The Wasco County District Attorney’s office has partnered with a Portland-based nonprofit defense organization to outsource manpower on an ongoing case review that stemmed from revelations of deceptive behavior by former The Dalles Police Officer Jeffrey Kienlen.
District Attorney Matthew Ellis said he sought assistance from FA:IR Law Project to review a set of cases where Kienlen was a witness during his time as a police officer. His office has granted the firm limited access to software used to review the cases.
FA:IR Law Project, a newly formed group with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, will now take over the work required to complete the case review, which is being funded by grants and donations, co-director Brittney Plesser said.
Kienlen was placed on leave from The Dalles Police Department following Ellis’ public announcement earlier this year that he obtained a 2011 “Notice of Discipline” letter detailing the officer’s demotion for violating the department’s policy for truthfulness. The revelation led to a hearing between the officer and Ellis that resulted in Kienlen’s placement on a “Brady list,” which disqualified him from testifying in court as a police officer. Kienlen was the first officer from Wasco County to be placed on such a list. Following the decision, Kienlen was fired.
Following Kienlen’s termination with the force, Ellis initiated a review of cases dating from 2011, at the time of the officer’s demotion, to determine integrity in the convictions that Kienlen was involved with as a state witness. Ellis has said that the case review will analyze whether Kienlen’s testimony was critical to any given conviction. Since the 2011 “Notice of Discipline” was not made public until this year, nor provided to defense attorneys under discovery rules, Ellis said a case that relies on Kienlen’s testimonies during the 10-year time period to make a conviction could result in dismissals or expungements.
The case review performed by Wasco County district attorneys has since led to at least nine dismissals and one instance where a NORCOR prisoner was released, and their sentence reduced to probation.
Ellis said the decision to seek outside legal counsel was based on the lack of resources his office has available to tackle such a review.
“It would drain a lot of resources in our office to take on a project this size,” Ellis said. “We’ve only scratched the surface.”
Plesser said her office has been tasked with reviewing cases where Kienlen was a witness, around 750 cases and counting, and making recommendations to Ellis about which cases may require dismissals, and convictions that may need to be vacated.
“Our interest is really making sure there’s integrity in the entire justice system,” Plesser said. This case review is only one of the projects currently being taken on by the organization. They are also assisting with ongoing projects out of Crook and Jefferson counties, in which a defense attorney had failed to review discovery in criminal cases.
Plesser lauded Ellis’ focus on conviction integrity, saying, “We really appreciate his commitment to transparency and fairness to these convictions.”
Ellis said not only will the outside legal help allow his office to return to business as usual, but having an independent body review the cases will allow for more transparency in the system.
“It’s a new era for the district attorney’s office here in Wasco County,” Ellis said. “We’re going to ensure that there’s more conviction integrity in the system.”