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August 22nd, 2007 Paul Leonard | News Stories
 

A Slap from the Past

The DA’s office in the butt-slapping case has been criticized before for withholding police reports.

     
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NEW TRIAL, BY ERROR: Lyle Coultas will get a new trial in Yamhill County.

Years before the Yamhill County prosecutor’s office failed to hand over a police report in the case of McMinnville’s butt slap heard ’round the world, the Oregon State Bar investigated that same office for a similar offense.

In 2003, the Oregon Bar’s Disciplinary Council launched a probe into one of District Attorney Bradley Berry’s then-chief prosecutors, Cal Tichenor, for failing to disclose evidence crucial to the defense of a 47-year-old Yamhill County man accused of molesting five teenage girls in 2000.

The defendant, Lyle Coultas, accused Berry in a bar complaint of knowingly overlooking Tichenor’s actions during Coultas’ 2001 trial.

The Bar eventually ruled in 2003 against sanctioning Tichenor for failing to turn over evidence in Coultas’ trial. Circuit Judge James Hargreaves cited the importance of that report in overturning Coultas’ conviction in June, although he wrote that it was Coultas’ attorney who should have secured a copy of the report.

Coultas has since been transferred from Snake River Correctional Institution to the Yamhill County Jail for his new trial in September.

More recently, on Aug. 15, Circuit Judge John L. Collins found that Berry’s office had failed to turn over a key police report in its prosecution of 13-year-old middle-schoolers Ryan Cornelison and Cory Mashburn for allegedly groping their female classmates.

Sexual harassment charges against the two boys, stemming from the Feb. 22 butt-slapping incident at Patton Middle School, were dropped Monday, though the prospect of the county facing a civil suit from the boys’ families remains. The case attracted nationwide attention, with many believing that Yamhill County prosecutors had turned adolescent hijinks into charges that could have labeled both boys as sex offenders for life.

What’s gotten much less attention is the belief by Coultas’ family that history is repeating itself with withheld reports.

“I think that Yamhill County has got a thing about people accused of sex crimes,” said Harry Coultas, Lyle’s father. “They’ll do anything to nail them.”

Sentenced to 45 years in prison, Lyle Coultas maintains his innocence against the charges made by his then-14-year-old daughter and her friends. The girls accused Coultas of sex abuse, mostly during a weekend slumber party at his house.

One crucial piece of the case against Coultas was a computer report on a file containing pornographic pictures that prosecutors claimed had been shown to friends of Coultas’ daughter.

An independent investigation, partially paid for by Coultas’ parents, found that the computer files could not have been accessed the night the girls claimed the abuses occurred. That information was already contained in a 190-page police report that was never handed over to Coultas’ defense.

Tichenor, who was elected as a Yamhill County judge shortly after prosecuting Coultas, continues to defend his actions.

“I thought that what I did was right,” Tichenor says.

According to Coultas’ 2002 complaint, Berry never returned calls and letters sent to his office by Coultas and his family regarding Tichenor’s conduct during the trial.

“I do recall Coultas writing to me,” Berry says. “But since his case was on appeal, it was unethical to respond.”

 
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