Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon say Sheriff Dan Staton must explain a report his office produced last September.
The document, titled "Corrections Use of Force Audit," shows use of force in the county jails Staton oversees has risen over the past three years—and black inmates are far more likely to have force used against them than white inmates.
WW reported Feb. 19 that Staton laid off Amanda Lamb, the analyst who wrote the report, four days after she presented her findings to senior staff at the sheriff's office.
At a Multnomah County Commission meeting this morning, Commissioner Loretta Smith called the findings in the use-of-force audit "very troubling."
Smith questioned acting Chief Deputy Mary Lindstrand, who was making a presentation on training at the meeting.
Reading from a copy of the audit, Smith, the commission's only black member, said, "We can't have this disproportionality between black inmates and everyone else."
Staton's office released the audit publicly only this month in response to media requests. In an interview this afternoon, Smith said she's disturbed that commissioners are only now learning about use of force in the jails.
"The report should have been released right away to the chair's office and the rest of the board," Smith says.
Although the sheriff is an independently elected official, the county commission sets the sheriff's budget, which last year was $135 million.
Officials at the ACLU of Oregon have also reviewed the corrections use-of-force audit.
"These revelations are horrible but unfortunately, not surprising," says David Rogers, ACLU of Oregon's executive director. "The entire criminal justice system seems to be targeting black men."
The report found corrections deputies use force on black inmates at a much higher rate than white inmates—and at a rate disproportionate to the number of black people booked into the jails. It also shows two types of force—Taser probes and pepper spray—are used at an even higher rate against black inmates.
Staton's comments about the use-of-force audit—and his explanation for why he laid off the woman who wrote it—are puzzling.
After WW reported last week that former employees were saying Staton laid Lamb off immediately after she finished the jail use-of-force audit, Staton told the Portland Tribune that he let Lamb go because a more senior employee had returned to work—and the sheriff's office didn't have the budget to cover both staffers.
That explanation is at odds with his agency's apparently robust financial health.
When the layoff occurred, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners had only recently approved the sheriff's budget for 2015-2016, increasing it 5 percent from the previous year.
Budget records also show that far from having budget problems, Staton's agency ended the prior fiscal year with a surplus, returning more than $600,000 to the county general fund.
It is true that Lamb was "bumped" when a more senior employee returned to the office.
But documents show the bumping occurred in April. County records show funding for her position in place in May—three months before Staton terminated Lamb.
That allowed Lamb's boss in the planning and research office, Shea Marshman, to keep Lamb, an experienced auditor, on the job. Marshman says she wanted to retain Lamb because her auditing expertise was useful to an agency only beginning to analyze use of force.
In television interviews, Staton has said repeatedly in the past week that he only recently learned of the Corrections Use of Force Audit that Lamb completed just before he let her go.
"I didn't have knowledge of the existence of this report until about 2½ weeks ago," Staton told KGW-TV on Feb. 22.
That claim is difficult to reconcile with other facts.
First, Staton has made reducing the use of force in his agency a top priority.
The 2015 Multnomah County Corrections Grand Jury report, released in December by the county's district attorney, stated, "Over the past six years, leadership has focused on reducing use of force in the jails."
Second, the jail use-of-force audit was conducted at the request of three senior officials in Staton's office: his internal affairs director, Lt. Harry Smith; his then-director of research, Marshman; and his executive assistant, Lt. Brent Ritchie.
Staton's own calendar, provided to WW under Oregon's public records law, shows Ritchie met with Staton for 2½ hours on Aug. 26, 2015. The topic of the meeting was "DOJ Viewed Analysis Update."
The federal Department of Justice has investigated numerous law enforcement agencies across the country for excessive use of force, and Ritchie says Staton asked him in early 2015 to make sure Multnomah County was compliant with DOJ guidelines.
Ritchie says in addition to briefing Staton on Lamb's report at the Aug. 26 meeting, he lobbied Staton to reverse her layoff. Staton declined to do so, and Lamb took a job elsewhere in the county.
The audit remained unreleased inside the sheriff's office until media filed requests for it this month. The Portland Tribune first reported the findings Feb. 11, and WW broke the news of Lamb's dismissal Feb. 19.
Staton has done his best to discredit the report, calling it "preliminary," although it's based on three years of data and nearly 3,700 use-of-force reports.
This week, Staton released a Feb. 17 letter from his current research staff—which no longer includes Marshman or Lamb—attempting to undercut the audit's findings.
Rogers, of the ACLU of Oregon, says Staton is failing citizens.
"Sheriff Staton is providing the absolute wrong model of leadership. It seems like the staff who've brought this issue to light got punished," Rogers says. "He's trying to sweep these issues under a rug and cover them up, rather than dealing with them responsibly."