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Top prosecutor condemns new Clackamas county commissioner's racist, transphobic statements.

COURTESY PHOTO - John Wentworth took over as district attorney of Clackamas County on Jan. 1. Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth, who took office a few days early on Jan. 1, called for Commissioner Mark Shull's immediate resignation from the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday, Jan. 13:

"It shouldn't need to be said, but clearly it does: Racism, religious intolerance and transphobia have no place in our community and especially among our leadership. Commissioner Shull's comments are not only in direct conflict with Clackamas County's fundamental commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, they are literally harmful.

"It is, frankly, astounding that someone would not only have these thoughts, but that they would consider them enough to put in writing for others to see, then run for public office with no shame or care that the comments would be condemned. In other words, there is no misunderstanding, slip of the tongue, unintended offense or other excuse to be made. These beliefs were thought, considered, written and aired publicly with pride. Clackamas County is better than this, and deserves more from its leadership."

Gov. Kate Brown appointed Wentworth to be Clackamas County's top prosecutor effective Jan. 1 after he won election in May as district attorney for a term that starts Jan. 4. The former head district attorney announced his retirement effective Dec. 31, so Brown's early appointment of Wentworth was intended to ensure a smooth transition in the DA's office.

"John Wentworth has deep roots in Clackamas County and has earned the support of Clackamas County voters," Brown said. "His dedication to serving the public, including his two decades with the Clackamas County District Attorney's office, demonstrates his deep commitment to this work and will enable him to hit the ground running on day one."

In another controversial case, allegations of racist misconduct by a former police officer and chief, Terry Timeus, roiled West Linn and Lake Oswego earlier this year. It will now be up to Wentworth's office to decide whether criminal or ethical violations actually occurred.

"I am deeply troubled by the reported behavior," Wentworth said, adding, "the sense of distrust the public has in law enforcement generally, here's an example where it may be for good reason."

Wentworth will have enormous influence over justice in Clackamas County — deciding when to pursue charges, when to cut plea deals and when to prosecute aggressively. Here's where he stands:

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Clackamas County Senior Deputy District Attorney John Wentworth has spent more than 20 years serving as a county prosecutor. On the courthouse: Wentworth is a strong supporter of the $230 million plan to replace the Oregon City courthouse, which was built for one judge and now hosts 11.

"For a county with our population size, we're supposed to have 15 judges," he said. "That's a delay in justice that the public doesn't want."

On cash bail: Putting a price tag on freedom is written into the Oregon Constitution, Wentworth said, and he's unsure whether the people would vote to amend it.

"People who have the means to get out of custody can do so, and those that don't have the means can't," he said.

On the death penalty: Wentworth has no regrets about sending Dayton Leroy Rogers — the notorious 1980s Molalla Forest serial killer — to death row. It's the only death penalty case from Wentworth's career as a prosecutor.

He's no fan of a "poorly written" new law created in 2019 to limit use of the death penalty, saying it unintentionally reduced by 30 months the sentence that could be given for attempting to kill a police officer.

"The message that gets sent," he said, "is your lives aren't worth as much as they were before, and that's a terrible message."

On Measure 11: The 1994 ballot initiative set mandatory minimum sentences for a number of violent crimes, to the ire of activists ever since. Wentworth wouldn't seek its repeal, though he said he supports searching for solutions other than incarceration.

"I think the answers to that are farther upstream," he said, "with our families and our communities."

A veteran of the DA's office for the past two decades, Wentworth graduated from Clackamas High School and Oregon State University, and then went on to earn his law degree at the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College. Wentworth began his legal career with the Coos County DA's office. In 1999, he joined the Clackamas County DA's office, where he has served ever since, handling many of the office's most significant cases and rising to be the chief deputy DA.

Wentworth also serves on the Children's Center board and on the board of Parrott Creek Child & Family Services, nonprofit organizations that work with at-risk young people in Clackamas County.

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