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Charges possible for allowing shooter's access to firearm

DA's decision hinges on findings of investigation


The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office has set a precedent for charging members of Jared Padgett's family with violating a county ordinance for allowing him access to the AR-15 rifle he used to kill a student and wound a teacher at Reynolds High School.

The investigation into the June 10 shooting is still ongoing, however, and the DA's office declined to comment on whether they will pursue such charges when it is completed. The decision could be influenced by the circumstances of how Jared came into possession of the gun.

Enforcement of the ordinance in cities within the county is also being challenged in a civil lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court. According to search warrant documents released last week, Jared obtained the rifle at his father's home in Gresham.

The 14-month-old county ordinance is intended to prohibit unauthorized access to firearms to minors. Padgett, who took his own life at the school, was 15 and the rifle is apparently owned by his brother, Lucas, who is 24. According to the search warrant documents, the rifle was stored in a bedroom at the Gresham house that both brothers occupied.

The ordinance does not apply in cases where a minor illegally enters property to obtain the firearm, or where the firearm is secured in a locked container or disabled by a device that a reasonable person would conclude prevents a minor from using it without authorization.

Investigators have not revealed whether or how the rifle was stored in the bedroom. They have said it was secured and that Jared defeated the security. Although Lucas told investigators he had several "gun lock boxes" in the house, the search warrant documents do not list any of them.

The prohibition against allowing minors to obtain firearms has never been enforced in the county before. However, the DA's office enforced another prohibition of the ordinance last week for the first time. It charged Joseff Powell, 21, with violating the provision that prevents anyone from carrying a loaded gun in the county. Powell was arrested after he brought a hidden gun to Reynolds High School after the shooting. Powell said he was intending to protect his sister, a student at the school. He was arrested in Troutdale.

The Multnomah County Commission adopted the ordinance in April 23, 2013. A short time later, five residents of Fairvew, Gresham and Troutdale filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court arguing that the county does not have the legal authority to enforce its ordinance within cities without the permission of their governments. The case has drug on for about a year and is scheduled to be heard by Judge Cheryl Albrecht on July 9.

Bruce McCain, the attorney representing plaintiffs, says the lawsuit is not a gun control case. McCain says it is challenging the legal authority of the county to enforce any of its ordinances in cities, something McCain says has never happened before in Oregon.

"If the county can get away with this, they can adopt and enforce any other ordinance in cities without their permission. They could include plastic bag bans, mandatory employer sick leave policies, or other things that aren't approved by the city councils," McCain says.

McCain actually believes the county has the authority to enforce its gun control ordinance in the unincorporated sections of the county. So does Portland, McCain says, which adopted similar policies before the county did. According to McCain, state law gives cities and the nine home rule counties in Oregon, including Multnomah County, the authority to adopt some gun control measures.

But McCain insists the county does not have the authority to enforce its ordinance in Troutdale, where Powell was arrested, and in Gresham, where Jared lived.

The county filed its response late Friday that argued their authority was derived from the Oregon Constitution, which apparently means their voter-approved charter, otherwise known as Home Rule authority.