Lawsuit after Reynolds shooting decides reach of ordinance

A Multnomah County judge has cleared the way for the district attorney’s office to charge one or more members of Jared Padgett’s family with a crime for allowing him access to the rifle he used to kill a fellow student and wound a teacher at Reynolds High School.

Padgett killed himself with the AR-15 he brought to school on June 10 as police were closing in on him. He brought the semi-automatic rifle from his family’s Gresham home.

The investigation into the shooting is still underway and District Attorney Rod Underhill has not publicly commented on whether anyone in the Padgett family could face charges. But in an Aug 21 ruling on an unrelated civil case, Circuit Judge Kathleen Dailey said an existing county ordinance making it a crime to allow a minor access to a firearm “may” apply in Gresham. Padgett was 15 at the time of the shooting.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed against the county by five residents of Fairview, Troutdale and Gresham well before the shooting. Through their attorney Bruce McCain, the residents argued that a gun control ordinance adopted by the Multnomah County Commission in April 2013 should not apply to cities within the county.

Dailey dismissed the suit on Aug. 21, ruling the plaintiffs do not have standing to file the suit for a variety of reasons. But in her ruling, Dailey said the county prohibition against endangering a child by allowing access to a firearm “may” apply in Gresham because the city has not passed an ordinance either invalidating or superseding it.

Test of county policy

McCain is disappointed Dailey did not rule on the merits of the case. Even if she had ruled the county ordinance applies in the cities, the plaintiffs could appeal that to the Oregon Court of Appeals, where the merit of the case would be argued.

But McCain says that a member of the Padgett family being charged with violating the county ordinance would be a perfect test case. He is also chairman of the Reynolds School Board, which makes him split on the possibility.

“As a lawyer, such a case would be the perfect way to test the constitutionality of the county imposing its policies on cities. But as chair of the Reynolds School Board, I can say the community has already endured enough on the shooting,” says McCain.

The district attorney’s decision is likely to be influenced by the details of how Padgett obtained the rife. According to search warrant record filings, the rifle is owned by his brother, Lucas, who is 24. It was kept 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.

County overreach?

McCain says his lawsuit was not just about a gun control case. He insists it challenged 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.

In its filings, Multnomah County counsel argued the county has the authority to impose its ordinances in cities because it is one of eight “home rule” counties in the state, meaning the voters have approved its charter.

Dailey appeared to offer cities two options for challenging county ordinances. One is to pass an ordinance invalidating any county ordinance, as Fairview did. She said that made the question of whether the Fairview plaintiff had standing “moot.”

The other is for cities to adopt their own ordinances on the same subjects. In her ruling, Dailey said another portion of the county’s gun control ordinance, a prohibition against discharging firearms in public, does not apply in Gresham because the city already regulates that.

“The best way to address the issue of the county’s overreach may be political, not legal,” McCain says.

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