State police halt Oregon Humane Society investigations
The Oregon State Police has suspended the Oregon Humane Society's state-sanctioned role of enforcing animal health and safety laws based on "serious" allegations.
Though it's not necessarily widely-known, the nonprofit employs investigators who are state-certified law enforcement officers, essentially deputized by the state to assist in prosecution of animal abuse cases.
Now this unusual arrangement is under scrutiny, thanks to a complaint filed by an ex-Milwaukie police officer.
The investigation is based on a 44-page letter sent by Ulrike "Ulli" Neitch, a 27-year police veteran who went to work for the humane society in 2015. In it, Neitch alleged "unethical and unlawful practices," according to a copy obtained under Oregon Public Records Law.
Among the allegations raised by Neitch:
• That witness information was "intentionally omitted" from crime packets sent to the district attorney.
• Poor evidence-handling and storage.
• "Disregard" for officer safety as well as safety of crime scenes.
• "Intentional avoidance" of the requirements associated with access to government criminal databases.
• Violation of suspects' Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure.
The letter gives several specific instances of allegedly shoddy police work, and portrays humane society managers as ignorant and dismissive of basic law enforcement practices designed to preserve the integrity of cases.
Neitch said that upon raising these concerns internally, she was accused of "causing problems" and eventually resigned rather than continue "debasing" herself.
"I still believe in the mission of the OHS organization," she added.
The letter cites the names and contact information of several other current and former investigators who are said to be willing to substantiate the concerns. Some provided her with statements that are included in the letter.
An Aug. 10 letter from the Oregon State Police superintendent informed leadership of the humane society that the group's investigators are suspended pending an investigation into "serious allegations" about the organization.
OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton wrote that the allegations included "improper investigative techniques as well as mishandling and improper storage of evidence."
Hampton's letter notes that humane society investigators receive law enforcemen commissions from the state police, and those may be "revoked or suspended for good cause."
Based on the allegations, "it is clear that an investigation into the law enforcement practices of Oregon Humane Society personnel is necessary," Hampton wrote.
Sean Riddell, a lawyer representing the society, said the nonprofit has "brought in an outside audtior to investigate these allegations. . . . We are taking them seriously and we wil take whatever action is necessariy at the end of the audit. We appreciate everyone's patience as we gather all the facts."
Jake Kamins, a state-deputized prosecutor whose position was funded by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said he had not seen evidence of the problems Neitch cites. "These allegations are surprising as they do not reflect my. experience working with the Oregon Humane Society," he said in a statement. "From the documents I've seen, none of the allegations involve cases I've prosecuted as Oregon's Animal Cruelty Deputy District Attorney. However, we must hold law enforcement agencies to the highest standards. I trust these allegations will be given a fair and thorough investigation."
He declined further comment.
Neitch could not immediately be reached for comment.
Officer Greg Elkins, a spokesman for the Milwaukie Police Department, said Neitch had served as a department spokeswoman and also worked as field training officer and school resource officer. He said she was well-respected within the department, popular with the public, and known for her passion for animals.
"She was really involved with the community," he said.
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