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Violent Oregon Prisoner Murders Cellmate; County Points Fingers; Family Sues

By all accounts, 22-year-old Thomas Allen Tommy Gordon is an extremely dangerous man. In 2001 he fatally shot his friend, Dylan Beck, in the back of the head while they were driving in Vancouver, Washington. While awaiting trial Gordon committed more than 30 major rule violations, including unprovoked assaults on prisoners and staff. Gordon was sentenced in February 2002 to the maximum sentence of 33 years in prison due largely to his extensive record of violent outbursts while awaiting trial.

Just three months into his sentence, Gordon committed an unprovoked assault on a fellow prisoner, according to Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) records. He stated later that he forgot why he attacked the man.
During the ensuing 3½ years, Gordon committed 59 rule violations including staff assaults, prisoner assaults, strong-arming, throwing objects and other violent infractions. Gordon spent all but approximately two months of his first three years of incarceration in solitary confinement. Prison records describe Gordon as a very dangerous, violent inmate.

In early 2005, Gordon wrote homicide detectives in Portland, Oregon, and implicated himself in the 2001 death of Vernon Ralph Moranville, whose death had never been investigated as a homicide before Gordons letter.
Moranvilles body was discovered weeks after he had been killed, and police found no evidence of foul play. According to the subsequent indictment, however, Gordon reportedly strangled Moranville to death one week before he killed Beck.

On May 25, 2005, Gordon was transferred from the Walla Walla state prison to Oregon to face murder charges for having killed Moranville. Pursuant to a cooperative agreement among sheriff's offices, Walla Walla County Sheriffs deputies first took Gordon to the Umatilla County, Oregon Jail. They warned Umatilla officials about Gordons violent tendencies.

I was told that he was a problem, and I had a separate cell waiting for him, said Cpl. Tony Norris of the Umatilla County Sheriffs office. When Multnomah County (Portland) deputies later picked Gordon up, Norris likewise warned them about Gordon. They responded by isolating him in a separate part of the bus for the trip to Portland.

Once he arrived at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC), however, Gordon was placed in a transitional cell with other prisoners, where he remained without incident for five days.

On May 30, 2005, The Oregonian newspaper published a story about Gordon, quoting the sentencing judge in the Beck case as saying he was convinced Gordon was prone to random, violent outbursts. Based on this article, jail officials immediately issued a staff alert stating that Gordon should be treated with extreme caution, and placed him in solitary confinement.

After two weeks in segregation without incident, Gordon asked to go back to the general population, noting he had not had any problems during the five days he spent there earlier.

MCDC Sgt. Scott Johnson granted Gordon's request and returned him to the general population on June 15, 2005. Johnson placed Gordon in a two-man cell with 43-year-old Dennis J. Saban, who had turned himself in on drug offenses in an effort to turn his life around. Johnson would later defend this fatal decision by stating [t]here were no negative comments regarding [Gordons] behavior on that date. At that point [he] had been here for 21 days with no issues whatsoever.

The following morning guards were called to investigate a maintenance issue. When deputies came back ... something drew them to the cell Gordon and Saban occupied. They did not elaborate on what drew them to the cell, but upon arrival they found that Saban had been severely beaten by Gordon.

Saban was rushed to a hospital where he died two weeks later on June 29, 2005. While the case remains under investigation, prosecutors have indicated that Gordon will be charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, in connection with Saban's death. Meanwhile, according to a county jail spokesman, Gordon has been placed in a small maximum-security jail cell - alone.

Its disturbing that this occurred, said Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto. But it's somewhat unbelievable that it hasnt happened before.

In the wake of Saban's death, MCDC officials have attempted to lay the blame elsewhere. Sgt. Johnson now claims that if he had known about Gordon's violence in prison, this inmate would have remained in [solitary confinement] for his entire stay. But, claims Johnson, jail officials tried for two weeks without success to get Gordon's prison records from Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where he spent the past 3½ years.

A June 1, 2005 safety alert distributed within the jail refutes Johnsons claim, however, noting that Washington prison officials warned almost immediately that Gordon was a threat to inmates and staff. Washington officials argue, however, that neither statement is true Multnomah County never formally asked for any information about Gordon until after Saban was assaulted. To the best of my knowledge, the Multnomah County Sheriff's office did not ... [request] records regarding inmate Thomas Gordon through any of the regular methods, stated Joni G. Aiyeku, acting public disclosure coordinator at the Walla Walla prison.

Further, according to a jail status report prepared by District Attorney Michael Schrunk that was sent to county commissioners on Sept. 11, 2006, the MCDC deputy who placed Gordon in the cell with Saban had worked more than 1,600 hours in overtime over the previous two years, which raises serious concerns about the effect that excessive overtime usage might have on staff effectiveness and jail operations. The report also noted that the sheriffs office had waited over a year after Saban's death before initiating an internal affairs investigation.

On September 14, 2005, Saban's family filed a wrongful death action against the county seeking $500,000 in damages. According to the suit, Saban suffered multiple facial fractures and massive bleeding that led to his death.... The suit alleges that [t]he county, knowing of Gordons violent history, had a duty to prevent him from harming others, but failed to do so. The county declined to comment. PLN will report any future developments in the case.

Source: The Oregonian

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