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Lawsuit over jail treatment goes to federal court today

A woman who claims she was mistreated at the Douglas County Jail was set to be back in federal District Court in Eugene on Wednesday afternoon.

Terri Carlisle had originally sued the county government, but settled with the county out of court in February.

She’s still suing two other defendants, the Kansas-based private medical company Correct Care Solutions, which contracted with the county to provide inmates’ medical care, and Steven Blum, the doctor who provided Carlisle’s care in the jail.

Carlisle claimed while she was serving her sentence at the jail in 2015, pain medicine for excruciating nerve pain caused by neuropathy was withheld for 65 days despite repeated complaints to staff and a plea from her family doctor.

Her case was taken up by ACLU of Oregon.

Carlisle had also alleged she was moved to a 12-by-16 foot punishment cell after jail staff found she had kept salt, a pencil sharpener, fingernail clippers, ibuprofen, a stool softener, and a single nerve pain pill, according to the ACLU. The pain pill in question was Neurontin, which is not a narcotic. She said she had forgotten to take it.

She had also complained of poor conditions generally for women in the punishment cell, where she alleged a dozen women were denied showers and had to beg for toilet paper and feminine hygiene products. She said some of the women had menstrual blood soiled clothing, were vomiting or had diarrhea. She said in the five days she spent in that cell she was never given a shower.

Carlisle was in the county jail for six months, from Feb. 9 to Aug. 4, 2015, on a conviction for driving under the influence of intoxicants. For 10 years prior to her incarceration, Carlisle had been taking the Neurontin to manage her neuropathy symptoms.

The terms of her settlement with the county included $25,000 for her attorneys and a promise that inmates would receive regular showers, clean clothing, hygiene supplies and medications prescribed by their doctors.

Although the remaining defendants are Correct Care Solutions and physician Steven Blum, neither of whom is a part of the county government, the ACLU is continuing to press Carlisle’s constitutional claim. The ACLU argues that Correct Care and Blum acted with deliberate indifference toward Carlisle’s medical needs, thus violating her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

“When we outsource jail medical care to out-of-state, for-profit companies, it can be harder to hold them accountable, but we won’t give up,” ACLU of Oregon Staff Attorney Kelly Simon said in a written statement. “They must treat people in their care humanely and safely. We will keep fighting for justice for Terri Carlisle and for policy changes.”

Correct Care and Blum argued in court documents, however, that they were following widely accepted jail policy. The fact that Carlisle had kept a Neurontin pill rather than taking it meant she was hoarding it, the document said.

A loose Neurontin tablet in Carlisle’s cell was a risk to her health and well-being and the safety of others, the document said, and the medication wasn’t critical for her. It also said Carlisle refused to meet with Blum to discuss alternative pain management.

Roseburg Junior Academy start the school year with a visit from Wildlife Safari

Hazel Christian picked up her chair and moved it back about 20 feet during the back to school celebration, which included a cheetah from Wildlife Safari, at Roseburg Junior Academy on Tuesday.

“I’m not going near that thing,” the kindergartner said.

But once Carissa Clendenon, one of the Wildlife Safari educators, started the presentation with cheetah Khayam Jr. and his partner dog Rhino, Hazel stood up and participated along with the rest of the school. She asked and answered questions, and was eager to pet Rhino.

Roseburg Junior Academy Principal Jeff Jackson said he heard about Wildlife Safari visiting schools and thought it’d be a good way to start the academic year at the private school.

The school has 37 students divided into three classrooms; kindergarten, first through third grade, and fourth through eighth grade. Hot lunch is served once a week at Roseburg Junior Academy, and the proceeds from those lunches helped pay for the interaction with the cheetah.

Khayam Jr. arrived a few minutes late — apparently he too was a bit nervous about the first day of school and didn’t want to get in his travel carrier, according to Jackson.

Once he got there, students started trickling into the gymnasium, carrying their chairs as they lined up to sit in front of the stage.

Many were excited to see the cheetah, but perhaps none more than fifth grader Liezl Eisenbrey. Liezl wore a cheetah print shirt and skirt for the occasion.

“I’ve seen it two times, and this is my third time seeing the cheetah,” she said. “I like how fast they run.”

Cheetahs can run at speeds of nearly 70 miles per hour. But it was Liezl’s knowledge of another big cat fact that earned her an artistic paw print made by Khayam Jr. — cheetah have between 2,000 and 3,000 spots.

After Khayam Jr. had a chance to explore most of the gym and stage, even licking some of the stage curtains, and Clendenon finished her presentation, students worked in small groups to make posters about cheetahs.

“I really liked it,” fourth grader Grace Jackson said.

Hazel also seemed to have recovered from her fear as she drew a picture of the big cat and acknowledged that baby cheetahs are cute.

Oregon death penalty bill may have impact on Douglas County murder trial

The trial of a Myrtle Creek man accused of aggravated murder is not scheduled until September 2020, but the outcome of a possible special session of the Oregon Legislature may impact whether Troy Russell Phelps is tried for aggravated murder or a straight murder charge.

Prosecutors can’t comment on the case, but the difference could mean the state chooses to pursue the death penalty for aggravated murder, or life in prison for a murder charge if the defendant is convicted. It could be the first case in Douglas County affected by the law, which is scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 29.

Phelps, 34, is accused of killing 26-year-old Brandon Michael, also of Myrtle Creek, on May 31, 2017, at Lawson Bar along the South Umpqua River south of Tri City. Phelps is also accused of kidnapping Michael’s girlfriend and her 10-month-old baby and taking them to a residence in Myrtle Creek after Michael was killed.

Phelps was in Douglas County Circuit Court on Tuesday as his attorney, Elizabeth Baker, continued her efforts to subpoena some information from the Oregon Department of Human Services to prepare her defense in the case.

The case is one of several around the state where prosecutors are waiting to see if a bill to restrict the death penalty gets changed later this month in a special session of the Oregon legislature.

During legislative hearings, lawmakers said the bill would not apply to previous cases in which offenders had already been sentenced.

However, recently the Oregon Department of Justice said that the law could potentially be applied to the 30 inmates on Oregon’s death row who can still appeal. That means if a death row inmate’s case was sent back for resentencing, Senate Bill 1013 could bar prosecutors from again seeking a death penalty if the case does not fit the new death penalty guidelines set out in the bill.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, one of the main proponents of the bill, has said that’s not what he intended and wants to change that part of it. The legislature is expected to hold a special three-day session in two weeks with one day of the session set aside to deal with making a change on the retroactive part of the bill.

The new law would make it more difficult for prosecutors to seek the death penalty, limiting the types of crimes that would be punishable by death. Only the killing of a child under age 14, killing two or more people in a terrorist act and killing a police officer, and convicted murderers who kill another prisoner while incarcerated would be included.

But the change could act retroactively, affecting those already convicted of aggravated murder, according to the Oregon solicitor general.

Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg said district attorneys around the state have been left in limbo.

“We’re evaluating each case on a case-by-case basis, and we’ll evaluate whether the new law changes if there is a special session,” Wesenberg said. “I feel strongly and passionately that this decision should be made by the voters of Oregon because the voters spoke in 1984 and should be allowed to speak again.”