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State: OSP can't handle big cases

PORTLAND — The state Department of Justice says Oregon State Police lack experience, money and the constitutional know-how to properly handle complex criminal investigations.

The DOJ offered those charges as an explanation for OSP's fumbling of evidence in a quadruple murder case involving white supremacists, The Oregonian reported.

State police Detective Dave Steele was sentenced in December to 18 months of probation after pleading guilty to forgery and official misconduct related to the case. He also resigned.

Steele was the lead investigator into the nine-day rampage in 2011 of Joey Pedersen and Holly Grigsby that claimed the lives of Pedersen's father and stepmother, an Oregon teenager the couple mistakenly thought was Jewish, and a black man in Northern California.

In a supervisory opinion released last summer, the trial judge in the federal case said Steele withheld and destroyed evidence, backdated reports, and listened to confidential defendant-attorney calls. Despite the problems, Pedersen and Grigsby are both in prison serving life sentences.

In a 23-page advisory review released this week, the state Justice Department said it found no evidence to suggest a systemic problem with OSP's evidence handling and case management. But the review team noted that the department's Major Crimes Section was understaffed at the start of the multiple-murder investigation.

"As a result, only a single detective was assigned as the lead in the case, despite the breadth and complexity of the investigation," the DOJ team wrote. "And, although Det. Steele might have been the 'best fit' at the time the case was assigned, he had little experience investigating capital murder cases."

The DOJ review team recommended a series of corrections to state police policies, procedures and training. Some of the key recommendations include:

  •  Establishing protocols for taking on complex cases, defined as those involving multiple law enforcement agencies, victims, defendants or jurisdictions; organized crime, wiretaps, or imminent terrorist threats.
  •  Adopting the Major Crimes Section's highest standards for turning over evidence helpful to the defense, making that the standard for the entire department, and give regular training sessions for all OSP employees on attorney-client privilege.
  •  Adopting a specific policy for the handling and disclosure of digital records and recordings.
  •  Adopting a policy that requires employees to document evidence they have received from a third party.