Last month, Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton told county public-employee union leaders he was monitoring the panel that could change whether the sheriff is elected or appointed.
That profiling may be illegal.
On Jan. 11, Staton convened a meeting of leaders of the unions that represent county employees to discuss the workings of the pending Multnomah County Charter Review Committee.
In the middle of the meeting, according to documents WW obtained under a public records request, Staton made an extraordinary announcement. He'd "had a full profile done of them"—i.e., on each of the 15 citizen volunteers on the committee.
Staton added that his human resources director, Jennifer Ott, "had files on the committee members."
Ott then slid a pile of papers onto the table, representing at least some of the background information Staton had ordered.
Those papers, which WW also obtained under a records request, show the results of Internet searches.
Oregon law prohibits law enforcement agencies from collecting intelligence about people or groups unless there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed.
At the Jan. 11 meeting, Staton made clear his interest in the charter review committee's work—he was firmly against a proposal the committee had been asked to consider: that the county charter be changed to make the sheriff's position appointed, rather than elected.
Notes from the Jan. 11 meeting obtained by WW say Staton told union leaders that if other Oregon sheriffs learned of a plan to make the Multnomah County sheriff an appointed office, they would "cap somebody."
The revelation that Staton sought background information on panel members comes shortly after WW reported Feb. 2 on allegations by a top deputy that Staton harassed her and used sexually degrading language to describe local officials.
This afternoon, County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury expressed serious concerns about whether Staton broke the law by ordering "full profiles" on committee members. She asked for an investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice.
"These allegations, if true, are offensive to me as a human being and as county chair," Kafoury said in a statement.
"I am engaged in conversations with Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum," she continued, "about whether she can conduct an independent investigation into three areas: Allegations that the sheriff has created a hostile work environment; allegations of unethical behavior and/or illegal collection of personal information with the intent of intimidation; and allegations of violent threats from the sheriff."
It is unclear exactly what information Staton gathered about committee members.
Staton's spokesman, Lt. Steve Alexander, says he can't comment on specific details of the Jan. 11 meeting because he wasn't there. But he says Staton merely wanted to know a little about members of the charter review committee.
"Acting Chief Deputy Mary Lindstrand did a basic Google search of the members of the charter review committee," Alexander told WW in response to written questions. "The searches were done toward the end of December, beginning of January. The previous charter review process had included bios for each member of the charter review committee. This time no bios were provided for committee members to the sheriff's office, and the sheriff wanted to be familiar with who the current members were."
Staton's office has access to law enforcement databases that contain far more detailed information and search capability than Google. Alexander says that no such database was used to research committee members.
But the results of that search, reviewed by WW, show information of a personal and political nature that go beyond name and job title.
For committee member Carol Chesarek, for instance, there is a notation of what street she lives on. For another, Keith Mosman, there is a note saying he's a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School with a certificate in environmental and natural resources law. For another, Samantha Alloy, there is a notation that she's affiliated with the Working Families Party and might previously have been part of the Association of Students at Portland State University.
Staton mentioned those search results to union leaders he called together Jan. 11.
Those present included Sgt. Cathy Groton, president of the Multnomah County Corrections Deputies Union; Jennifer Ott, the sheriff's human resources manager; Matt Ferguson, president of the Multnomah County Deputies Association; and Jason Heilbrun, president of the Association of Municipal, County and State Employees, Local 88. WW obtained Heilbrun's notes from the meeting under a public records request.
The controversy over whether the sheriff should be appointed stems from last August, when Kafoury appointed a new county charter review committee.
On Nov. 12, county Commissioner Judy Shiprack, a former prosecutor and the commissioner most involved in public safety issues, wrote to the charter review committee encouraging members to consider changing the charter so the sheriff, whose primary duty is overseeing the county's three jails, can be appointed.
"Significant criminal justice reforms are taking place across the country," Shiprack wrote. "Multnomah County is already a part of those initiatives. Amending our charter to establish an appointed sheriff would aid in the efforts already underway."
After the Jan. 11 meeting, Groton, the corrections deputies' president, wrote to the charter review commission opposing the idea of an appointed sheriff. "Citizens should have the freedom to choose their sheriff, and direct election is the best means to accomplish that," Gorton wrote Jan. 13.
Oregon law stipulates that law enforcement officials must have probable cause to monitor citizens.
"No law enforcement agency," says Oregon Revised Statute 181.575, "may collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct."
That law was in the news late last year, when the Oregon Department of Justice acknowledged that a DOJ investigator had used a proprietary search tool to monitor the social-media activity of the DOJ's civil rights chief, Erious Johnson. An investigation is pending.
Alexander, the sheriff's spokesman, tells WW he was unaware Kafoury had asked for a DOJ investigation.