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Michelle Burrows: 'In refusing to prosecute, Mr. Barton sent a signal to all the other abusers in Coffee Creek...'

COURTESY PHOTO - Michelle BurrowsEvery Oregonian, no matter their personal circumstances or criminal history, is worthy of the protections of the law and deserves humane treatment by the judicial system. Sexual predators count on officials straying from this standard, and they target victims who seem easy to doubt and discredit.

Until recently, I had faith that the Washington County District Attorney's Office understood this ploy and could deliver justice even for victims viewed as unsympathetic.

Under current DA Kevin Barton, that is no longer true. His office refused to prosecute a man on the prison medical staff at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility who allegedly raped, sodomized or abused 27 inmates over a period of seven years.

The DA's failure was a betrayal of the public's trust, allowing nurse Tony Klein to remain free and employed by a local health system.

I have known several prosecutors, including the previous two district attorneys in Washington County.

Over the past eight years, I represented more than a dozen women reporting abuse and sexual misconduct inside Coffee Creek prison, spanning two separate major incidents.

The contrast between my previous experience and the Klein case is stunning. DA Kevin Barton is the only difference.

Before his term in office, the Washington County District Attorney's Office took claims seriously, vigorously prosecuting staff who victimized incarcerated women.

Barton's office, though, did what abusers hope for: They declined to prosecute Tony Klein early in the process because they "feared" they could not get a conviction. They did not look at the evidence, did not interview victims, did not access Klein's computer search history covering the women and did not try to understand the nature of abuse inside prison.

The Oregon State Police met my expectations for a solid investigation, but the facts came up against the district attorney's complete disdain for the constitutional and legal mandates to seek justice for these particular defendants. Barton could have reconsidered at any point, but he did not.

In refusing to prosecute, Mr. Barton sent a signal to all the other abusers in Coffee Creek that women with criminal histories, who are powerless in prison, are fair game to mistreat.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice rejected that notion and began an investigation. They diligently pursued the same information Barton's office and I already had.

They recently secured a 22-count indictment against Klein for his actions, and the women I represent received a substantial settlement in our cases. That provides some measure of justice, but it came because other people did Kevin Barton's job for him.

Kevin Barton is a poor prosecutor who is making perilous choices about who is worthy of the efforts of his office. My message to him is that we are all worthy, and Washington County deserves a DA who grasps that too. It's not Barton.

Michelle Burrows is an attorney based in Lake Oswego. She has more than 30 years of experience as a litigator in state and federal court.

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