Teaming up for Justice
Neighborhood district attorney Brenda Allen has reputation for getting convictions
It's amazing the turns a life can take because of just one person.
Gresham resident Brenda Allen was studying journalism and criminal justice administration in Missouri when a law professor suggested she turn her focus to law.
Now, after an impressive 12-year run in the district attorney's office in downtown Portland, Allen is Gresham's new neighborhood district attorney.
Nathan Vasquez, Gresham's other district attorney dedicated to Project Safe Neighborhood, said Allen is known for her high-quality work, no-nonsense attitude and her ability to get convictions that include substantial prison and/or jail time.
All of which thrills Police Chief Carla Piluso. Not only is Allen a highly experienced team player who gives 110 percent, she already has working relationships with Gresham police officers from working local cases with them before starting her new job in September.
'She is such a high-energy individual who chooses to not have her work limited to an office,' Piluso said, adding that Allen has been busy meeting with neighborhood and community groups for a tutorial on local issues. 'She came here and hit the ground running.'
Allen grew up in Missouri and earned her undergraduate degree in journalism and criminal justice administration at Central Missouri State University.
She moved to Oregon in 1991 to attend law school at Lewis and Clark College intending to become an environmental attorney. But she missed the criminal justice side of law, enjoyed trial work and applied for legal internships, 'hoping for the public defender program,' she said.
Instead, she ended up interning for the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office doing legal research and conducting misdemeanor trials.
She was hooked.
When Allen graduated two years later with a law degree, the district attorney's office snatched her up. As a deputy district attorney, she handled misdemeanor cases at Gresham's circuit court and has worked felony drug cases, property crimes, robbery and vehicular homicides, domestic violence assaults and served on the white-collar crime unit.
She particularly enjoyed working with the Portland Airport Interagency Narcotics Team, but it was her time with the white-collar crime unit that led to one of her most satisfying convictions.
Gresham resident and former insurance agent Deborah Pelikan, 46, was sentenced in January to five years of supervised probation for stealing $109,380.98 from an 85-year-old Gresham woman - all while being indicted, tried and convicted of stealing $300,000 from another woman two years earlier.
Allen also put an outrageously brazen dognapper in prison for stealing a Dachshund named Oliver, demanding ransom from the dog's owners, then unleashing the pooch on Swan Island when the owners called police. Someone found the dog and re-united it, safe and sound, with its rightful owners.
As much as Allen enjoyed her fast-paced, high-stress job in downtown Portland, she jumped at the Gresham neighborhood district attorney position when Chris Piekarski left for a job with an insurance company.
Typically, district attorneys just starting their law careers serve as one of the county's eight neighborhood district attorneys, using the job as a stepping-stone to the downtown office.
But Allen, a seasoned professional, has done just the opposite.
'I asked for it,' Allen said, adding that the position presents a new challenge and allows her to be involved in her community.
The job is just as intense as her old one.
Instead of prosecuting criminals, she now guides police officers, ensuring that their investigations can be passed on to district attorneys prosecuting the cases. Allen also will work on livability issues, such as noise, traffic and nuisance neighbors, plus Rockwood's new drug-free zone.
'It's weird after 12 years being the new kid on the block,' she said.