By Edward Snook
Clackamas County, OR – The last thought on 17 year old Sierra Brownlow’s mind while she was walking down 122nd Avenue on a sunny June afternoon to meet a friend, was that she was about to be dragged through a six-month long nightmare at the hands of the Clackamas County Juvenile Department and Circuit Court Judge Deanne Darling.
Sierra was heading to the Safeway parking lot located at 122nd and Sunnyside Road in Clackamas, Oregon to meet a friend on June 11, 2012 when a car driven by Ashley Dalton pulled up beside her with two passengers, Skye Petrzenski and Olivia
Iverson. According to witnesses, Iverson leaned out of the car and began shouting obscenities at Sierra.
Iverson was part of an alleged gang of bullies who had been reportedly harassing Sierra at school for most of the previous year. Unknown to Sierra, Iverson had called Keasha “Katy” Neil, another girl who had been allegedly bullying Sierra, to come to the Safeway and “take care of Sierra.”
Sierra was in the Safeway parking lot behind her friend Chelsea Carroll’s car when Ms. Neil came charging out of nowhere towards them, screaming threats as she approached.
Sierra said, “I knew Neil was hunting me down after she called and texted me. The next thing I see is Neil running towards me with a crazed look in her eyes and her fists cocked. I just knew I was in for a serious beating. I only had a few seconds to figure out what to do, but knew I didn’t want to be trapped behind Chelsea’s car, especially since I had no idea where the other three girls were. I took a few steps towards Neil to slow her momentum and defend myself, but it was not enough to stop her attack.”
Little did Sierra know that getting stalked and attacked by a gang of high school bullies was going to be the least of her problems.
Clackamas County Deputies R. Stewart and B. Jensen arrived on the scene shortly after some bystanders had broken up the fight. Neil had a visible bruise on her face and told the deputies that Sierra started the fight. According to one witness, the deputies made it immediately clear they did not like Sierra and refused to interview several key witnesses or collect any evidence other than the initial lies they received from Neil and Iverson. After a very brief and completely inadequate investigation, they arrested Sierra, charged her with Assault IV and took her to jail. Sierra was released to the custody of her mother.
Nothing happened for several months until Sierra and her father David Brownlow were called in for a meeting on September 12, 2012 with Merin Paldi, who represented herself as a Clackamas County juvenile counselor.
At the start of the meeting Paldi informed Sierra that she was going to be charged with Assault IV and Harassment, which would total 18 months in jail, but that if Sierra “worked” with Paldi she would try to make Sierra’s probation as short as possible – with Paldi as her probation officer. Ms. Paldi then read the police report, where Sierra learned for the first time that Neil had accused her of stopping the car driven by Dalton, where she pulled Neil from the car and started the fight.
Sierra immediately told Paldi that Ms. Neil was the aggressor and was not even in the car driven by Dalton. Paldi replied that it was too late to bring up any evidence and ordered Sierra to appear the following Monday at a hearing to discuss the charges.
That evening Sierra reached out to Skye Petrzenski, one of the girls who had been riding in Dalton’s car. Petrzenski and Sierra had never met before, but Skye came forward immediately and told the truth of what happened, saying, “Sierra was totally innocent. I was in that car with Iverson and Dalton and I can assure you that Neil was not in the car with us. I heard Iverson call Neil from the car to set up the attack on Sierra. I was best friends with Neil, but I was not about to let Sierra get punished for something she didn’t do.”
“Skye is my hero.” said Mr. Brownlow, “The state’s case was obliterated the minute she came forward and told the truth. Skye’s only motivation from the beginning was to do everything possible to proclaim Sierra’s innocence and help get the charges dropped.”
Petrzenski subsequently signed an affidavit wherein she stated that Neil and Dalton staged the whole event, and that she heard Neil bragging after the attack that the reason she only hit Sierra on the top of the head was so there would be no bruises on her, assuring that Sierra would be the only one arrested.
Mr. Brownlow called Paldi the next day and told her that Petrzenski had come forward with some very compelling testimony that Neil and Iverson had lied to the police. This was followed up with an email that included Petrzenski’s affidavit attesting to Sierra’s innocence. Brownlow said, “Paldi was not even slightly interested in discovering the truth of what really happened. Paldi had made up her mind that she was going to pound a guilty verdict out of Sierra and seemed majorly ticked off that I dared to stand in the way of another notch on her belt. ”
Sierra and her father attended the September 17, 2012 hearing and brought along Ms. Carroll and Petrzenski. While waiting for the hearing to start Paldi served Sierra and Mr. Brownlow with the charging papers for Assault and Harassment. “That woman made no attempt to hide her disdain for me behind a sarcastic smile as she tossed the indictment at me. It was definitely an, ‘I’ll show you!’ moment.” Sierra’s father Dave Brownlow stated, “I knew things were going to get really ugly.”
When called to the bench, Mr. Brownlow told Judge Deanne Darling that he had witnesses in the courtroom, including one of the girls from the car, who were ready to testify that the police report was a complete fiction. He then asked Deputy District Attorney Cara Graham to do an actual investigation before things went any further, because no one from the county had ever interviewed the key witnesses he brought to the hearing. Graham did not comment, but Judge Darling said it was too late for any witness interviews or evidence and that anything Sierra wanted to say would have to wait until trial. She released Sierra to her father with some very strict release conditions.
Mr. Brownlow said after the hearing, “All the DA had to support their case was the bogus police report I had already shot full of holes. The DA had failed to interview a single witness or check a single fact before filing the false charges. Unfortunately for my daughter, Judge Darling and Merin Paldi were on a total power trip and clearly did not like me challenging their reckless behavior. They had Sierra in their sights and nothing was going to stop them. It was a Kangaroo court by any definition.”
Rather than go down the lawyer path to financial ruin as demanded by the judge, Mr. Brownlow hired the US Observer to investigate Sierra’s case.
US~OBSERVER ENTERS CASE
On October 6, 2012, Investigator Joseph Snook and this writer traveled to the scene of the incident to collect evidence and interview witnesses. After a thorough investigation I easily concluded that Sierra was innocent of all charges and that the state’s witnesses had clearly lied to the police.
I then contacted Clackamas County DA John Foote, laid out the evidence and facts, stating that this was a case of clear and compelling innocence and asked Foote to drop the false charges against Sierra. On October 17, 2012, I received a call from Cara Graham, the Deputy DA who was handling the case against Sierra.
Graham assured me she would look into Sierra’s case. Graham stated that she would go over the facts with Sierra’s attorney as soon as one was appointed her.
Just before Sierra was to obtain an attorney, her case took a hard turn into the world of the surreal.
On October 24, 2012 Paldi came to Sierra’s school and served her a summons to appear at a hearing the next day over an alleged truancy violation.
Sierra went to the hearing and again brought Petrzenski, who was ready to testify that Neil and Iverson had staged the whole attack and lied about it to the police. Judge Darling refused to let Petrzenski speak and instead scolded Sierra for hanging around Petrzenski, who has had previous appearances before the court. Rather than discuss the merits of the state’s case, Judge Darling proceeded to focus on Sierra’s attendance record.
Sierra had been sick the week before the hearing with a respiratory infection and had missed a few days of school. Even though Mr. Brownlow had excused Sierra for those days per school policy, and even though she had a prescription from her doctor dated at the time of her absence, Judge Darling said, she knew BS when she smelled it and refused to believe Sierra had been sick. Darling asked Paldi for a recommendation of what should be done to Sierra for missing school. Paldi replied that Sierra should be incarcerated.
Darling declared that Sierra had violated the release order and threatened to sentence her to jail for the full year if she was convicted of the assault charge. Darling then directed a Sheriff’s deputy to take her off to jail.
Dave Brownlow said, “The first time I was allowed to see Sierra in jail, she came into the visiting room dressed in these way oversized prison clothes looking like a bag of bones, hunched over and sobbing uncontrollably. She was absolutely terrified and shaking as she told me they did a full strip search and cavity check and then threw her in jail with a bunch of hardened criminals. We both sat there in stunned disbelief that something so horrific could have happened to her over such a pack of lies.”
At the point Sierra was arrested, I became quite upset and again spoke with Graham. She told me that she would get with Sierra’s attorney and that she was not the one who pushed for Sierra’s arrest.
Sierra remained in jail until the next hearing, which was scheduled for October 30, 2012. Even after five days in jail, Sierra came into the hearing with a wide smile and gave her dad the best hug she could while wearing leg irons and handcuffs. The judge said Sierra could be released on house arrest, but only if Mr. Brownlow and his fiancée agreed to supervise her and report any infractions to the court. Mr. Brownlow reluctantly agreed to be Sierra’s prison warden as there was no other way she was getting out.
DDA Graham subsequently met with Sierra’s newly appointed attorney Jim Bernstein and asked that he have investigators talk with the driver of the car, Ashley Dalton.
Things continued to remain stalled. With no progress made toward getting the false charges dropped, and with Sierra still under house arrest, I instructed Mr. Brownlow to hire investigator Dean Muchow, a retired police chief, to interview Dalton, the driver of the car, since nobody from the county had ever bothered to talk to her, and Graham had requested this.
During the November 9, 2012 Muchow interview, Dalton admitted that Neil was not in the car, but completely changed the rest of the story. This time accusing Sierra of stopping her car and attempting to assault Iverson, instead of Neil as claimed in the police report. After the interview, Dalton called Petrzenski and bragged that she and the other girls involved had gotten their stories perfectly straight. Obviously, their web of lies was unraveling very quickly.
Brownlow said, “The Muchow interview of Dalton was the clincher to getting the case dropped. Dean put Dalton in a corner; and she did exactly what we expected her to do – which was to lie. The DA had no way out but to drop the charges.”
This interview was forwarded to the court on November 12, 2012, and no action was immediately taken by DDA Graham. Sierra remained under house arrest until the false charges were formally dropped on December 3, 2012, which made it nearly six weeks of incarceration – jail and house arrest combined.
When asked about the experience, Mr. Brownlow stated, “The County never had a case, yet they went after Sierra with a frightful vengeance; driving her to the breaking point. The time, emotion and expense these people put on my family is absolutely huge. Unfortunately, their sadistic schemes must work a lot of the time because they seemed very confident they would get Sierra to crack. The really sad part about this is there are many thousands of other kids falsely charged and jailed like Sierra. But, without professionals, like Edward and Joseph Snook with the US~Observer on their side, they have little hope of getting justice. I’ll take a garden-variety mugger any day over the incompetent, mean-spirited gang of thugs who run our criminal justice system. It’s a complete mess from top to bottom.” Brownlow added, “They can be assured this case is far from over.”
Sierra summed it up this way, “I still can’t believe Clackamas County did this to me and my family. They arrested me, they ridiculed me in court, they strip-searched me, they threw me in jail and they threatened me with a lengthy prison term for something I didn’t do. I got fired from my job, I had to move to a new town and change schools mid-way through my senior year. Talk about a bad deal. I’m still trying to figure out why those people were so hell bent on destroying me. Thankfully, my dad found the US~Observer. Edward Snook, head of investigations, doesn’t mess around and he took care of it. I am living with my dad and his fiancé now, and things are going great. I am working with them and my counselors to figure out the best way to move on from here.”
The US~Observer commends Cara Graham for dropping the false charges. We also want to make it very clear and public that Clackamas County Sheriff’s Deputies Stewart and Jensen conducted a completely inadequate investigation – in other words they failed to conduct an investigation before arresting a then 17-year-old innocent girl.
As for Clackamas County Juvenile Counselor Merin Paldi, this abusive woman is incompetent and dangerous to innocent juveniles. She caused great harm to Sierra Brownlow and I promise all who believe in accountability that she has not heard the last from this writer.
Judge Deanne Darling is vindictive, abusive and she has no business being a judge. She is dangerous to the innocent and to justice – she needs to be removed from the bench. While I don’t have the time to insure that this occurs, I do have the ability and the time to give her a life-sentence regarding her very bad, abusive and shameful actions publicly. This article is just the beginning of this process, which I will continue in the next edition of this newspaper and on the world-wide web at www.usobserver.com. Don’t miss our next edition wherein we will expose others who took part in the destructive abuse of Sierra Brownlow.
Editor’s Note: The US~Observer urges anyone with information on Judge Deanne Darling, Clackamas County Juvenile Counselor Merin Paldi, Olivia Iverson, Keasha “Katy” Neil and Ashley Dalton to contact Edward Snook at 541-474-7885 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.