Portland’s top brass said it was OK to swipe people’s garbage — until a newspaper took their trash

Portland’s top brass said it was OK to swipe people’s garbage — until a newspaper took their trash

So what happens when you’re told by a Prosecutor that your garbage is no longer yours when you put it on the curb? Surely the 4th Amendment would cover the unlawful search and seizure of your property, including your trashcan, right?

NOPE! At least, that was the answer given by Prosecutor Mark McDonnell who said that when it hits the curb, it become public property and therefore anyone can go through it at their leisure. The thought alone makes my skin crawl, but instead of letting their disgust get the better of them, a group of clever journalists decided to test McDonnell’s dedication to this.

In March, the police decided to snag the garbage of police officer Gina Hoesly without permission. Despite not having a warrant, a bloody tampon (among other things) became the basis of a drug charge against her.

When asked about the legality of such a move (many people were rightly concerned that this was a severe violation of privacy) the Prosecutor gave a simple, smug answer.

“She placed her garbage can out in the open, open to public view, in the public right of way,” he said. “There were no signs on the garbage, ‘Do not open. Do not trespass.’ There was every indication…she had relinquished her privacy, possessory interest.”

So now we have to ask people not to open our garbage cans? I thought that was an unspoken rule of being a decent human being.

But the journalists investigating the matter soon discovered that this was a fairly common occurrence, and had been going on for at least three decades. The police just picked a random garbage can and decided to go through it without any regard for the privacy of the other people involved.

That’s when they decided to target the trash of District Attorney Mike Schrunk, who has been the most vocal in supporting the idea that you don’t need a warrant or even permission to search a person’s garbage, Police Chief Mark Kroeker because he runs the bureau, and Mayor Vera Katz, who gave the chief marching orders.

Suffice it to say that Willamette Weekly was not very welcome when they confronted each of their targets with the most personal pieces of garbage that they could find in their bins. The Mayor even threatened legal action after her recycling bin was targeted.

So should we just allow anyone to go through garbage? This is one of the most blatant violations of the 4th Amendment that I’ve ever heard. Why even pay for a garbage can or pick up if it belongs to the public?

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