DOJ rules there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that misconduct alleged by city was criminal

Allegations of misconduct may have cost Eric Bush his job as Prineville police chief, but they will not result in any criminal charges.

Bush was initially put on administrative leave by the City of Prineville in September 2013 pending an investigation into allegations of misuse of flex time, falsification of time records, misuse of city equipment, and more. The majority of the allegations were tied to his service as brigadier general in the Oregon National Guard.

The investigation, conducted by Aaron Olson of the Local Government Personnel Institute, sought to determine if the allegations should be substantiated, but did not address whether they constituted criminal activity. Nevertheless, Olson felt that some of the misconduct could constitute a crime, prompting him and city leaders to solicit a criminal investigation.

“I was called by (City Manager) Steve Forrester and (City Attorney) Carl Dutli who told me they’d had initial conversations with Olson,” said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins. “He is a former Oregon State Police trooper and he believed that some of the allegations could possibly be criminal.”

Citing a conflict of interest due to her regular work with Bush over the years, Vitolins asked the Oregon Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Division to investigate three allegations and decide if crimes of official misconduct or theft had been committed.

Vitolins made the request in October 2013, and this past Friday, about 10 months later, the DOJ provided her with its findings.

“We have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chief Bush committed a crime,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Kristen Hoffmeyer stated in a written response.

She went on to address each investigated allegation and explain why they could not prove criminal activity took place. Regarding the misuse of flex time, she wrote that Special Agent Todd Gray, who was assigned to the case, “was unable to determine with certainty how much flex time Bush was accruing and how much flex time he was using.”

She noted that because Bush was an exempt employee his use of flex time was pursuant to city policy, which “does not require an employee to do anything more than keep track of his or her own time.”

The investigation into improper use of office equipment failed to establish that Bush’s use of city email or office equipment for military purposes violated city policy.

“According to the city handbook, personal use of city email is permitted, but is to be kept at a minimum,” Hoffmeyer wrote. “No guidance is given in the handbook for what constitutes ‘personal use.’ Similarly, there is no guidance in the handbook for what constitutes an appropriate level of personal use of city email.”

Bush told Gray in an interview that his positions with the city and the National Guard overlap because he serves as the emergency manager for the city and director of the local 911 center, both of which are organized under the Oregon Military Department.

“Based on the investigation, it does not appear that Bush attempted to hide or conceal his use of the city equipment for military business,” Hoffmeyer stated.

Regarding improper use of a city vehicle, four trips were reviewed in which Bush was believed to have used his police vehicle for military business. Bush claimed per diem and mileage reimbursement from the military for two of those trips, but did not submit the money to the city.

“In his interview, Bush explained that he conducted both city and military business on the four trips in question,” Hoffmeyer wrote. “He admitted submitting reimbursement claims for two of those trips, and explained that these claims were made in error. He also stated that he made corrections to the travel vouchers and returned the money to the military after Olson brought the matter to his attention during an employment interview.”

Consequently, the DOJ found there was insufficient evidence to prove Bush committed a crime relating to use of the city vehicle.

After Bush was fired, he filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination. His attorney, Roxanne Farra, believes that the DOJ findings will support his case.

"When put to an objective factfinder, the facts simply don't support that Chief Bush did anything wrong," she said in an emailed statement. "They overwhelmingly support, rather, that the City of Prineville had other reasons it wanted to terminate Chief Bush's employment, namely his continuing military service."

City officials and staff declined to comment.

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