Governor revokes over 20 commuted prison sentences from Salem area

Gov. Tina Kotek has revoked the commutations of more than 20 people in Marion and Polk counties, sending them back to prison to serve their full sentences.

The inmates were released early from prison between late 2020 and early 2022 but went on to commit new crimes or violate their parole conditions, according to prosecutors.

Former Gov. Kate Brown commuted their sentences to reduce prison populations during the pandemic and to reward inmates who worked on wildfire crews in 2020. 

Kotek’s reversal of the sentences was first reported by Willamette Week

More than half of Kotek’s revocations came at the request of district attorneys in Marion, Washington and Clackamas counties, according to the news organization’s reporting. Multnomah County’s district attorney, by comparison, requested just one reversal.

The governor began revoking commutations late last year and continued in recent months, records from her office show.

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson told Salem Reporter last year that she asked the governor to revoke the clemency grants to ensure defendants are held fully accountable for their crimes. 

Clarkson also said that her move was intended to protect the criminal justice system, and that shortening sentences means justice is not fully applied.

In August 2023, Kotek wrote to district attorneys and community corrections offices, which oversee people probation and parole, inviting them to recommend clemency grants for revocation.

“If I believe someone is violating their conditions of release or supervision and revocation is warranted, I will not hesitate to use my authority and discretion as governor to revoke their commutation,” Kotek wrote in her letter at the time.

The Marion County District Attorney’s Office spent months reviewing the histories of 138 people prosecuted in the past to identify candidates for full reinstatement of sentences. 

“I now formally ask that you use your discretion and authorize revocations for 57 individuals,” Clarkson wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to the governor.

Among those was Thomas P. Healy, 58, who pleaded guilty in October 2016 to second-degree burglary and first-degree theft in Lincoln County Circuit Court. Two months later, he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, five counts of second-degree burglary and possessing a firearm as a felon in Marion County Circuit Court. 

He was sentenced to seven years and six months total in prison for the two cases in October and December 2016 but was released early after then-Gov. Kate Brown commuted his sentence on Dec. 17, 2020. Twenty months later, he was charged with shooting and killing a man in a Geer Park encampment. 

If Healy hadn’t been granted clemency, he still would have finished his sentence almost a year before the fatal shooting. Still, Kotek revoked his commutation in October 2023 as he sat in Marion County Jail awaiting trial for the murder charge.

Marion County Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy said the governor’s office asked them to provide “static information,” but prosecutors were not otherwise involved in revoking clemency. 

The governor’s office refused to say how many commutations Kotek revoked in Marion and Polk counties or why she chose those specific defendants. In response to questions, Elisabeth Shepard, governor’s office spokeswoman, provided 788 pages of individual letters for all revocations.

Clarkson’s office provided a spreadsheet from November 2023 which listed defendants she recommended for revocation. At the time, Kotek had revoked commutations for 22 defendants sentenced in Marion County.

The status of those listed may have since changed, Murphy said, but Marion County prosecutors didn’t have a more recent record. Clarkson told Salem Reporter at the time that for any commutations revoked, the state would issue a warrant to arrest those with time still to serve. She said it’s possible that some sentences could be served in county jails for defendants who are awaiting trial on new charges. 

She said she would oppose allowing defendants to serve any required state time simultaneously with new jail or prison sentences. Instead, the remaining months of the original sentence should be served in addition to that time, Clarkson said. That decision would be left up to judges at sentencing for individual cases.

Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton said he sought to revoke just one commutation.

The other defendants convicted in Polk County whose sentences were commuted had “expired on supervision successfully,” according to Felton.

Kotek has come under scrutiny for her decision to revoke clemency grants. Judges in the Oregon Supreme Court and Washington County Circuit Court ruled in recent months that the governor had illegally sent two people back to prison.

Following those decisions, she withdrew several revocations, according to reporting from Willamette Week.Clarkson’s November spreadsheet showed that the governor had revoked and then later reinstated commutations for two people who were convicted and sentenced in Marion County.


Marion DA wants governor to revoke commutations, return 55 to prison

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.