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Clark County Sheriff’s Office suspends specialty units

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has had to adjust its cold case investigations, and another specialty unit was suspended in anticipation of potential COVID-19-related budget shortfalls.

The Cold Case Unit is not staffed with volunteers, and lead cold case detective Linsday Schutz was promoted from the Major Crimes Unit to a different department, Cmdr. Michael McCabe said.

“As for when we will be able to restore our volunteer cold case unit, I do not know,” McCabe said.

The cold cases webpage has also been taken down from the county’s website because there is no one to monitor it.

Deputies continue to investigate cold cases, however.

Former Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas signed a special commission forming the cold case team in June 2014.

A typical cold case unit’s staffing model would include a full time detective assigned as the point of contact and liaison with volunteers who come from all aspects of law and justice, including former detectives, former forensic scientists and prosecutors, among others, according to Sgt. Todd Barnsness.

Without volunteers, the Major Crimes Unit has reassigned cold cases to other detectives. The cases are placed on a rotation and receive periodic team reviews, Barnsness said.

This past week, major crimes detectives reviewed eight emails and three phone calls regarding a 28-year-old homicide case. The sheriff’s office did not indicate which case.

Deputies have had some cold case successes in recent years.

Suspected serial killer Warren Forrest, who’s accused in the slaying of 17-year-old Martha Morrison in the 1970s, was arraigned in Clark County Superior Court in February in the Portland girl’s slaying.

Prosecutors filed a first-degree murder charge against Forrest in December. The anticipated charge came following a breakthrough in Morrison’s cold case. Blood found on an air pistol Forrest used to torture another woman in 1974 was identified as Morrison’s. The former Battle Ground man is believed to be responsible for the abduction and slaying of six women and girls in Clark County in the 1970s, and he is a person of interest in another missing person case.

In November, the sheriff’s office announced that it had used DNA technology to identify the remains of “Fly Creek Jane Doe,” a body discovered near Amboy in 1980. With Sandra Renee “Sandy” Morden identified, deputies shifted their focus to track down friends, acquaintances, neighbors, co-workers and others who knew her family.

The sheriff’s office has also suspended the Tactical Detective Unit, which helped with crime investigative assistance, complex investigative services and proactive enforcement activities in support of the patrol deputies. It is often the team that searches for and apprehends violent criminal offenders who have active warrants for their arrest, as well as works closely with the U.S. Marshals Service and other local law enforcement agencies in the Portland area. In 2019, the tactical unit authored and served over 75 search warrants and arrested numerous violent felons in Clark County,
McCabe said.

A detective sergeant and four other detectives were transferred from that unit back to patrol duties,
McCabe said.

“The transfer of (the five detectives) back to patrol was in response to an immediate need to reduce agencywide overtime expenses, in anticipation of potential
COVID-19 pandemic related budget shortfalls,” McCabe said.

At this time, it is unknown when the sheriff’s office will be able to restore the unit, he said.


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