|Tim Antoine and Scott Richardson at the Arlington Mart in Gladstone.|
The racially troubled town of Gladstone is chalking up another dubious milestone: a tort claim filed last week against the City of Gladstone and Clackamas County for "discriminatory enforcement" of city codes.
Scott and Pam Richardson, owners of the Arlington Mart on Arlington Road in Gladstone, as well as Scott's cousin Tim Antoine, have operated a barbeque in their parking lot for the past three years.
They were surprised last May, they told The Skanner News, when the city's code enforcement officer arrived at their deli with a uniformed officer in tow, to deliver them a citation for serving food outside their building.
Surprised, Richardson says, because they'd operated the business for 16 years and had built a brand-new mixed use building in 2009 – just two weeks earlier the city had approved their new liquor license allowing alcohol sales and food consumption in their new patio area outside.
Within weeks, the Richardsons developed a more frightening problem: harassment by a stalker hurling racial epithets and threatening repeatedly to kill them. No police officers responded to their 911 calls, despite the fact that they had witnesses, photos and video of the incidents (a city council document later noted that the calls did not constitute a threat to property or people).
Scott, a retired Portland police officer, is white; Pam was born in Laos; and Tim is African American. The family is being represented by the Portland-based Creighton & Rose law firm.
|Antoine became so frustrated that he made a signboard and wore it as he marched up and down the street in front of the deli on Martin Luther King Day.|
Specifically named in their tort claim are the city, the county, Police Chief Jim Pryde, code enforcement officer Sean Boyle, and Senior City Planner Clay Glasgow.
An answering machine was taking calls during business hours at Gladstone City Hall Tuesday, and a message left there requesting comment has so far not been returned.
"Here we have the city writing out tickets for the barbecue, citing code that doesn't make any sense, and we are fully licensed," Antoine says. "Meanwhile we have a psycho coming over here and calling us 'n***** this' and 'n*****-lover that' and telling us he's going to kill us – and the police do nothing," Antoine said.
"We have spent so much time dealing with this; it's like a drain on our time and our finances.
"And we keep coming back to -- why?"
A sprawling, rural suburb 12 miles south of Portland, Gladstone's public struggles along racial lines have been making headlines for years.
Two years ago a Haitian preteen's family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging extreme racial harassment at Kraxberger Middle School in Gladstone, a town with a population around 12,000.
"Students taunted her, called her the n-word, pushed her into lockers, spit into her food, told her she put mayonnaise in her hair, told her that she smelled bad because she was Black – the things you'd think students don't do anymore that occurred to my client all throughout the school year," the girl's attorney, Jill Odell, told The Skanner News in 2010.
Before that, the Asbury Auto Group, which had owned Thomason Toyota of Gladstone, was sued by four African American employees who alleged rampant racial harassment on the job.
The plaintiffs – Marcus Arnold, Carlos Barfield, Jahaeel Hardy and Kent Paul – were awarded about $2 million each after a jury decided they had been subjected to a hostile work environment that included jokes about using the back door, racial epithets and other racist remarks by managers and fellow salespeople, according to a Skanner News story that appeared in late 2008.
And in what some critics call a more subtle incident, respected former Gladstone Police Chief Frank Grace was forced from the helm of the agency, also in 2008, when the police union returned a vote of no confidence in his leadership; Grace, who is African American, went on to lead the Vernonia Police Department before retiring.
While Grace has never made any negative comments about the situation, other observers in law enforcement and elsewhere questioned the union's charges that Grace's "management style" was leading to "low morale."
|The tickets issued for the Richardsons' alleged code enforcement infractions actually bear the address of the building next door, a cigarette vendor with junk littering the premises.|
(More recently in the news, a former Gladstone police sergeant was fired after being implicated in a murder-for-hire plot during a court hearing, but has not been arrested.)
Scott Richardson says that, over the years, he and his wife Pam "have had our share of racial incidents."
"Sometimes it has been directed at us by customers, and other times it appears to be a lack of due process and differential treatment by the city government and the police department," he says.
Antoine says the Arlington Mart has hundreds of loyal customers who go out of their way to support the business – patrons even contributed $240 for an appeal against a $500 fine imposed by the city as a result of the first ticket the business received.
|Despite their efforts to reduce smoke coming from the barbecue, the Richardsons face a court trial at the end of February for "scrubbing and buffering," which code enforcement officials say they can't define. The business owners will have to ask questions about it "in open court," according to correspondence from the Gladstone city planner.|
A recent trip to the deli showed a steady stream of customers, many of whom wanted to tell this reporter about even more racial incidents.
"These are great neighbors, our regulars have stood by us," Antoine says. "It's really just a small number of powerful people doing foolish things."
Richardson has kept a journal of incidents, as well as a box of documents, photos, video and printed-out emails outlining the strange story of a tiny deli that has drawn extreme scrutiny for its meat smoker – but that's seen little help staving off a violent stalker who ultimately slashed tires and inflicted more than $1,000 worth of damage to the barbecue.
The Richardsons have documented the repeated visits to their business by the Health Department, Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the fire marshall, patrol officers and more. In some cases, Richardson says, even the inspectors have voiced support for their operations, which makes the repeated citations from Gladstone officials particularly troubling.
"If it happened since we put up the barbecue, then I would understand," Antoine says. "But it was just all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we have this nice scene with lots of customers, and great food, and – wham, they're trying to shut us down."
Frustrated, Antoine says, he hand-drew signboards reading "We shall overcome," and marched up and down the street outside the deli on Martin Luther King Day.
The tort claim details how the business owners' efforts to mediate with the city over the first ticket were rebuffed and their installation of hardware to limit the smoke emitted by the barbecue, in October, was ignored.
In fact, copies of the tickets reviewed by The Skanner News show the code enforcement officer has the address wrong; the alleged violations technically have been issued to a cigarette shop next door.
The Richardsons say they have never received any written notices mailed by the city regarding court dates or hearings, which they assume have been delivered to the cigarette shop but not passed on by the owner.
The confusion doesn't end there.
Five days after they installed the smoke-limiting unit to the barbecue, Gladstone's code enforcement officer cited the Arlington Mart for "improper buffering and scrubbing." But when Richardson pressed the code enforcement officer for a definition of the term, the officer could not supply one.
Subsequent emails between Richardson and city officials obtained by The Skanner News, in which the store owner is asking for a definition of "buffering" and "scrubbing," show that even the city has no definition to offer for the charges.
"I have been reviewing Gladstone Municipal Code 17.44.020(3)(f), and the rest of 17.44.020 and 17.44.010, and I am at a loss for a definition of buffering, particularly in regard to odors, and I cannot find any reference to smoke at all under this section," Richardson wrote to Glascow, the city planner, in an email dated October, 2011. "Could you provide me with a definition of buffering?"
"So, and since this is scheduled to go before a judge – I am told the proper venue to discuss these types of questions is in open court," Glascow responded.
For now, the Richardsons' tort claim takes a back seat to their court trial regarding "buffering and scrubbing," which is slated for Feb. 27 at 9 a.m. in the courtroom at Gladstone City Hall.
"We do have a lot of support from our customers," Scott Richardson said. "At the end the day, that is the only reason we stay here and continue on in the face of this adversity."
Antoine, a native of Mississippi, says part of the problem is that once you've tried to bring your case to the top city officials – and they turn it down – there's nowhere else to go but court.
"We've seen this kind of thing before," he said. "But I didn't come all the way out to Oregon to be called the n-word and driven out of business."
CORRECTION: Former Sgt. Benton was implicated in a murder-for-hire plot during a court hearing, but has not been arrested.