Chief Miller to leave Scappoose PD after no confidence vote
Scappoose's police chief will resign following a vote of no confidence by police officers in his department, according to the interim city manager.
Norm Miller decided to step down after officers issued a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
"For years, the police department has suffered under the incompetence of Chief Miller," an attorney wrote on behalf of the unionized officers in an Aug. 5 letter to interim city manager Alexandra Rains.
Rapid turnover has left the department without experienced officers, attorney Dan Thenell wrote.
State records show the longest-tenured officer in Scappoose has only been with the department for two years, aside from Miller and one officer who is on leave because of pending criminal charges.
Five paid officers and all four reserve officers left the department in 2020.
"If the city does not remove Chief Miller immediately, most employees of the police department will be leaving, and you will not have a viable police department," Thenell wrote to Rains.
On Tuesday, Aug. 10, Rains told the Spotlight that Miller "made the decision to step back from his role as police chief" last week. Miller will continue serving as chief until an interim replacement is appointed. It's unclear when that will happen.
Thenell said the resolution of no confidence was approved by a majority of unionized department members, but he did not provide the exact vote tally.
Numerous controversies have emerged from the Scappoose Police Department in recent years, most concerning the workplace culture in the small department, which has 11 sworn positions when fully staffed.
Miller was appointed to the police chief job in October 2014. State records show Miller had a deadline to achieve a required management-level state certification two years following his appointment. In May 2019, the Spotlight reported that Miller still had not completed the required certification, more than two years after the deadline.
In an April 2020 letter to the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which oversees law enforcement certifications, Thenell claimed that Miller was not following required procedures for conducting background checks on job applicants.
The state referred the complaint to the city "which apparently did nothing to hold Chief Miller accountable," Thenell wrote.
In a 2018 letter to the city manager, later obtained by the Spotlight, one officer outlined sexist, racist and otherwise offensive comments made by fellow officers over the years. The officer who wrote the letter, James Candiff, later resigned while under investigation over suggestive photos he took while wearing parts of his uniform.
One of the fellow officers who Candiff claimed repeatedly used racial slurs, Dennis Viereck, was later fired after allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a female recruit. The DPSST investigation into Viereck is still pending.
Another officer, Troy Gainer, was indicted earlier this summer after allegedly stealing illicit drugs from evidence. Gainer, who served as a school resource officer, wasn't placed on administrative leave until the day he was indicted. Thenell is also representing Gainer in the criminal case.
Miller has worked for the Scappoose Police Department for more than 22 years, after six years as a reserve officer.
Rains, who took over as interim city manager after Michael Sykes left the role in August 2020, said that Miller began discussing leaving his role as chief more than a year ago with Sykes, "as Chief Miller was experiencing some frustration with the role."
Miller opted not to step down at the time, but to work with Sykes "on ways to improve the department," Rains said.
Rains said that one aspect of those department improvements was confidentially gathering feedback from department employees and others. Rains said the city "used the results of that process to discuss opportunities to improve, as well as acknowledge the positive feedback," but she did not elaborate on the results.
Another assessment was conducted by the city's insurance provider, Citycounty Insurance Services — which was on the hook for $4.1 million that a jury awarded to the previous police chief, Doug Greisen, in 2016.
Before he was fired in 2014, Greisen was the subject of multiple investigations into allegations he ran a hostile workplace and the discovery of bank records tied to an unauthorized account and cash found in a locked drawer in his office. He was also suspended in 2013 for two weeks for breaking departmental policy by ordering an officer to conduct what is called a PIT maneuver, or pursuit intervention technique, ramming the car of a suspected shoplifter at highway speeds.
Greisen later sued Scappoose and former city manager Jon Hanken, alleging retaliation, defamation and invasion of privacy. The complaints against the city were dismissed, but a judge ruled in favor of the former chief in his complaint against Hanken, finding the manager retaliated against Greisen for protected speech.
Miller, a Scappoose Police Department veteran, succeeded Greisen as police chief.
Rains said she received the results of the Citycounty assessment in April 2021, four months ago, and plans to present them to the City Council this summer.
Rains said the report "identifies some areas of improvement but generally commends SPD and SPD leadership."
Thenell said that the union has requested various evaluations and other documents concerning the police department's management, but the city has denied those requests.
"I think the public should see their letters, and I think the public should see the evaluations that were done," Thenell said, referring to letters written to city leadership by officers.
It is unclear when officers lodged complaints against Miller and whether it was Sykes or Rains in charge at City Hall at the time.
Rains declined to provide information about any complaints made against Miller. She said the city "is not aware of any complaints or allegations that have not been evaluated or addressed appropriately" regarding Miller.
Thenell did not immediately respond to questions about the timing of various complaints, although he suggested Miller's departure has been a long time coming.
"Anybody that has ever worked there has a story about him," Thenell said. "It's amazing that it hasn't been dealt with earlier."
The Spotlight reached out to both Miller and Sykes, the former city manager, but received no response.
Rains is currently one of four finalists in Scappoose's search for a permanent city manager.
Rains said that one of Miller's "legacies will be his focus on community policing and developing a positive relationship between our city's police force and our community members — an objective that has become even more important in recent years."
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