Board's review of sheriff's office report won't include sheriff
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts has declined an invitation to address the July 10 meeting of the board of commissioners about a consultant's study that was highly critical of his office.
Instead, the board will discuss the 59-page review, which came in response to a scandal involving former detective Jeffrey Green. The review includes 51 recommendations to improve the sheriff's office, including changing the way allegations of misconduct are handled and how the office should implement change.
In a letter to Commission Chairman Jim Bernard, Roberts wrote that his office was already working on improvements based on the recommendations. "A great majority of the recommendations have been accepted in concept by the sheriff's office, and my staff is in the process of drafting procedures to implement components of those recommendations subject to collective bargaining and County funding approval," Roberts wrote.
Sgt. Matt Swanson, the only supervisor that notified the office of former detective Green's misconduct, is suing the sheriff's office, which allegedly retaliated after Swanson notified his superiors. Roberts said the lawsuit plays into his absence at the hearing. "If I, or members of my office, were to attend the presentation there is a risk that questions may be asked which directly relate to the lawsuit," Roberts wrote. "Because of this concern, I have been instructed by counsel not to attend."
Board members, who asked for the review of Roberts' office, hoped to delve deeper by bringing the investigators to present their findings and inviting Roberts to attend a public policy session on the matter.
Roberts' vague response to the report, as well as his decision to decline an invitation to the board hearing may highlight the difficulties that Oregon county boards have when influencing law enforcement or holding sheriffs accountable. That's because the sheriff is an elected official, and the board has no authority over him.
After a series of negative headlines about the Multnomah County sheriff in 2016, Clackamas County voters were asked if they wanted to change the charter to make the sheriff an appointed position. They declined.
"We don't have authority over the sheriff, but we do have the responsibility to ensure that we protect the people of Clackamas County," said Commissioner Sonya Fischer.
After almost 26 years working for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, Green pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of second-degree official misconduct in June 2017. Green was fined and sentenced to probation.
The charges originated after Green failed to investigate two reports of child abuse. Evidence was presented that Green allegedly neglected more than 50 cases related to alleged rape and child abuse during the past few years.
County commissioners hired lawyers Michael Gennaco and Robert Miller from the Independent Police Oversight and Review group to investigate the allegations. The police oversight group is a team of professionals who review law enforcement agencies for effectiveness and accountability. They work with police agencies, community members and local governments to conduct police practice training, assess policy, lead investigations and evaluate oversight systems.
Gennaco and Miller began investigating in September 2017 and released the report in June.
Highlights of the report include:
• Underlying circumstances in Green's case, specifically examining how the sheriff's office can address similar challenges in the future. For example, creating a monitoring program ensuring that employees receive annual performance evaluations, which is then signed and reviewed to determine if standards were met.
• The urge to reconsider the sheriff office's current response to critique or controversy. The report states that the sheriff's office does not acknowledge issues and that if they did, there may be more transparency and trust founded in the organization.
• A timeline of events leading to Green's trial, which showed evidence that many of Green's supervisors did not report his misconduct and left all attempts to re-evaluate his work ethic unfinished.
• Two previously under-investigated situations which may suggest a pattern of under-reaction. In one case, during February 2010, Clackamas County Sgt. Jeffrey Grahn walked into a busy Gresham restaurant, shot his wife, two of her female friends and then killed himself. Grahn had worked for the sheriff's office for 15 years but a year before the shooting, police responded to a domestic violence call at his house and he was not arrested. The sheriff directed a request for the Portland Police Bureau to investigate. Portland police recommended that the sheriff's office send Grahn's case file to the district attorney for review, but they chose not to do so. In January 2011, a public report with 14 recommendations highlighted ways to prevent future tragedies like Grahn's case. At the time, the office claimed they agreed with the recommendations and would implement them. Then, in another case in 2000, Deputy William Bowman was shot and killed in the head during a SWAT team training exercise. Dummy rounds were supposed to be used during the exercise, but with poor communication one deputy's weapon was loaded with a live round. The sheriff office's six-member shooting review board claimed the team wasn't accurately briefed over safety before commencing training and that a few members of the team even violated safety rules.
The sheriff's office redesigned the SWAT team, putting new safety guidelines in place but not directing any discipline on individuals involved in Bowman's death.
Investigators claimed that during most their interviews, people used these incidents to highlight a possible pattern of "unflattering light, and in the views of some reflected a pattern of denial that provided a backdrop for the many problems associated with the Green incident."
• 51 recommended changes for the sheriff's office, which discuss a variety of topics like consistently recording investigative interviews for internal investigations, always completing the investigation, creating new protocols and training to make sure detectives inform prosecutors of all evidence (about cops who've had allegations of untruthfulness) and doing a better job of investigating internal complaints.
"One of the striking observations we made during our review of the Green matter is that there has yet been no public pronouncement that CCSO could have handled any aspect of the attendant situation better," according to the report.
Roberts said he wouldn't respond to specifics about the report due to the lawsuit related to the report's findings filed against the county and his office. He's worried his response may be used against him and may even strengthen Swanson's case.
Roberts did not address any faults or recognition of needing specific improvements in the organization and did not respond to further requests for a detailed interview.
Losing community trust
George Dominy, a spokesman for the Police Professionals for Law Enforcement Accountability group, said the organization appreciates issues unveiled in the report, but believes the sheriff's office has a long way to go to improve.
"We feel that the law enforcement profession is founded on integrity and credibility which solidifies a good relationship with our communities," Dominy wrote in an email. "However, when those characteristics are tainted or soiled, then not dealt with appropriately within the agency or the profession itself, the community loses trust in law enforcement in general."
Dominy said "something needs to be put into place to hold supervisors and administrative personnel accountable for not dealing with these types of issues."
County Commissioners Ken Humberston and Martha Schrader did not respond to requests for interviews. Commissioner Fischer said she wrote a list of clarifying questions to ask the investigative group during the board's July 10 meeting. "When things fail it's not the people it's the process," Fischer said.