President Obama ended his last year in office by commuting the sentences of a record number of federal prisoners. Altogether, Obama granted 1,750 commutations, with 300 coming on his final full day in office. At least four of them committed crimes in the Portland area, with most having their sentences commuted last week.
In keeping with the current push for criminal justice reforms, they were convicted of non-violent drug crimes, but not found guilty of physically harming anyone. The issue is a hot topic in Portland, being raised at nearly every meeting of the Community Peace Collaborative, a biweekly gathering of social justice advocates and criminal justice officials. The consensus is, lengthy non-violent drug sentences disrupt families and communities, creating unintended, harmful consequences.
But that does not mean the federal prisoners were only convicted of minor drug possession charges.
Take Dontae Lamont Hunt, a federal fugitive wanted on drug and gun charges who was arrested in Portland in September 2003. Hunt was caught after running from police in the company of Selwyn Terris Stafford, described as a "major player" in the gang scene at the time.
According to Dec. 8, 2003, story in the Portland Tribune, police got a tip that Hunt was seen at a Northeast Portland house, which they put under surveillance. They mobilized several teams to arrest him on Sept. 17 and also sent up a surveillance plane to track anyone who might try to flee.
As police prepared to move in, Hunt and Stafford both came out of the residence and got into a new Range Rover, with Stafford behind the wheel. One of the police teams trailed the car when it drove off, followed by the plane. When the Range Rover pulled into a service station at Northeast Grand Avenue and Broadway, Hunt got out, saw the police and jumped back in. Stafford drove off, with the police in pursuit.
Hunt jumped out as the Range Rover slowed to take a corner a few blocks away, and police chased him on foot. According to court records, he threw a gun and crack cocaine over a fence and onto the grounds of a day-care center as he tried to escape. When the police caught Hunt a short time later, they found he had nearly $5,000 in his possession.
Hunt was convicted of possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of cocaine base and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and eight years supervised release on Sept. 23, 2005. Obama commuted his sentence to expire on Feb. 3, eight years early.
Another convict who committed crimes in the Portland area and had his sentence commuted last week was Larry Steven Malone. He was sentence to life in prison in July 1995 on charges of conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine, manufacturing methamphetamine, possessing with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
And Obama granted a full pardon last week to Kurt David Christensen, who was sentenced to five years probation in January 2001 for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
But Obama has released federal prisoners convicted of non-violent drug crimes before, benefitng at least one Portlander. In July 1995, Barbara Lammsies Scrivner was sentenced to 30 years in prison and five years supervised release on multiple methampetamine charges. She was released in June 2015 after Obama commuted her sentence. After her release, Scrivner was profiled by FAMM, a criminal justice reform advocacy organization, which said her actually criminal involvement was minor and the result of being addicted to drugs and in an abusive relationship.