J.J. Etheridge faces retaliation for exposing Judicial racism
The case of JaJuane “J.J.” Etheridge provides a singular lens through which to view the many problems plaguing Oregon’s justice system and judicial branch: public corruption, civil rights violations, inadequate public defenders, non-unanimous jury verdicts, lack of accountability and transparency, and, of course, racism.
Etheridge was prosecuted for multiple counts related to a violent dog-napping perpetrated by two men — yet no accomplice was ever found or charged. Etheridge maintained his innocence then, and has unwaveringly continued to do so. I believe him.
In 2014, on the negligent advice of his state-paid public defense attorney, Etheridge, who is a Black man, waived his right to a non-unanimous jury trial and agreed instead to a bench trial before Clackamas Judge Susie Norby. It was a total charade, which was underscored when Norby rapped her verdict and revealed herself to be prejudiced in every sense of the word.
When I contacted him in late 2021, Etheridge had long given up hope for relief from Norby’s biased proceedings and his wrongful conviction. Etheridge was, however, interested in making a complaint about Norby’s racist performance.
That complaint to the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability was successful, and Norby was quietly sanctioned. It is only due to Etheridge’s determination that the public now knows of Norby’s heinous behavior.
Feeling empowered by his results, Etheridge took the logical next step and applied for relief under Oregon Senate Bill 819 — a law that could allow Etheridge’s conviction to be vacated due to his actual innocence.
Etheridge filled out applications to the Clackamas District Attorney and to the Oregon Innocence Project and mailed them from the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in early fall.
I recently learned that his applications never arrived, and that Etheridge was experiencing whistleblower retaliation from prison staff for daring to keep asserting his innocence, and for being brave enough to report a racist Oregon judge.
In addition to his innocence applications being withheld or destroyed, Etheridge was subjected to unwarranted isolation and punishment: he was written up and investigated three times for supposed prison infractions related to “extortion, racketeering, distribution, and unauthorized organization.” In Etheridge’s words:
Another inmate put money on my commissary account and I went to the store for him because he racked up a bunch of debt with other inmates. The prison officer alleged that I was breaking the rules because I helped the other inmate out so he didn’t get beaten up.
Despite three such write-ups for the same supposed behavior, the independent hearings officer dismissed the charges each time. After the third instance, the hearings officer dismissed the charges with prejudice. Basically, the hearings officer said that she didn’t want to see such false charges brought against Etheridge again, ever, period.
Etheridge is understandably distressed by the retaliation, which began shortly after he popped his innocence applications into the prison’s mailbox. But he is even more distressed that the labor-intensive applications never made it out of the building. That is a grave violation of Etheridge’s right to mail, and may even constitute obstruction of correspondence — a federal criminal offense.
Not to mention that Etheridge will have to redo all of his hard work.
Etheridge told me, “It makes me feel insignificant that I am treated this way,” and expressed a concern that this was a coordinated effort by prison officials and others who have laid hands on his criminal case. “I feel like they are working together to keep me locked up.”
That is indeed how retaliation works in Oregon’s broken and racist justice system, wherein victims who report abuse can always depend on the abuse to worsen, and for others to be roped into it.
The Department of Corrections currently has no comment on the apparent retaliation, and indicated that further research on the matter will be necessary. The Clackamas County DA’s Office had no comment, but confirmed that it did not receive Etheridge’s innocence application.