Gresham police chief wants her job back: 'I am not a racist'
Gresham's Police Chief is mulling withdrawing her retirement and returning to lead the department after claiming she was forced out and threatened with being labeled a "racist."
Chief Robin Sells, who led the Gresham Police Department for five years, was one in a series of stunning retirements within city leadership that included Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis and Gresham City Manager Erik Kvarsten.
But Sells told The Outlook Wednesday morning, June 17, she is still weighing her options. It is unclear when her deadline is for withdrawing the retirement.
Sells elaborated on her departure in an email to Gresham City Council. She wrote, "Despite what you have heard, I can flat guarantee you that I am not a racist."
Much of the friction leading up to Sells announcing her retirement Thursday, June 11, appeared to be between her and Gresham Deputy City Manager Corey Falls, who is a candidate for the vacant City Manager role. The two butted heads while working for the city. Both were hired into the Gresham Police Department at the same time after vying to be chief — Sells to lead the department and Falls into the newly created role of director of police services and 21st century policing.
Falls did not reply to interview requests for this story.
The Gresham Police Officers Association said it was confusing who was in charge at the time, and things deteriorated from there. Falls eventually would shift over to Gresham City Hall in 2017, later being named deputy city manager. He sent an internal letter to city leadership last week claiming he has faced subtle racism and lack of support as an employee of color. His claims included not being supported while working in law enforcement.
"I hear that he says I (stood) in his way and I did not," Sells wrote. "I just clearly defined what our roles were — I was the police chief and he was not. For months, okay years, I would have people ask me, 'What does he do?' and I had no answer."
This statement was echoed by Officers' Association President Matt Fagan.
"We all decided to give it a go, though I had multiple conversations with (Falls) where he acknowledged part of the struggle was that he himself didn't understand his duties," Fagan said.
While Falls' letter made its way to city leadership, Sells stepped away from the department. In her email she said it was because "in this day and age (the) truth doesn't matter."
"I am not a racist — I do abhor lazy people who get paid for not doing a job they are hired to do," Sells wrote in reference to Falls.
One sticking point was an incident in which Sells referenced "Gnome Lives Matter" during a presentation at an awards banquet. Her children had sent her a Los Angeles Dodgers garden gnome to put in the grassy area outside her office when she was hired in 2016. Some officers took that gnome as a prank, sending it on a tour of the country and snapping photos back to Sells. In a 2016 interview with The Outlook, Sells spoke about the prank and shared some of the photos.
"At an awards banquet the gnome was still missing in action, so I said, 'folks, it's time to return my gnome, as gnome lives matter also,'" Sells wrote.
The fracture between Sells and Falls remains, and the Officers Association "absolutely does not" support Falls' bid for Gresham City Manager.
In her email, Sells wrote she thought it was interesting that when both were hired they made the same amount of money, despite her leading a department of 160 people.
"During my tenure I have responded to calls in the middle of the night, rarely left work on time and was always available to our community — yet his pay was the same," Sells wrote. "I know we all strive for equity here at Gresham, but somehow that doesn't feel very equitable."
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