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March 11th, 2009 JAMES PITKIN | News Stories
 

Superior Force

A Portland cop says his boss’s dirty dance and a complaint about it stifled his career.

     
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STILL STANDING: Leilani and Tom Brennan.
IMAGE: leahnash.com

Officer Tom Brennan says his career as a Portland cop hit a dead end the night a superior officer ground his crotch against Brennan’s wife at Dixie Tavern.

The Old Town bar was the scene of some out-of-uniform revelry for a fellow officer’s birthday in November 2005. When Brennan left to bring the car around, his wife Leilani says, a sergeant tried to get nasty on the dance floor.

“I just think it was very low class and creepy,” says Leilani Brennan, a nurse and former Air Force intelligence officer. “He was a supervisor. He shouldn’t be doing that.”

The couple say they put off raising the issue until summer 2006, when Brennan blew the whistle by discussing the incident with a city official. Two years after city officials interviewed the couple, Brennan says he’s now going public out of sheer frustration. They never heard from the city or the Police Bureau again.

“This is the mother of my [three] children,” Brennan says, “and they’ve treated her like a piece of dirt.”

In 2006, Brennan was up for promotion to sergeant or detective. Fellow cops told him it was a lousy time to make a complaint. But Brennan says he bought into newly appointed Police Chief Rosie Sizer’s talk of increased accountability.

No longer.

“I guess the joke’s on me,” says Brennan, 41. “Now I realize it’s just a bunch of slogans on the wall as far as management is concerned.”

Brennan declined to identify the sergeant for publication. WW learned from a third party it was Sgt. Mark Chamberlain, Brennan’s direct boss at the time.

Chamberlain did not reply to requests for comment.

Sgt. Scott Westerman, head of the police union, says the allegations were “unproven” in an internal-affairs investigation.

After Brennan came forward, Sizer and Commander Marty Rowley, now retired, yanked him out of the traffic division, where he’d led the state in the number of DUII arrests three years in a row.

He’s been passed over for promotion twice, his requests for transfers have been blocked, and he was given a letter of reprimand in a separate matter that smudged an otherwise spotless record—until an arbitrator last month ruled against the city and ordered the letter pulled from his file. The allegations against Chamberlain were not included in the union’s grievance.

That ruling was a vindication for Brennan. While it’s been suggested he was passed over for promotion because defense attorneys complained he was abusing overtime, the arbitrator said the city never investigated those allegations.

Instead, Brennan is convinced he was sidelined for raising questions about a sergeant considered a favorite of upper management, including Sizer.

“In the world according to Rosie, this is all just one big coincidence that bad things are happening to me,” Brennan says. “To the rest of us here on planet Earth, we call it retaliation.”

In an emailed reply to questions, Sizer denied retaliating against Brennan or being close with Chamberlain. She said Brennan “will be entitled to a response” once the case is resolved.

Brennan’s story is about one cop’s claims of retaliation. But as Sizer approaches her three-year anniversary as chief next month, discontent with her leadership is simmering.

“An increasing number of officers are beginning to question the decisions coming out of the chief’s office, specifically from Chief Sizer,” says Westerman.

A 21-year Navy veteran, Brennan joined the Police Bureau in 2001 after stints as a cop in Maryland and Salem. When his troubles started in 2006, he’d been nominated twice for state DUII enforcement officer of the year and was first on the Portland police list for promotion.

Then, in June 2006, Brennan discussed the alleged encounter at Dixie with Mike Hess, deputy director of the city’s Independent Police Review office. A few weeks later, Brennan heard he was being passed up for promotion. But Rowley refused to meet with Brennan to explain why.

After two months with no information, Brennan called local DUII attorney John Henry Hingson III to ask if Hingson had complained about Brennan. The call to Hingson, who often squared off against Brennan in court, led to the letter of reprimand alleging unprofessional conduct.

Meanwhile, Internal Affairs and the city’s Bureau of Human Resources investigated a formal complaint Brennan filed after he was transferred to Central Precinct without explanation. Leilani Brennan says an Internal Affairs investigator implied the incident was her fault.

In her Feb. 20 ruling on the unprofessional conduct allegation against Brennan, arbitrator Sylvia Skratek agreed Brennan used poor judgment calling Hingson. But she blasted the city for leaving Brennan in the cold and said she was “dumbfounded” by Rowley’s behavior.

“This is a man’s career that is being cavalierly dismissed,” Skratek writes. “The Arbitrator fully appreciates the anger, frustration and humiliation that Brennan experienced.”

For his part, Brennan says he no longer wants a promotion because he doesn’t want to serve as a manager under Sizer.

“This is not about sour grapes,” he says. “It’s about treating a victim with no respect and dignity—especially one that’s married to a fellow officer.”


FACT: Brennan ran for president of the police union last year, gaining 10.3 percent of the vote to place fourth in a five-way race.
 
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