Columbia County legislators Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and attorney James Horn of the St. Helens law firm Olsen & Horn LLC, deserve recognition for their continued support of legislation aimed at allowing the families of public employees who are killed on the job, and who are covered by workers compensation laws, to pursue civil action.

Currently, pursuit of civil liability is prohibited in such cases, as state agencies and their officers are immune from civil litigation when a state employee is killed on the job.

The impetus behind the legislation, House Bill 4048, was the tragic death of Jennifer Lynn Warren of St. Helens. In May 2012, Warren, who was employed with Columbia Community Mental Health, which had been contracted by the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board, attempted to deliver medication to Brett K. Redd Jr. at Redd’s St. Helens home.

Redd is schizophrenic and has a history of violent crimes. He stabbed Warren to death in his home as the St. Helens woman attempted to do the job she was hired to do.

For compensation, Warren’s estate — which includes a 22-year-old daughter and a baby granddaughter — received a paltry $16,000 in workers’ compensation. That is a shameful amount.

Despite the legislative push, the Legislature ultimately shot down HB4048. It was the second time the Legislature heard arguments for changing the law on civil liability for public employees who are killed on the job.

Witt, who sponsored the bill, said he believes it was ultimately scuttled due to special interests, specifically referencing the lobbying efforts of the League of Oregon Cities. The League of Oregon Cities raised concerns the bill would have exposed public agencies to tort liability for which they were unprepared (see “’Special interests’ blocked bill for Warren estate, supporters say,” A1). For its part, a League of Oregon Cities representative said alternatives were introduced, including up to a $500,000 settlement in the event a state employee is killed — including as a result of criminal activity — on the job.

Several other state agencies, including the Department of Justice, also winced at the notion the state could be the only respondent in such cases.

Redd had been convicted in 2007 for the 2005 crime of attempted murder except for the reason of insanity after trying to strangle his mother, Debra Redd, while living in The Dalles in Wasco County. In that case, Redd was committed to the Oregon State Hospital and placed under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board.

Following an evaluation, including a secondary assessment by Columbia Community Mental Health, Redd was conditionally released in August 2010.

Following Warren’s death, which occurred just three days prior to her 40th birthday, several reports surfaced that Redd’s medication had been reduced as a precursor to a scheduled medical procedure he was to undergo.

As was later learned, an Oregon Health Authority report completed in October 2012 and provided to the Spotlight upon request outlined several deficiencies in how Redd’s case was being managed, including faulty communication between CCMH, the state psychiatric board and the health authority. The heavily redacted report identified as a root cause poor communication of risk and the need for enhanced supervision of high-risk cases as systemic problems that may have factored in Warren’s death, the Spotlight reported.

In one finding, the report, under the heading “Communication,” states, “There appeared to be a discrepancy in understanding between the CCMH and the state psychiatric board regarding what (redacted) the PSRB would want to be notified about.”

It continues, “CCMH’s understanding was that (redacted) changes were not something the Board needed notification about. Communication from the Board indicates that major clinical decisions, such as (redacted), require timely notification to determine if discharge conditions require modification.”

At the time the Oregon Health Authority’s report was released, which was several months after it had been completed, CCMH Executive Director Roland Migchielson said that he, too, had only received the redacted report days earlier from the OHA.

The redactions are likely the result of federal health insurance laws that forbid the disclosure of a patient’s medical history or condition — including Redd’s. We can only guess at how the information omitted from the repor played into the events in Redd’s home in May 2012. But it is clear that there was miscommunication between the agencies.

There was a systemic cause. But due to Oregon law, such agencies are insulated from litigation.

We are encouraged that Witt has indicated his resolve to continue his arguments on behalf of the Warren estate for justice in this case.

Equally, we would like Columbia County’s local city representatives, especially those in St. Helens, Scappoose and Columbia City, to extend whatever influence they have with the League of Oregon Cities and other naysayers on this front to express disappointment with the ongoing travesty of justice as it applies to the case of Jennifer Lynn Warren.

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