CROSSING THE LINE - A Special Report on Police Conduct
- Lee van der Voo
- Lake Oswego Review - News
'Cocaine cowboys' avoid scrutiny
When he left the Washing-ton County Sheriff's Of-fice, Darryl Wrisley, then a deputy, signed a deal sealing allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman while on duty.
He took a $20,000 payment and left his career earning $2,740 a month in December 1993. In February 1994, he began working as a non-sworn, community-service officer in Lake Oswego, earning less to enforce city codes unarmed.
He left behind a fast-paced life.
Once belonging to a tight-knit group of officers who worked Metro-area drug cases, Wrisley's former job working narcotics for the sheriff's office was part of a nationwide love affair with dope-busting cops. At the time, politics were routing mad sums of federal money to narcotics programs around the country. And while the war on drugs was in full swing, Americans were glued to television shows like Miami Vice.
For police who worked narcotics, like Wrisley, their own drug was adrenaline.
Before leaving the sheriff's office, his job involved keeping close tabs on unsavory informants and dealers, writing search warrants and busting down doors. He worked in teams of officers that bought dope in stealthy undercover operations as nearby surveillance crews watched.
While that life unraveled for Wrisley, after he was accused of sexually assaulting former dispatcher Kay Vandagriff while delivering a raffle prize to her home, the police officers around him took sides.
Wrisley denied Vandagriff's allegations. He still denies them today.
Though he was never indicted for a crime, an internal investigation by the Washington County sheriff's office concluded that Vandagriff told the truth about being sexually assaulted by Wrisley and he was fired. After fighting to return to work for nearly a year through a grievance process, Wrisley reached a settlement in which he was reinstated for a day, allowed to resign and paid $20,000. Through the arrangement, Vandagriff's allegations were sealed.
Documents obtained by this newspaper, as well as interviews with current and former law enforcement officers and officials, show how Wrisley was able to remain a police officer afterward.
He did so not only with help from a police officers' union and laws that make it hard to fire police, but also with assistance from well-connected friends, including Terry Timeus - then a corporal in the Lake Oswego Police Department and now chief of the West Linn Police Department - and Dan Duncan, then a patrol sergeant and now chief of the Lake Oswego Police Department.
Experts such as Neal Trautman, director of the National Institute of Ethics, said the tendency for police officers to stick together is not exceptional or unlike the ties that bind any other group of people, particular people connected through stressful environments. But Trautman also said such groups tend to ostracize members who go against the grain and, in effect, create settings where peer loyalty becomes more important than ethical correctness.
As peers took sides in Washington County, both Wrisley and Vandagriff fought for ground in the law enforcement community. Some officers vouched for Wrisley to stay in law enforcement and characterized Vandagriff in an unflattering light, others sympathized with her and called for Wrisley's ouster.
Before he faced a grand jury April 15, 1993 on charges of attempted rape, attempted sodomy, sex abuse and official misconduct, Wrisley told the Oregon State Police detective who investigated him that he relied on a 'good, close friend' for support during the ordeal, describing an officer he later verified as Timeus.
The two friends met while assigned to a regional task force called Regional Organized Crime Narcotics, or simply 'Rockin'' by officers fond of its acronym: ROCN.
And in the early 1990s, the task force was, indeed, rockin.' Pooling resources from Metro-area police departments to combat the Portland drug scene, the task force took on big drug cases, running high-risk, undercover operations to put more dope on the table than any single agency in the region.
It was a young man's life, said Timeus.
And off the clock, former ROCN detectives say they cut loose with booze and got rowdy around town. Their lifestyle was a stormy one, filled with chasing women and riding motorcycles. Wild nights were a hallmark of the era.
'We were running and gunning back then and it was cocaine cowboys all over in Portland,' said Bob Lowe, a fellow narcotics officer at the time, now retired. 'Everybody was flying around chasing bad guys. It was a pretty fast-paced life then.'
Lowe remembers at the time, Timeus's wild personality meshed well with Wrisley's, and the two men frequently hit the town.
'That's probably a combo that never should have been allowed in public together,' Lowe joked. 'Especially when they've been drinking.'
'Totally out of character'
Timeus left narcotics work first. On loan after breaking a key case in Lake Oswego, he served almost three years on ROCN before being sent back when Commander Chuck Fessler, now police chief in King City, spotted signs of stress.
Fessler said he heard concerns from other officers that Timeus was socializing with informants after hours, drinking with them off the clock and spending too much off-duty time in the company of female informants. Fessler sent Timeus back to Lake Oswego, hoping time away from drug enforcement would help him steady his career.
Once back in Lake Oswego, Timeus was immediately made corporal. He and Wrisley were roommates in Gladstone at the time, just a few blocks away from Clackamette Lake.
Though it would be another eight months before Vandagriff would accuse Wrisley of sexually assaulting her while on duty, the two friends would remain close. As Vandagriff's allegations unfolded, Timeus lent Wrisley an ear and support.
Both Vandagriff and Wrisley would tell police they met at a conference hosted by the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association Dec. 10, 1992. And both said Wrisley came to her house the next day to deliver a raffle prize.
But accounts to police would differ when afterward Vandagriff phoned Wrisley's supervisor with accusations that he had sexually assaulted her inside her home. She told police Wrisley touched her bare breasts with his hands and mouth, then attempted to remove her pants and sodomize her orally.
When the allegations were made, Timeus said he was shocked.
'He told me of the issues in Washington County and I said, 'How could that possibly happen?'' said Timeus. 'The behavior that he was charged with was totally out of character for the Darryl Wrisley I knew.'
He said he instead knew Wrisley to be a hardworking, reliable cop, dependable on the job and a fast learner.
Though Washington County Sheriff's Office fired Wrisley after Vandagriff's complaint, Timeus said a grand jury's decision not to charge him with a crime carried weight.
Though Wrisley was still fighting for his job at the sheriff's office, Timeus recommended Wrisley for a job as a community service officer in Lake Oswego in October 1993.
In his job application to the Lake Oswego Police Department, Wrisley disclosed the allegations made by Vandagriff and his firing from the sheriff's office.
'I was falsely accused of sexually assaulting a female. Under advise [sic] of my attorney I did not give a statement and was terminated from my position as a deputy sheriff. This case was taken before a grand jury who returned with a no true bill,' he wrote.
Wrisley also noted, 'Cpl. Timeus in your office may be able to provide info.'
Other recommendations for the job included Duncan, a friend. Wrisley's former partner at the sheriff's office, Rich Hildreth, also recommended him for the job, along with a local pastor and law enforcement officials from Portland, Washington and Multnomah counties.
Timeus said he stands by the recommendation he made. Wrisley was a good cop then and still is, he said.
'I don't take my recommendations lightly, and I didn't get to where I am by recommending people who don't do a good job,' said Timeus.
That the sheriff's office later backed off on firing Wrisley 'waters down their ultimate finding and the reason he was terminated,' he said.
'If they were 100-percent sure they were right, they would not have done that,' said Timeus. 'Allowing him back pay, allowing him to resign, tells me that they were not confident with their investigation.'
Duncan also supports Wrisley and blames malcontents in the police department for bringing the allegations against him to light, saying the issue was raised by former officers whose only intention is to discredit the police department.
Duncan did not respond to requests that he characterize his friendship with Wrisley at the time he recommended him for a job.
'I knew she wouldn't speak with me'
Though Les Youngbar, former chief of the Lake Oswego Police Department, said Wrisley would have been subject to a standard background investigation before he was hired, no inquiry was ever made with Vandagriff.
The background investigation of Wrisley, released to this newspaper through a public records request, is mostly redacted. But a passage written by the investigator is legible and specifically notes that Vandagriff, whose last name was Williams at the time, was not contacted as part of the probe.
'I did not contact Kay Williams, because I heard that currently there is a law suit [sic] that she has filed against the county concerning this matter; so I knew that she wouldn't speak with me. When I did call (redacted name) with the idea of trying to get in contact with Kay Williams, (redacted name) did not give me Kay Williams [sic] phone number.'
And indeed, a multi-million dollar lawsuit was pending in federal court. The suit accused Wrisley of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress and also accused Washington County with negligence for employing him. Filed shortly after the grand jury's decision not to file criminal charges against Wrisley, Vandagriff said the lawsuit was essentially aimed at halting his career.
Yet Vandagriff was dogged by rumors after filing it and the police report about Wrisley.
Some officers charged her with fabricating the incident to get money from the county. Others said she was a flirt, mentally unstable and an unfit mother. Some said she made prior, similar allegations against other police officers. They said she lived off a series of shaky lawsuits that propped her up in a fancy home in Hillsboro.
Neither the background investigation by the Lake Oswego Police Department, nor investigations of the incident by the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police found any truth to the rumors.
Eager to prove her truthfulness and the merit of her claims, Vandagriff settled the lawsuit for a small sum that paid her attorney fees and for sexual assault therapy.
Neither Vandagriff nor the sheriff's office has retained a copy of that settlement, and no one recalls the exact sum Vandagriff received. But Vandagriff said she dropped the lawsuit primarily because the settlement included assurances that Wrisley would not work as a police officer again.
'I got nothing. I didn't want anything. I just wanted him to never be a cop again. Those were my exact words,' she said.
Vandagriff said her main focus was to prevent Wrisley from abusing a badge to hurt other women.
But Wrisley was already in law enforcement, hired by the Lake Oswego Police Department Feb. 6, 1994. When she learned he was working, Vandagriff complained to the sheriff's office and was assured that Wrisley was in a non-sworn position and likely would not advance rank.
By then, Vandagriff said the law enforcement community had already tossed her aside.
Vandagriff, who left her career in dispatch to raise her children, including a set of disabled twins, was horrified at being exiled.
'That's what probably hit me the hardest. It's like a brotherhood. It wasn't a gender thing, it was a law enforcement thing. And once you go against a part of it it's like, forget that part of it, you're not in the brotherhood anymore,' she said. 'If you go against them, God forbid, you are the black sheep. You are the whistleblower. Then they just toss you aside.'
'I knew that they were blood brothers, so to speak, and that they protect their own because I was a part of that. But at the same time, I knew that what I was saying was right,' said Vandagriff.
Trautman, the director of the National Institute of Ethics in Long Beach, Miss., who teaches anti-corruption seminars to police, declined to comment specifically on this situation but said police officers are not unlike other groups of people in offering protections to members.
'The way this ostracizing and peer pressure works is when people spend a lot of time together they are dependent on the code of silence. What happens is there is a sense of betrayal,' when someone steps outside the code, said Trautman.
'When somebody has the guts to do that, other people feel a sense of betrayal because of that peer pressure,' he said.
He pointed to a study of police by the National Institute of Ethics, which found 46 percent of officers admitted to witnessing misconduct by their peers and taking no action. Of those, most said they did so because they feared being outcast.
Wrisley would be fired again - this time in Lake Oswego.
And again, he would go back to work as a police officer and continue to advance rank.
On July 8, 2000, while attending a softball tournament for police officers in Albany, Wrisley was arrested after driving drunk into the parking lot of the Best Inns and Suites hotel, then assaulting his wife.
Three off-duty officers - Robert Fay of the Gresham Police Department and Scott Timms and Paul Farnstrom of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office - witnessed the incident. They told Albany police they saw Wrisley struggle to park his car in the lot, then saw he and his wife arguing.
The officers stated that Wrisley grabbed his wife by the wrist, pulled her arm and threw a sweatshirt at her. They then saw his wife fall to the ground. Two officers reported seeing Wrisley shove her by her throat. One said Wrisley had placed his back leg behind her's to cause the fall.
Albany police photographed finger marks on the front and back of the woman's neck. She complained of a headache and also told police she had been assaulted by her husband on other occasions.
According to the police report, Wrisley repeatedly told his wife that she didn't have to talk to other officers. In his own statement, he initially lied, telling an officer that his wife tripped and fell and that he only grabbed her arm to help her up.
He was taken to the Linn County Jail and charged with assault and driving under the influence of intoxicants. His blood alcohol level tested above the legal limit at 0.11.
Had he been convicted of the assault, Wrisley would have lost his job under federal laws that prevent domestic abusers from carrying weapons.
But three months later, Wrisley was convicted on a lesser charge of attempting to commit harassment. Though he was initially fired by Youngbar, former City Manager Doug Schmitz reversed the decision after Wrisley completed a grievance process.
Once back at work, Wrisley made a humbled apology to peers, who had mixed reactions.
'It was somewhat uncomfortable coming back … It's always in the back of the mind,' said Wrisley.
But he accepted discipline in the incident without complaint, including more than $10,000 in lost wages and court fines and a stigma in the police department that left him remorseful.
'I went through the procedure anyone would do and I live with the outcome,' he said. 'Last time I drank was in Albany, so there is some good that comes out of that.'
Though Wrisley would recover his career and this time remain trouble-free, the incident would prove a trigger point for officers disgruntled with the Lake Oswego Police Department, some of whom felt discipline was unevenly applied.
Angry over a series of internal probes that cost one officer his job, the former officer, Eric Losness, first battled to return to work, then sought a job in West Linn where Timeus had become chief.
Rebuffed in both attempts, a bitter Losness filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Safety Standards and Training last year.
In it, he took aim at Timeus and his historic ties to Wrisley.
Nick Budnick, a former Pamplin Media Group reporter, contributed some initial reporting for this story.