Typo throws into question booze citations issued in county parks

Typo throws into question booze citations issued in county parks »Play Video
Many neighbors of parks in Clackamas County welcomed the ordinance approved last August that enhanced the ability of deputies to search for alcohol. But the county recently discovered the citations couldn't hold up in court because of a clerical error.

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. – Clackamas County commissioners passed a law last year that was supposed to help stop people from bringing alcohol into parks, but it turned out to be unenforceable.

The point of the law was to make going to a park like going to a sporting event or a concert, meaning any coolers or backpacks you brought in would be subject to a search. It was prompted by concerns about safety.

Jerri Shelton lives near the Clackamas River in Damascus. She says last year in the waters near her home she helped save a drowning woman who fell out of a raft full of people who'd been drinking.

“She was just screaming and crying. She couldn't hang on anymore,” Shelton said. “And I waded out as far as I could and helped pull her in."

Shelton says a 2-year-old from the raft who wasn't wearing a life jacket was also rescued from the dangerous waters, and she says it was just one of several similar incidents.

“Last summer, over and over, sometimes daily, the ambulance and fire truck were screaming down our dirt road," Shelton said.

She and others in the area say drunken people who often enter the river through parks in Clackamas County cause big problems.

"In the summertime when it's rafting season, it gets pretty bad," said Mike Clark, a fisherman. "You see quite a few people that overindulge."

By putting themselves and others at risk with dangerous behavior and leaving litter behind that homeowners often have to clean up, the booze-filled crowds have worn out their welcome with many people who live near the river.

"It's a lot of teenage kids and they really don't have a lot of regard for the beach down here," said Shelton.

She and many of her neighbors welcomed the ordinance approved last August that enhanced the ability of deputies to search for alcohol.

“I was looking forward to it hopefully being better this summer," Shelton said.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the law.

"I don't think they should be able to search your cooler,” said Tim Hartvedt, who frequently visits local parks. “That's just an invasion of privacy."

"If you're gonna come out here and have fun, that's fine,” said Christina Kerston, a mother and park visitor. “As long as the kids don't get involved or don't see anything then I’m fine with it."

The county recently discovered the citations couldn't hold up in court because of a clerical error. It had to do with the number of days violators were told they had to fight the ticket.

"The citation said 20 days, but the county adopted ordinance was 14 days,” said Gary Barth, the community and business services director for Clackamas County. “In the rush to try to get things done toward the end of the season, that error was made and we caught it as we were doing the review to get ready for this opening season."

Neither Barth nor anyone else KATU’s On Your Side investigators spoke with in the county government could say how the problem came about.

“I can't tell you exactly where that disconnect came," said Barth.

Last week, county commissioners voted unanimously to fix the ordinance so the law on the books would match the tickets written by deputies. Under the new version, violators will get 20 days to contest a citation.

The new ordinance is expected to get final approval next Thursday. After that, it will immediately go into effect.

Last year, the original ordinance just about doubled the number of alcohol citations being written. In July of 2013, the month before the law took effect, deputies wrote 35 tickets. In August, the month the measure was adopted, 67 citations were handed out. Around half of last year's tickets were paid, with penalties ranging from $25 to $55. The rest remain unpaid.

County leaders haven't been able to tell KATU yet if any of the citations issued since August have been thrown out because of the problem with the measure.