DA: Suspended reserve deputy's intentions were vindictive
While no criminal charges will be filed against a suspended Columbia County Sheriff's Office reserve deputy, a letter from Clackamas County District Attorney's Office indicates the officer's motivation to expose a former executive director of the Columbia 911 Communications District was revenge.
A letter of no-complaint from Deputy District Attorney Bryan Censoni issued to Oregon State Police after a months-long review of an investigation into Tyler Miller, the reserve deputy with the Sheriff's Office, states the DA's office would be unable to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, but Miller did act in a retaliatory fashion.
Miller, 33, of Scappoose, was working with the special communications district for an ongoing radio system upgrade in 2016 when he allegedly threatened to expose then executive director Steve Watson for sexual harassment in exchange for compensation or greater responsibility in the district, according to an internal investigation completed by Bullard Law earlier this year.
Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson suspended Miller from his volunteer reserve status after the internal investigation was completed in April. The suspension came just before a May special election when Miller was running for a seat on the special district's board of directors, which the executive director reports to.
After a review of an OSP criminal investigation, the DA's office determined Miller was aware of "potentially damaging personal information regarding Mr. Watson he had learned from another county employee" throughout 2016, but did not confront Watson directly until early 2017.
Sometime in December 2016, Watson suggested the district no longer work with Miller and work only with a Nevada-based radio communications consulting agency, Pallans Associates. Prior to a board meeting in January, Miller told Watson he should reconsider the recommendation to remove him from the radio communications project.
On Feb. 13, Watson and Miller had a heated conversation about the reasons for dismissing Miller from the project. During that meeting, Miller allegedly made threatening comments toward Watson, including alluding to the fact that Miller was aware of Watson's inappropriate relationships with employees who could file sexual harassment claims against Watson.
According to reports, Watson told investigators Miller made comments "to the effect of, 'you have made this personal for me, therefore I have no recourse but to make it personal for you...you have a few days to reconsider your decision...I will not be patient for very long.'"
The letter from the DA's office shows that because Miller contacted Watson's wife just 90 minutes after his conversation with Watson, and at that time informed her of her husband's inappropriate relationships, he did not give Watson "much time to think about the ultimatum."
Watson's wife, who was not named in the report but was interviewed, told investigators Miller was telling her some of the information because he was "angry [he] was losing [his] position on the radio project."
The DA's letter, however, goes on to state that while Miller's actions may have been vindictive in nature, his motivation alone does not constitute the basis of a crime.
"A number of crimes were contemplated and staffed with other attorneys in this office at length, but all were deemed to have insufficient facts to sustain a crime," the DA's letter stated. "No matter the crime examined, a fatal fact to prosecution centers on Mr. Miller's intentions. If Mr. Miller wished to compel Mr. Watson to change his mind and recommend Mr. Miller's continued involvement in the project, he did not provide him with much time to do so."
An investigation into Watson's actions and claims of sexual harassment began on Feb. 15. Watson resigned from his position in April after the claims were found to be true.
Furthermore, the DA's Office also stated that because Watson later disclosed inappropriate relationships to the Columbia 911 board of directors, Miller was not threatening Watson with false information in order to receive a perceived benefit.
The DA's finding concluded with a statement regarding the impact the investigation has had on personnel who work in the district.
"At the end of the day, there are no winners stemming from this situation. Personal lives and careers have been significantly impacted at best, and at worst have resulted in terminations and separations," the letter concludes.
Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier said his office has not received any requests from OSP to review the case for other charges, although legally nothing would restrict OSP from requesting a second review. Auxier, however, went on to say that such a review would be unusual.
OSP reports the investigation into Miller remains open, but will likely soon be completed.