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Power players don't like a nosy DA

On the Town

Imagine, if you will, a town so dirty that the new district attorney knows he can't trust the chief of police or the vice squad.

Shortly after he takes office, two members of the vice squad come to him in secret, telling him they've been ordered to stay away from certain gambling operations. Same thing for prostitution and narcotics.

They tell him they think there's a payoff - not just to certain members of the police bureau but to the City Council, too. Maybe even into the mayor's office. Who knows?

All they know for sure is that they've been ordered not to do their jobs.

To the new DA, who happens to be a law-and-order type guy, this is intolerable.

He sets up a special task force of police officers from outside the city, plus the two vice officers who came to him, and together they set out to clean up the town.

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The new DA hasn't been in office two months when the task force swoops down on Bill's Gold Coin, long a center of prostitution, operating openly just off West Burnside Street at about 20th Avenue. Gambling raids soon follow.

In their secret meeting room in the Multnomah County Courthouse, the task force is even studying how to get to the money men, so far never touched, behind the region's drug business.

As if that weren't enough, the new DA strikes out at consumer fraud by local car dealers. In a speech covered on the front page of The Oregonian, he also pledges to wage war on polluters.

Some people talk a lot about law and order. But when Des Connall was appointed Multnomah County DA in 1970, he may have been naive, but he certainly put his money where his mouth was.

Needless to say, though, when the next election rolled around, the racketeers, the car dealers and, of course, the political bosses who'd been running things here for years got together and made sure someone else was in sitting in the DA's office.

Leading the charge was the law firm of Kell and Alterman. Ray Kell was the acknowledged power behind Mayor Terry Schrunk.

Another big supporter of Connall's opponent was a young lawyer named Ted Runstein. Runstein, later to become a partner in Kell and Alterman, was identified in the newspapers at the time as the son of gambling figure John 'Johnny Boston' Runstein. He also happened to be a close friend of mayor-elect Neil Goldschmidt, whom the machine also supported that year.

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And so it was that in 1973, Des Connall left the DA's office and went into business as a criminal defense attorney. It's clear, however, that he never lost his interest in rooting out dirty cops.

In 1982, while representing a biker who shot and killed a police officer during a raid, he got his client out of prison by demonstrating that the police had a phony search warrant and were there to plant drugs.

Five officers eventually were forced to resign, and the DA's office issued a report designed to put the scandal to rest. As Connall makes clear, however, he thinks the report left a lot out.

He believes that his investigator on the biker case, Earl Son, was killed because he was looking into possible murders by cops.

Now he's asking the current DA Mike Schrunk - who not only signed off on the vice scandal report, but whose father was the public face of the machine that ousted Connall from office - to conduct an investigation into Son's death.

Anyone who says history is dull obviously hasn't spent much time here in Portland.

Contact Phil Stanford by phone, 503-546-5166, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .