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July 28th, 2010 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Oregon’s Scariest Cops

Think the Portland Police have problems? Take a look next door.

     
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SHERIFF CRAIG ROBERTS: “Have we had some horrible, isolated incidents? Absolutely. But we are no worse than other large agencies, and we’re more transparent than some.“ IMAGE: Darryl James

Keaton Otis.

Jack Collins.

Aaron Campbell.

Kendra James.

James Chasse.

All died at the hands of Portland police in recent years.

Each death raised fresh questions about the bureau’s training and its ability to discipline its officers.

As a result, a casual consumer of local news might think the Portland Police Bureau is the most troubled law enforcement outfit in the metro area.

Such an assumption would probably be wrong. An analysis of public records and interviews with law enforcement sources suggests that designation belongs to another agency.

While it’s difficult to prove empirically, several factors point to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

“Portland and Washington County made the transition into the 21st century way before Clackamas County did,” says Larry Kanzler, who retired in 2008 after 42 years in law enforcement, including 28 years as a Portland cop and a stint in Washington County before becoming police chief in Milwaukie.

Rich Cohen, a defense lawyer who practices in all three metro counties, says the quality of police work has improved dramatically in the large agencies in his 30 years of practice.

“But there are two things I don’t understand,” Cohen says. “The number of violent incidents involving Portland police officers, and the number of situations in which members of the CCSO have been arrested and convicted of crimes.”

The deaths of citizens at the hands of Portland cops occurred while cops were working. The officers may have had itchy trigger fingers or may have been ill-trained, but they were on the job.

The situation has been different in the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

Over the past five years, CCSO deputies have committed a wide range of crimes against the people they are sworn to protect—from armed robbery to forging prescriptions to murder. Most recently, in June of this year, Clackamas County deputy Darin Fox was convicted of having sex with three inmates. He was the second Clackamas County officer in six months to be arrested for committing that crime.

“The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office is different from other large local law enforcement agencies,” Kanzler adds. “There has always been a ‘good old boy’ culture there, and trying to change it is like turning a battleship in the Willamette River.”

Clackamas County Commission Chairwoman Lynn Peterson says she and her colleagues are “extremely concerned” about the crimes its sheriff’s officers have committed, and the costs of legal claims against the county.

While it seems that almost every public official in Clackamas County has stories to tell about the sheriff’s office, the man in charge, Sheriff Craig Roberts, says the notion that his agency is the most troubled big agency is wrong.


(Left) DEPUTY DARIN FOX: Convicted of having sex with inmates. (Right) SGT. RAYMOND LOVELACE: Guilty of forging prescriptions. Images courtesy of CCSO.

“I don’t believe that is so,” says Roberts, now in his sixth year as sheriff. “Have we had some horrible, isolated incidents? Absolutely. But we are no worse than other large agencies, and we’re more transparent than some.”

Roberts oversees nearly 400 sworn officers and an $84 million budget; his turf extends from the snowy slopes of Mount Hood on its eastern boundary to the crime-infested areas lining Southeast 82nd Avenue and McLoughlin Boulevard on its western end.

His deputies patrol county roads, investigate crimes and run a jail that holds 434 inmates. And for the most part, most of them do a good job.

But it’s no secret that in local law enforcement circles, Clackamas County’s department is known as an underperformer.

When Kanzler took over as chief of the Milwaukie Police Department 10 years ago, for example, he chose not to deploy the Clackamas County sheriff’s SWAT team when needed, calling on the Portland Police Bureau’s squad instead, even though Milwaukie is in Clackamas County.

“Portland was better trained and just did a better job,” Kanzler says.

It’s hard to compare one law enforcement agency with another, and the state agency that certifies cops has no data that provide clarity. The most analogous operation to Clackamas County is in Washington County.

The sheriff’s offices in both metro counties are nearly identical in size, and both split their operations between operating large jails and patrolling diverse areas. But that’s where the similarities end.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has three full-time staff working internal affairs; CCSO, just one. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, which has 510 sworn officers, has four internal affairs staffers.

And over the past three years, legal claims against the sheriff’s office have cost Clackamas County nearly $2.4 million. That is about eight times more than Washington County paid to settle claims against its sheriff’s office.

Big legal claims are nothing new for CCSO. In 2003, for instance, Clackamas County paid a man who had been the sheriff’s office’s only black deputy $1.5 million for racial discrimination he suffered at the hands of other deputies. In 2002, the county paid a SWAT deputy’s widow $2.25 million after another officer fatally shot her husband in a training accident.

The hefty settlements Clackamas County has paid are only part of the picture.

An examination of the public record makes clear that Clackamas County sheriff’s officers break the law with distressing regularity.

In 2006, a deputy named David Verbos was convicted of robbing four businesses with his service weapon to feed his drug addiction. That same year, Sgt. Raymond Lovelace was found guilty of forging prescriptions. In 2007, two deputies were fired after having sex with teenage female sheriff’s cadets.

But those cases pale next to the crimes of Brandon Claggett.

Brandon Claggett joined the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office in 1994, and patrolled rural parts of the county.


(Left) BRANDON CLAGGETT: Convicted of coercion and unlawful use of weapon. (Right) EARLY WARNING: Eagle Creek businessman Ralph Hatley warned law enforcement about Claggett. Images courtest of CCSO.

About five years ago, Ralph Hatley, an Eagle Creek businessman, approached Sheriff Roberts and said he had it on good authority that Claggett, then in his mid-30s, was pursuing underage girls.

Hatley, 72, is hardly your typical taxpayer. The operator of a private airpark and parachute business, he is something of an institution in Clackamas County. He publishes the Oregon Spectator, an online newspaper with a conservative tilt. A former Green Beret, he’s a tough customer who pleaded guilty to assault charges in 2005.

Hatley grew unhappy at his perception that Roberts was ignoring his allegations against Claggett. (Roberts acknowledged Hatley told him about Claggett and says that officers investigated, but he adds the alleged victim denied the charge.)

In 2008, Hatley, along with Jim Smith, an Oregon City contractor, and Mike Severin, a Welches resident, hired a private detective to investigate Claggett.

Before long, the detective had gathered damning information, including evidence that while on duty, Claggett had photographed his penis and texted it to a young woman.

Records show the group shared the detective’s findings with the Oregon Department of Justice in June 2008, and explained in a letter they were approaching the state, rather than local authorities, because “CCSO has a poor track record when it comes to being honest with the public and particularly when it comes to investigating itself.”

In September 2008, after the sheriff’s office verified the private detective’s findings, Claggett resigned.

On April 20, 2009, Claggett exploded and attacked his estranged wife, handcuffing her and pointing a Glock handgun at her.

Police arrested Claggett and took him to the Clackamas County jail. His ex-colleagues seemed more concerned about his welfare than his wife’s, according to a subsequent investigation by an Oregon City detective and a Clackamas County district attorney’s investigator.

From jail, the investigation found, Claggett tampered with witnesses and arranged for a gun to be available to him when he was released. The cell phone he carried when arrested, which investigators believed contained evidence against him, mysteriously “disappeared” while he was in jail.

While free on pretrial release, Claggett again went after his wife. At 4:28 am on July 10, 2009, Claggett cut a GPS monitoring bracelet off his leg; equipped himself with a .40-caliber Glock pistol, a two-by-four, a large folding knife, plastic bags and a “large, hunter’s-style game bag”; and drove his red Ford F150 pickup to where his wife was staying.

Before he could get to his wife, officers pulled him over and rearrested him.

On March 16, 2010, a jury convicted Claggett of coercion and unlawful use of a weapon and sentenced him to seven years in prison.

But the Clackamas County prosecutor who put Claggett behind bars was not finished with the case.

Incensed at the way Claggett’s former colleagues protected him, assistant district attorney Shannon Kmetic took the highly unusual step of filing internal affairs complaints against two deputies in 2009.

Kmetic accused the pair of interfering with the investigation, providing Claggett with unapproved police reports, drinking with him in violation of the terms of his release, and intimidating his estranged wife at a court hearing.

“That is a significant event,” says Mike Dugan, district attorney for Deschutes County. “In my 24 years as a prosecutor, I don’t recall hearing about [a prosecutor filing internal affairs complaints] happening before.”

Kmetic’s then-boss, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, also says he cannot recall such an instance. “That is something I have not seen before,” Foote says.

Sheriff Roberts’ internal affairs officer sustained one of Kmetic’s claims and dismissed others. Roberts’ jail commander denies Claggett got special treatment.


CLACKAMAS COUNTY DA JOHN FOOTE: “Our position has always been that whenever there is a criminal investigation of a police officer, we want to be involved from the very beginning.” IMAGE: WW Staff

But the DA’s office included the substance of those allegations in its arguments at Claggett’s sentencing. Foote says he stands behind the work of the prosecutors who handled the case.

Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts is the picture of modern law enforcement. He’s 52 but looks a decade younger, thanks to regular basketball games and a running regimen that saw him complete the Portland Marathon and Hood to Coast Relay last year.

Last winter, when two climbers got lost on Mount Hood, Roberts spent nearly as much time on television as KGW weatherman Matt Zaffino. Articulate and empathetic, he was far from the wooden figures who sometimes represent his profession in public.

Roberts has spent his entire career at CCSO, serving as a major crimes and domestic-violence detective before first winning election as sheriff in 2004.

He insists he is addressing the shortcomings of the sheriff’s office.

Roberts notes that in the 5 1/2 years he’s been in office, 18 sworn officers have left CCSO for disciplinary reasons while only six left in his predecessor’s four-year term. He says that increase is a result of “aggressive investigation of wrongdoing by deputies.”

Roberts also says that of the 18 deputies who have left, only one joined the agency while he was sheriff.

“One of the ways I’m changing things is to take a critical look at the hiring process,” he says. “You have to make sure you hire good people.”

Roberts has also brought in a psychologist to help strengthen the evaluation of job applicants. He meets with every new hire to stress his expectations. And after two deputies got busted for drug-related crimes, he fought for the right to drug-test deputies when there is probable cause, which few police agencies do.

But Kanzler, the former Milwaukie chief, says Roberts faces a daunting challenge in changing his agency’s culture: the Clackamas County Peace Officers’ Association.

When Roberts first ran for office in 2003, he challenged incumbent Sheriff Pat Detloff with the union’s blessing.

The union gave Roberts nearly $50,000, more than three times the total Deloff raised.

Roberts won easily. The union contributed $75,000 to his re-election in 2008, more than half of the money Roberts raised. (Union officials did not return WW’s call.)

Roberts denies financial considerations have caused him to kowtow to the union. To his credit, Roberts did hire outside counsel to mount a more aggressive stance than the county attorney favored in one labor dispute.

“I’m holding people accountable,” he says. “I bring every new employee in here, and believe me, I use examples of these employees that have made bad choices, and I explain to them clearly about what my expectations are. If I find out that you are not truthful, you will be terminated—period, end of story.”

On April 28, 2009, Undersheriff David Kirby got a tip from a state cop that a Clackamas County deputy, Sgt. Jeff Grahn, had recently beaten his wife, Charlotte, so badly she needed surgery.

Kirby referred the matter to CCSO internal affairs officer Lt. Graham Phalen, who asked the Portland Police Bureau to investigate. (Agencies make such requests because investigating their own officers can sometimes present conflicts of interest.)

But Phalen then made a puzzling decision, according to the Portland police investigator who handled the case.

“I explained that when we investigate one of our own officers involved in a [domestic-violence incident], we would bring our district attorney’s office into our investigation…, [but] he asked that we hold off on that,” wrote Portland police Sgt. Margaret Bahnson.

Bahnson wrote that she again suggested involving the Clackamas County DA’s office, but Phalen again said no.

Roberts says his officer did not mean to exclude a prosecutor but simply wanted to establish there was probable cause and that a crime had actually been committed.

Clackamas County DA Foote does not buy that explanation.

“Our position has always been that whenever there is a criminal investigation of a police officer, we want to be involved from the very beginning,” Foote says.

As domestic violence victims often do (see “Cops and Domestic Violence,” below), Charlotte Grahn refused to cooperate, and on June 5, 2009, the investigation ended with no result.

Seven months later, Charlotte Grahn and two female friends sat in the M&M Lounge on Main Street in Gresham.


SGT. JEFF GRAHN: Killed his wife, her friend and then himself.

As the women sipped their drinks, Jeff Grahn walked in.

He verbally attacked one of his wife’s friends and tossed a beer in her face.

Jeff Grahn then hustled his wife out the lounge’s back door. In the alley, he pulled out a .40-caliber Glock pistol and shot his wife fatally in the back of the head.

He quickly re-entered the bar and shot both of his wife’s friends, killing one. Grahn then stepped back into the alley and shot himself fatally.

Charlotte Grahn’s sister subsequently blamed the sheriff’s office for the carnage.

“[The sister] told me she reported the issues to Jeff Grahn’s supervisor directly,” an investigator wrote after the shootings. “She believes enough people made the sheriff’s office aware of Jeff’s behavior to do something and save her sister.”

(Roberts declined to comment on this allegation because on July 15, the family of one of the women Grahn shot filed a notice of intention to sue the sheriff’s office.)

“Clackamas County failed to allow a full and complete investigation of Sgt. Grahn’s conduct, including review of Sgt. Grahn’s conduct by prosecuting authorities,” the notice, filed by Portland lawyer Mark McDougal, says.

Roberts says he cannot comment on the claim but insists his agency did all it could to stop Jeff Grahn.

“I wanted to do everything possible to protect Charlotte Grahn [and the other victims],” says Roberts, who started Clackamas County’s domestic-violence investigations unit prior to being elected. “Domestic violence is a crusade I take very seriously.”

That may be true, but he’ll need to overcome a legacy of lenience toward domestic violence at the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. For instance, Darin Fox, the deputy who had sex with jail inmates in 2009, pleaded guilty in 2004 (before Roberts took office) to a felony domestic-violence charge.

Normally a felony conviction would result in the end of an officer’s career, but with the help of a letter from his CCSO supervisor—who called him an “extremely valued and respected member of the sheriff’s office” and said his behavior was an “aberration”—Fox qualified for diversion and kept his law enforcement certification.


ATTORNEY JOHN HENRY HINGSON: “Who’s going to police the police?” IMAGE: Darryl James

Few criminal defense lawyers have spent more time in Clackamas County court than John Henry Hingson, who has been practicing law since 1971.

Hingson says it’s hard to assess CCSO’s problems.

“That’s an extremely difficult question, because the public doesn’t get to crawl into the bowels of law enforcement in search of cancerous polyps,” Hingson says. “Occasionally I get a rare glimpse, and I get a little bit frightened.”

Hingson says CCSO’s history is replete with bad behavior and sheriffs who operate under a law unto themselves.

“Clackamas County is a great place to live and raise kids, but there are some things that go on and keep going on that make you wonder whether there’s something in the water,” Hingson says. “And the question is: Who’s going to police the police?”

—Intern Hadley Malcolm contributed to this report.

Cops And Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is ugly and dangerous, and even worse when a cop is the perpetrator.

Studies show that cops are no more prone to domestic violence than those in other high-stress positions, but “what is so frightening about when police officers are involved in domestic violence is they have so many resources to be able to find a person; they know how to track people, and they have guns and know how to use them,” says Chiquita Rollins, head of domestic violence services for Multnomah County.

The stakes for cops are enormous.

Under a 1997 federal law called the “Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban,” anyone convicted of domestic violence cannot own a gun—which means he cannot be a cop.

Daryl Garrettson, whose law firm represents law enforcement officers in Oregon and Washington, says the law makes cops reluctant to report other cops and victims reluctant to press charges because the offender faces not only the loss of his job but also the permanent loss of income in that career.

“The law makes leaving an abuser doubly difficult,” Garrettson says. “If you accuse and leave an abuser, you face a loss of income because he’s going to lose his job.” —NJ


Oregon’s three largest counties are Multnomah, pop. 724,680; Washington, pop. 527,140; and Clackamas, 379,845, according to state figures.

In Washington County, Hillsboro and Beaverton each have more than 85,000 residents and large city police forces.

No city in Clackamas County has more than 40,000 residents.

The Portland Police Bureau employs 965 sworn officers and has 11 people working internal affairs.

 
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