Former Forest Grove police chief alleges city misconduct
The former chief of the Forest Grove Police Department says she repeatedly pushed the city to hold officers accountable for misconduct, from making demeaning comments about women and sexual assault victims to leaving potential felony crimes uninvestigated.
After a seven-year tenure as chief, Janie Schutz abruptly retired in January. The allegations she made in testimony before state lawmakers Wednesday, July 15, shed new light on the circumstances that led to her abrupt departure from the city.
Schutz said throughout her time as Forest Grove police chief, she encountered misogyny and misconduct within the police department and felt undermined by City Hall in her efforts to deal with it. Eventually, city officials opened their own investigation into her last year and ultimately pressured her into resigning.
"My reward for doing the right thing was for the city manager to place me under investigation for an alleged violation of the city handbook policy, to which this day, I deny all allegations," Schutz told legislators Wednesday.
In a statement Thursday, Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax said the city takes Schutz's allegations very seriously. He pointed to the conclusions of a third-party investigator, which the city hired late last year to review her assertions as well as several other issues city officials had with Schutz's management of the department.
"The allegations made by Ms. Schutz were unsubstantiated and were created to deflect attention from her poor leadership of the department," the statement attributed to Truax read in part. "Ms. Schutz's testimony before the legislature yesterday is more of the same, and the City wholeheartedly refutes her allegations. It is unfortunate that Ms. Schutz and her attorney continue to make these allegations at a time when the City and its police department are moving ahead, rebuilding, and providing our residents and businesses with the best possible police force available. As a City, we wish Ms. Schutz all the best in her future endeavors and desire to move forward instead of continuing to argue over fully investigated and unsubstantiated claims."
During her nine minutes of testimony Wednesday, Schutz didn't refer to any officers by name.
Her testimony was at a video conference hearing before the Oregon State Legislature's recently assembled Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform.
Schutz said within her first three years as chief, she placed a senior captain and a longtime sergeant on administrative leave for unspecified actions she believed would likely lead to internal and criminal investigations.
While the captain chose to retire, Schutz said the sergeant's name now appears on the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards & Training's recently created list of officers who are banned from working in law enforcement in the state.
"I pushed for his termination; the city accepted his resignation," Schutz said.
Schutz went public about being raped as a child by a family member in late 2016. Later, she said, she was notified of two detectives she said were "laughing and making fun" of her abuse.
Both officers admitted to the behavior and Schutz verbally reported it to the city's Human Resources Department, she said.
"As far as I know, the city made no official report of my complaint, and I continued to show grace to these officers," Schutz said. "I'm somewhat embarrassed that I did not do more."
Schutz said she dealt with other issues with officers, including some senior members of the police department and union leaders, whom she felt treated her with disrespect during her time as chief.
In 2018, Schutz also filed a gender discrimination complaint against Jesse VanderZanden, Forest Grove's city manager and her direct supervisor. She told legislators VanderZanden consistently challenged her efforts to hold officers accountable for bad behavior.
The executive summary of the investigation, which the News-Times obtained through a public records request earlier this year, says "almost every complaint" Schutz made against VanderZanden was dealt with in a mediated process.
Schutz further alleged that in August of last year, she became aware that a detective failed to investigate 11 cases of online child sex abuse over the course of two and a half years. The detective also mishandled evidence in those cases, keeping evidence in his desk and even a closet, Schutz alleged.
Schutz notified VanderZanden she was going to request an outside inquiry by Oregon State Police into the alleged uninvestigated cases because she believed the officer's failure to follow up on them could constitute criminal misconduct, she said.
Schutz said VanderZanden initially would not allow her to get the state police involved and ordered her to instead turn over the case files to the city's human resources department.
"I refused to do so because these were active criminal cases," Schutz said, adding that she believed turning the cases over to the city could be unlawful.
Schutz believed the detective responsible for investigating the cases knew an outside investigation into him was coming, she said.
"He decided to go over to the (city manager's office) with the union vice president and give the city manager an ultimatum, which I had heard was, 'Either the chief goes or we go,'" Schutz said.
That detective has since left the city's employment.
Reacting Thursday to Schutz's version of events, Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax denied that the city was given an ultimatum.
"To be clear, at no time did the City receive an ultimatum to fire Ms. Schutz due to the investigation of the former employee, and City Management did not stall approving any such outside investigation because of an ultimatum or otherwise," Truax stated.
Truax also shared a November email exchange between VanderZanden and Schutz in which the city manager said he approved the Oregon State Police investigation but expressed frustration with "mixed and inconsistent" requests from police administration.
VanderZanden also stated that Schutz did not report the detective's alleged misconduct until the detective had complained to VanderZanden about her leadership.
"The alleged misconduct issue was raised against a now former employee after he made an official complaint against the police administration," he wrote in the Nov. 13, 2019, email, "even though the alleged misconduct was known by the police administration as of September 17, 2019, and the lack of action on related referrals to the case was known in July 2019."
Truax noted in his statement Thursday: "The truth of the matter is Ms. Schutz did not raise concerns with the City Manager or anyone else within City Management about this employee until after that employee and several others, including senior police management, complained about Ms. Schutz's leadership and its effect on the retention of police officers within the department."
City officials have maintained that they opened an investigation into Schutz to evaluate the causes of the police department's unusually high attrition and following multiple complaints into Schutz's leadership, documents show.
The city attempted to block the release of many of those documents, including the executive summary of the investigation report, after the News-Times requested copies of public records related to the probe. The News-Times appealed to Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, who ordered the city to make them available.
A third-party investigator interviewed 24 current and former employees and reviewed hundreds of documents to conduct the investigation, according to the executive summary.
The investigation found that Schutz's leadership style "significantly contributed to a workplace culture in which employees are demeaned, devalued, micromanaged, subjected to confrontations by their leadership and arbitrary decisionmaking."
It also did not substantiate any of Schutz's assertions that the department's attrition was a result of her efforts to hold officers accountable for "racist, sexist, misogynistic" conduct.
Last summer, the city conducted an employee survey, which showed that Schutz was widely disliked by rank-and-file officers.
More than 60% of respondents responded negatively when asked if the department was managed well as a whole, according to the survey, to which 88% of employees responded.
Schutz has argued the results were skewed by personal issues between her and several department employees.
VanderZanden sent a formal letter to Schutz in late December 2019 informing her that in the city's view, her management of the department rose to the level of misconduct, for which VanderZanden was willing to fire her.
Instead of being terminated, Schutz accepted a separation agreement with the city in January and was paid $75,000 in exchange for agreeing not to sue the city.
Schutz and her attorney say the investigation into her was biased, however. They say they provided the investigator with ample documented evidence to support Schutz's allegation of officers' misconduct, and that the report didn't accurately reflect support for Schutz within the department, including from members of the police administration.
"I was so supported by my then two captains that each of them wrote a letter to the city asking to self-demote back down to patrol in order to gain the protection of the union as they did not want to work under the city manager," Schutz said in her Wednesday testimony, referring to documents obtained by the News-Times as part of the earlier records request.
Schutz's attorney, Dan Thenell, testified before her Wednesday. Thenell encouraged lawmakers tasked with reforming police to consider how city officials, not sworn officers, often decide whether police misconduct is investigated.
He said Schutz's experience in Forest Grove reveals how city officials can stymie the efforts of police chiefs to hold officers within departments accountable for ethical violations and potentially criminal misconduct.
Schutz said if she were still chief, one officer currently working at the department would be under investigation for policy violations and two others would be under investigation for dishonesty.
"The city manager is well aware of these concerns of mine, yet they are still employed and I am not," Schutz said. "I don't know where these investigations would have landed, but, one way or another, these are allegations that should have been properly investigated.
"I may not have been the perfect chief, but I have always upheld my oath of office to the very best of my ability trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, my city manager had different ideas."
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