Chris Parosa. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Red v. Blue

Two candidates, Deputy DA Chris Parosa and Oakridge Cop James Cleavenger to duke it out May 21 for Lane County District Attorney

The bells of election night begin to toll as the race for the district attorney pits an experienced DA’s office insider against an Oakridge police officer with a contentious past is nearing its finale.    

Lane Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Parosa, known for his advocacy of mental health and addiction treatment over incarceration, faces off against James Cleavenger, who is also city administrator for Oakridge.  

Here are their stats:

Parosa, a career prosecutor with 19 years of experience, was with the Lane DA’s office since 2006 before becoming chief deputy DA in 2021. An advocate for progressive criminal justice, victim advocacy and mental health reform, he believes expanded access to mental health court, addiction court and veterans court will help people receive treatment and not punishment.

“The criminal justice system has been the de facto repository for the mentally ill in the state,” Parosa tells Eugene Weekly. “You can avoid incarceration. By treating the root causes of what’s causing a person’s criminality, you better their life, you better society.”

Giving former offenders who have reformed their lives a clean slate by dismissing prior drug convictions, Parosa wants to focus on building up reentry services, such as housing and job assistance, for those leaving the criminal justice system to smooth that transition and reduce reincarceration rates.

Cleavenger, a licensed attorney since 2009, is a law enforcement officer who has worked with Junction City, Coburg and Oakridge police departments since 2010. 

EW reached out to Cleavenger but he did not respond to questions. However he did offer this wisdom to the constituency. “I worked in politics in Chicago before I moved here, and it was dirty. But Lane County politics is filthy,” Cleavenger says. “And nothing will ever change unless people start seeking the truth.”

Cleavenger says he aims to increase transparency within the office by approving more public records requests, reduce recidivism rates and provide free annual legal training to all law enforcement agencies within the county.

“Minimizing the chances that a defendant will reoffend is obviously the highest priority for a DA. Many times, that requires a long prison sentence,” Cleavenger writes on his campaign website “But for many offenders, data tells us that lengthy sentences without incentives and access to programs (such as addiction and mental health treatment) makes reoffending far more likely.”

Parosa holds endorsements from the Democratic Party of Lane County, Lane County Peace Officer Association, Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold, North Eugene County Commissioner Pat Farr, and current Lane County DA Patricia Perlow. 

Cleavenger is endorsed by retired Lane County Judge Gary Carl and attorneys Jason Kafoury and Mark McDougal (who represented Cleavenger in his $1 million whistleblowing case as a UOPD safety officer against the University of Oregon in 2015).

Cleavenger, fired from UOPD in 2012, filed suit in 2013 against the department alleging retaliation for blowing the whistle on department misconduct.

Infamously, this misconduct included a list, called “The Bowl of Dicks” made by UOPD swingshift officers containing things, places and most importantly — people — they disliked.

However, according to records obtained by Eugene Weekly, Cleavenger is designated as a “Brady-Red” cop by the Lane County DA’s office, meaning he will never be called up for testimony given his “existing opinions and reputation for dishonesty.” 

Cleavenger did not respond to EW’s questions about his Brady rating.

According to retired SPD cop, private eye and internal affairs investigator Scott McKee, the only other Brady-list rating is yellow, which allows for dishonest cops to be called to the stand but on a case by case basis.

Under the 1963 Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, the prosecution is legally required to notify criminal defendants and their attorneys whenever a cop is known to have previously lied in any official capacity.

“His subsequent persistent unprofessional conduct has destroyed faith in him as a witness,” Parosa, acting as deputy DA, wrote in a 2022 letter to the Lane County DA. 

Ironically enough, another reason Cleavenger sued the UOPD was because his superiors, then UOPD Police Chief Carolyn McDermed and Lt. Brandon Lebrecht, created a dossier designed to prove him too untruthful to testify in court.

And as previously reported in EW four years ago when Cleavenger ran against Perlow, Cleavenger is accused of sexually assaulting a Portland lawyer in 2005 when they were both in law school together. 

Denying the allegations, Cleavenger’s published response states that he remembers the drive home the next morning because she gave him a distinct case of epididymal hypertension, more commonly known as “blue balls.”

“Neither the university nor the Oregon State Bar Association had any record of my accuser filing any type of complaint against me as she claimed she had,” Cleavenger writes. “Yet these things were printed as if these complaints had actually been made. They were not.”

While Cleavenger has not filed any campaign with the Secretary of State as he is not taking any donations, according to the campaign finance tracker Parosa has raised over $57,000 for his own campaign.

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