PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Two public defenders filed lawsuits against Washington County on Tuesday alleging racial discrimination by deputies in the county courthouse and corrections center.
The first case filed by Metropolitan Public Defender Chloé Clay — who is Black — alleges unlawful discrimination in place of public accommodation and seeks $375,000 in damages, as first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
According to court documents, Clay alleges that David Lyle, a white Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy, was working as a court security officer and “refused, delayed and denied” her access to a public courtroom while allowing white attorneys to enter the courtroom unimpeded.
Clay alleges that on Nov. 14, 2022, she entered the Law Enforcement Center shortly after 8:15 a.m. to pick up a plea petition from one of her clients who was in custody at the Washington County Jail and was set to represent her client at a 9 a.m. hearing.
After noticing the jail lobby doors were locked, Clay says she walked to the LEC Courtroom and asked Deputy Lyle for help and identified herself as an attorney. Lyle claimed he was busy and directed her to the public window next to the courtroom — where a staff member told her that a jail deputy was finishing their break and would return to the jail, according to court documents.
After a deputy failed to show up at the jail, Clay returned to the LEC, nodded at Deputy Lyle and entered the courtroom, leading the deputy to chase her and tell her she had to leave, the lawsuit claims.
The deputy asked Clay — who has worked as a Metropolitan Public Defender since August 2022 — for ID to prove she was an attorney, the suit claims, noting Clay had previously been in the courtroom without being asked to prove she was an attorney.
According to court documents, the Oregon bar stopped issuing bar cards, so Clay offered to give Lyle her bar number. She alleges Lyle refused the offer and said because he didn’t know her, she was not allowed to enter the courtroom and ushered her out of the courtroom’s breezeway and back into the hallway.
The lawsuit claims that Deputy Lyle let Clay into the courtroom after a court interpreter who happened to walk by confirmed to the deputy that Clay was an attorney.
“Ms. Clay was upset, saddened, defeated, humiliated, and embarrassed following this encounter. She felt singled out because of her race. Her embarrassment was compounded because several other lawyers and members of the public witnessed this incident,” the lawsuit claimed.
The suit continues, “that same morning, Ms. Clay saw at least two white attorneys freely walk into the LEC Courtroom without being questioned despite activating the metal detectors as they passed into the LEC Courtroom. Deputy Lyle did not stop, delay, challenge, or require another person to identify or vouch for either of these white attorneys.”
After Clay notified the Washington County Sheriff’s Office of the incident in a tort claim, the agency reassigned Lyle to work as security staff at the main Washington County Courthouse. Clay alleges that after the incident, Lyle has glared at her in the courthouse.
The lawsuit claims that over the last year, other Black and Brown professionals reported similar instances of discrimination by WCSO employees — including questioning who they were, being prevented from entering courtrooms, being asked if they were an interpreter and being told they “’do not look like an investigator.’”
“These experiences demonstrate a pattern and practice of racial discrimination by Washington County Sheriff’s employees against people of color in violation of the law. White attorneys and investigators entering the LEC facilities are not treated in the same discriminatory manner,” the suit alleges.
The second lawsuit was filed by Metropolitan Public Defender Alyne Sanchez, who is Latina. Sanchez seeks $225,000 in damages from Washington County for unlawful discrimination in place of public accommodation. The lawsuit claims Sanchez continues to face racial stigmatization, humiliation and embarrassment.
According to court documents, there were three separate incidents in which she was discriminated against in the Washington County Courthouse and the Washington County Community Corrections Center in December 2022 and January 2023.
Sanchez alleges she was treated “like an intruder,” was refused access, questioned if she was an attorney and claims that deputies failed to keep her safe when she was targeted by threatening hate speech from members of the Proud Boys in the courtroom.
During these incidents, the suit claims that WCSO deputies allowed white attorneys to freely access courtrooms and the corrections center; did not question them about their status as an attorney; and “kept them safe when the need arose.”
According to court documents, on Dec. 7, 2022, Sanchez notified a deputy at the entrance of the corrections center that she was meeting with a client who was being held in the county jail.
The deputy allowed her into a meeting room to wait for her client, then asked if she had proof that she was an attorney, Sanchez claims. She argues that she gave the deputy one of her business cards and explained there are no IDs issued to attorneys to prove they are attorneys.
WCSO does not routinely require or ask attorneys who are meeting clients at the corrections center to prove they are attorneys, according to the suit.
During another incident on Jan. 20, 2023, Sanchez claims she was scheduled to appear with her client in the LEC Courtroom at 8:15 a.m. After briefly meeting with her client in the hallway, she tried to enter the courtroom however Deputy Lyle stood in front of her to block her from entering the courtroom and stated “in a raised voice” that she could not go inside, Sanchez alleges.
Sanchez explained to Deputy Lyle that she was an attorney and needed to enter the courtroom to check in with court staff; however, Lyle said she needed to wait until her name was called, the suit claims. Court documents state while she waited, Lyle let white attorneys enter the courtroom without questioning them or asking for proof that they were attorneys.
Around 8:45 a.m., Sanchez explained to her supervisor and another public defender, Becca Blaney, that Lyle refused to let her in, court documents stated. Sanchez tried to enter the courtroom with Blaney however, “Deputy Lyle again stopped Ms. Sanchez and stated that she was an interpreter and pointed at her bag. Interpreters were not allowed to go inside the courtroom with bags,” court documents claim.
After Blaney corrected Lyle, stating Sanchez was an attorney, the deputy allowed her to enter the courtroom, the suit claims.
A week later, on Jan. 27, Sanchez appeared in court between where a crowd of “self-identified Proud Boys” were making racist remarks, the suit alleges.
According to court documents, “when Proud Boys members observed Ms. Sanchez, they directed their threatening, racist remarks toward her. Ms. Sanchez felt unsafe as a result.”
Court documents claim at least one WCSO deputy was in the courtroom and failed to intervene in the “Proud Boys’ threatening hate Speech” and didn’t ask Proud Boys members to leave. Sanchez argues that deputies did not speak to her to ensure her safety.
Sanchez alleges that due to the inaction of WCSO, she was escorted out of the courtroom by a public defender manager.
The suit says despite the sheriff’s office receiving a prior complaint against Deputy Lyle, they failed to correct his conduct or prevent it from happening again, leading to discrimination against Sanchez.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office told KOIN 6 News they do not comment on legal matters in which the agency is named.