t seem like a bad answer either. Our criminal justice system is not equipped for this, but I think taking accountability for their actions and issuing an apology is also necessary, though it certainly won’t bring folks back.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago

Sooner or later one of these dangerous delinquent drivers is going to maim or kill an actual police officer (just a matter of probabilities), and then how much you wanna bet the police will suddenly find it within their abilities to actually do their jobs (just this one time) in enforcing traffic laws?

Once upon a time, I actually admired the police since they kept the rest of us safe by putting themselves in harm’s way. Well, now I don’t, because it’s clear that they also don’t.

Randi J
Randi J
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Ah the typical Bike Portland “peanut gallery”
blaming the evil police when the REAL problem is the people this peanut gallery elected.

Damien
Damien
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

Ah the typical Bike Portland “peanut gallery” blaming the evil police when the REAL problem is the people this peanut gallery elected.

I love it when people make declarative, “objective” statements that are nothing but, and often just plain incorrect.

Randi, your takes are consistently very misinformed (as most talk radio narratives are). I’d highly recommend taking the time to reflect on where your narratives come from, and seek out broader sources of information – the ones you’ve been consuming are misleading you.

(For BP mods, this is a one-and-done, no back-and-forths from me)

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

We have before us a case of a police officer directly refusing to do their job. Where exactly do you get off NOT blaming the police here?

Randi J
Randi J
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Clearly this police officer failed to fully enforce the law against thus lawbreaker. Not good. But instead of ONLY trying to blame individual cops the real solution is to CHANGE the culture promoted and actions taken (or lack there of) by elected officials that got us to this point where traffic safety and livability in Portland is in the proverbial toilet. We have elected near police abolitionists like DA Mike Schmidt and Joanne Hardesty. What did we expect?

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

You are living in an alternate universe if you think elected officials have any real control over the actions of the police. I, meanwhile, blame the police for how the police (mis)behave.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago

“He explained that Portland does not have a traffic division…”

Translation: even when there’s a cop on the scene with the driver detained, PPB can’t do anything about people who drive illegally and dangerously. But somehow they have the resources to bust up “drug markets” in vacant buildings abandoned by the owners. Welcome to The City that Works (For the Wealthy Only).

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Portland had 58+ drug overdose deaths in 2022. Are you saying we shouldn’t do anything about known hard drug markets in abandoned buildings?

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

During prohibition in the 1920s people died from consuming adulterated liquor. The answer to that was not to do prohibition harder.

Dwk
Dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

About 1000 people per year died during prohibition from tainted alcohol according to Ken Burns, the documentarian and film maker.
70,000 people overdosed from Fentanyl in 2021 in the US…
Almost exactly the same thing isn’t it….

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Dwk

And yet making drug use a crime somehow failed to prevent those 70,000 deaths. The War on Drugs is really working out great, isn’t it?

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Imagine if the response to public drownings was to arrest people selling their boat on Craigslist. I support a harm-reduction approach to overdose prevention that does not further traumatize an already socially marginalized group.

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/od2a/case-studies/harm-reduction.html

Concordia Cyclist
Concordia Cyclist
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

To be fair, they are also demonstratively skilled at helping break up strikes, as well, in very quick fashion (i.e.: Mondelez). They really seem to relish that part of the job.

Randi J
Randi J
1 year ago

LOL. Voters in Portland brought this on ourselves. We elected people who promised us a religious devotion to the ideology of racial and social justice over and above support for common sense , pragmatic support of public safety, a requirement for personal responsibility and adherence to
our social contract. Now the “votes have come home to roost”.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

Are those the same people who increased PPB’s budget to its highest level ever? Leaving aside the insinuation that racial justice is not “common sense”, the actual numbers don’t square with your statement.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Lowest police staffing per capita in the country. A budget is a budget. Actual staffing is a much better measure of effectiveness and our priorities as a city.
https://www.wweek.com/news/2022/09/28/portland-ranks-48th-among-50-big-cities-for-cops-per-capita/

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Gee, maybe PPB is finding it hard to hire good people while their entire department is under federal sanction for beating up mentally ill people and journalists. Nah, must be a total coincidence.

https://www.portlandmercury.com/news/2022/11/09/46183320/federal-judge-expresses-disappointment-in-citys-ongoing-non-compliance-in-ppb-settlement

https://www.opb.org/news/article/aclu-sues-portland-oregon-police-officers-attacked-journalists-blm-protests/

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Lowest police staffing per capita in the country. A budget is a budget. Actual staffing is a much better measure of effectiveness and our priorities as a city.

How’s that? The city has given PPB ungodly amounts of money. We can’t make them hire employees. I’m not sure how attractive a police department that has completely destroyed its relationship with the people who live here, consistently has news trickle out about the toxic and bigoted work environment, and has a federal probation officer for how violent and thuggish its employees are, is all that attractive to new recruits.

Maybe they could work on themselves with some of that money.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I know you prefer inflammatory rhetoric, but you can read this if you want to know the real reason why Portland is slow to staff up its police department:

https://www.oregonlive.com/crime/2023/01/bottleneck-at-oregon-police-academy-leaves-recruits-waiting-months-for-basic-training.html

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Portland police levels have been declining for a decade while other Oregon departments have not.

Can you explain why this bottleneck seems to only affect the PPB?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

Lol at “racial and social justice” being bad things to care about.

Not like this good, hard working Randi J who doesn’t give a flying something about when an unarmed black person gets killed by police. Not his problem, I say!

It’s not an either/or. If the current state of public safety was caused by who we elected, the way that happened isn’t because of what those elected people did. It’s because of the cops’ reaction to them being elected. The cops didn’t like who we elected or what the protesters say, so in response they’re not doing their job.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Randi J who doesn’t give a flying something about when an unarmed black person gets killed by police. 

I think it is possible to want accountability when an unarmed person is killed by the police (whether they be black or, just as often, white) without being a third rank acolyte of Kendism (as Lisa Caballero termed it).

Isn’t accountability an important component of “common sense” public safety?

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago

There is another tool in the tool box that the citizens of Portland should consider organizing for improved traffic safety [and impressing the prosecutor’s office the importance of traffic crimes on vulnerable roadway users] = traffic court watchers…where citizens attend open court sessions to observe (and comment) on if the judicial system [defence + prosecution] have minimized the impact of the crime / roadway behaviour on its victim(s).

A good example of this problem just occurred in Honolulu, where a repeat dangerous driver did a hit and run: ran a red light and struck and killed a student pedestrian in a school zone marked crosswalk. He had >164 identified traffic violations…and one set occurred the month before where the state prosecutor recommended to lower the severity of the offense to a petty misdemeanour…then to ask that it be returned to a higher offence after the public uproar about the later fatality in a separate case.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/suspect-mckinley-hit-run-enters-160200887.html

Eric Liefsdad
Eric Liefsdad
1 year ago

“as she walked in a crosswalk on a walk signal across NE Broadway at 21st” I hope they find the traffic Engineer responsible for this design flaw

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Liefsdad

Nearly every light in the city allows turn movements on green when the walk signs are active. We rely on drivers to not turn into people walking. The other alternative would be completely separated cycles for peds and vehicles.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Actually, there are several alternatives: leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs), banning left turns at certain intersections, narrowing the street and lanes to reduce speeds, etc. “Relying on drivers to not turn into people walking” is the reason this incident happened in the first place.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

I dont understand why the courts give fines as low as 80 dollars for a catastrophic crash (in a different case) when it costs thousands to investigate and litigate. If taxpayers are going to pool money together for something expensive that also kills us, at least make it cool, like tigers with lasers. Not drunk high schoolers.