Metro report: Racist threats common at waste transfer stations
Metro this week released the full text of its investigative report into a rope found tied in the shape of a noose at an Oregon City garbage and recycling center in April.
After staff at the Metro South Transfer Station reported seeing a noose on public property on April 21, an investigation was launched involving interviews with staff members and a thorough review of surveillance footage, from which no evidence of the noose's origin could be found, deeming the investigation inconclusive.
An investigator for Metro sought to determine whether or not the rope was left "intentionally as a retaliatory, threatening, and/or racist message from an employee or customer," per the report.
Also according to the report, this is not the first time such an occurrence has happened at Metro South. A rope tied in the shape of a noose was also found on the premises in November 2020, and employees in varying roles throughout Metro's Waste Prevention & Environmental Services sites, including Metro South, say racist and threatening behavior is a common occurrence from customers.
"Public customers sometimes have confederate insignia on their vehicles. Some customers have weapons visible inside their vehicles. In addition to rudeness and impatience that some public customers display, staff reports that name-calling, including racial epithets, directed at employees, are voiced," the report said.
Metro Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal was among employees who believed motivation for the noose could have been related to Derek Chauvin's conviction for the murder of George Floyd, which occurred the same day the second noose was found in Oregon City.
"The timing of this incident is not lost on me. I wrote to you earlier this week about hope, hope that our collective trajectory had inched closer toward justice. Subsequent events of the week, including additional police shootings and deaths, have hit hard," Madrigal wrote in an email to employees. "Symbols of hate and hate speech oppress by threatening life and are intended to scare and dominate. It is scary, infuriating and it happens EVERY DAY to Black people, Brown people, Indigenous people, Asian people, immigrants and anyone who doesn't present with a light-skinned phenotype. That is why I am personally resolved to find the person or persons responsible and do everything I can to protect you from harm like this in the future."
Video surveillance footage did not definitively capture where the noose may have come from, but a red truck was spotted on camera entering Metro South the evening of April 20 with a "dark rope hanging over the open tailgate and onto its license plate." In a later screengrab from surveillance footage, the rope appears to be out of view, if still on the vehicle, the report said.
"Based on where the rope was found, a vehicle leaving through the public exit would most likely have left or discarded the rope from the passenger side of the vehicle, as that is the side closest to the grass, if the rope was indeed discarded from a vehicle," the report said. "However, the camera pointing toward exiting vehicles only captures the driver side of vehicles. Given the camera angle, it would be very unlikely for the camera to capture video of an item falling off, or being thrown from, a vehicle on the passenger side."
Although members of Metro's Recology team could not determine whether or not the rope on the vehicle was tied the same way as the noose found on the property, they contacted Oregon City Police, who told them there was nothing to investigate unless there was reason to believe the rope was left in a threatening or malicious manner.
A Metro service supervisor said during his interview that while he has never seen a customer leave an item behind intentionally, varying types of loads come through Metro South daily, "tied down with different styles of ropes, cords, or straps with different types of knots and with varying degrees of effectiveness at securing loads," per the report. He added that items poorly secured to vehicles occasionally fall off loads unintentionally.
None of the interviewed employees said they experienced or witnessed behavior on the day of the noose sighting that was racist or otherwise especially concerning, per the report. Two employees reported a man in a white truck who was rude that day, but was not acting in a threatening manner.
Employees initially didn't want to report the noose; one employee told the investigator he kicked it out of the way of traffic. Remembering the pain a noose being left caused fellow employees in the previous incident, the employee threw the noose in the trash when he found it the next morning. But when he told a co-worker about finding the noose, he was convinced to retrieve the noose from the garbage and make a report.
On April 20, the surveillance footage shows an employee approaching the grass and making a kicking motion with his feet. However, the trees behind the fence in the late afternoon, combined with the sunny day, created dark shadows in the video. Despite zooming in the video on the area, the darkness covered what the employee may have been kicking.
In viewing unrelated footage in the same area on a different day, an investigator found that an object in the grass was not visible until an employee picked it up. The quality and proximity of the surveillance video did not appear to be sufficient to show items that may be in the grass, according to the report. Metro has since purchased higher quality surveillance equipment to increase its chances of being able to prosecute future racist incidents.
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