The Oregon Department of Justice says its investigation of Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton found no criminal conduct.
The investigation, which was requested by county Chair Deborah Kafoury and District Attorney Rod Underhill, looked into several allegations, including that Staton might have improperly tried to dissuade the head of the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriffs' Association from taking a no-confidence vote on him.
"We have concluded that the sheriff engaged in no criminal conduct in relation to the four areas of allegations under review," the letter from DOJ criminal chief Michael Slauson says.
Kafoury, who as county chair writes Staton's budget, says she's disappointed in the thoroughness of DOJ's effort.
"I'm not impressed with the quality of the investigation," Kafoury tells WW. "It's as if they asked the sheriff, 'did you break the law?' and he said 'no.'"
She notes that investigators failed to interview members of the sheriff's command staff and others with direct knowledge of how her operates.
"While they concluded there was no basis for criminal wrongdoing, they didn't answer the questions of whether there was wrongdoing that is less than criminal," Kafoury says. "There are still a lot more questions than answers and that seems to be the common theme with this sheriff. I'm struggling to understand how he can regain the trust of the of those who work for him and of Multnomah County residents."
The DOJ investigation was initially triggered by comments Staton allegedly made in a January meeting with county union leaders. At that meeting, according to notes taken by an official of the American Federation of Federal State County and Municipal Employees, Staton said he'd gathered information about members of a county charter review commission who were considering a recommendation that the sheriff's position be appointed, rather than elected as is currently the case.
Law enforcement agencies' gathering personal information about people in the absence of probable cause that a crime has been committed can be a violation of state law. DOJ investigators found no evidence that Staton's staff had conducted more than a Google search on members of the charter review group.
Staton has under fire in other ways this spring. He settled a tort claim notice filed by his former top female deputy at a cost of $300,000 to his agency. He's also struggled to explain his handling of a 2015 audit of use of force in county jails that found disproportionate use of force against black inmates.
Two deputies' unions represent the officers who report to Staton. The corrections deputies are the larger of the two but Staton came out of the law enforcement deputies union, who patrol and enforce laws in unincorporated parts of the county.
As his troubles mounted, the law enforcement deputies who report to Staton discussed holding a no-confidence vote. The Portland Tribune then reported an allegation that Staton had offered the president of that union, Deputy Matt Ferguson, a possible promotion to sergeant if the union scrapped that idea. Staton denied offering any such inducement.
In the DOJ report, an investigator wrote that Ferguson told a state investigator that in an April 13 phone call, Staton said he would "sue anybody who turned their back on him" and repeatedly said the fact that there were some openings for sergent coming up and "that should make you very happy."
Ferguson told the state investigator that he felt Staton emphasized the word "you" and repeated himself in order to imply that Ferguson could be in line for a promotion sooner than might otherwise be the case. A second deputy, Kevin Jones, was listening to the conversation between Ferguson and Staton on speaker phone. Jones and Ferguson recounted a similar recollection of the conversation to the DOJ investigator.
Staton, however, remembered the conversation differently, denying he threatened to sue anybody or that he implied Ferguson could get a promotion for canceling off a no-confidence vote. "Staton denied emphasizing the word 'you' meaning it should make Ferguson personally happy," the investigator wrote.
Staton's spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.