Members of the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff's Association announced this morning that they voted to express "no confidence" in Sheriff Dan Staton.
"This action reflects our strong belief that Sheriff Staton has lost the trust of the county's rank-and-file law enforcement deputies and sergeants," said deputy sheriff's association President Matt Ferguson in a statement. "Sheriff Staton has abandoned our core values of professionalism and integrity. He is no longer fit to lead our proud organization."
The Deputy Sheriff's Association represents law enforcement deputies who patrol and enforce laws in unincorporated Multnomah County. A second, larger union, the Corrections Deputy's Association, staffs the county's jails.
Staton has been under pressure for the past couple of months, beginning with a tort claim notice filed by his top female deputy, Linda Yankee. Staton settled that claim at a cost of $300,000 but a number of other issues with his management of the agency surfaced afterward. He claimed ignorance of a damaging audit of the use of force in the county jails he oversees and allegedly made inflammatory comments about a gathering information on members of a country charter review commission considering whether his position should be elected, as is now the case, or appointed.
At the request of Multhomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and District Attorney Rod Underhill, the Oregon Department of Justice investigated Staton's actions.
The results of that investigation, released Friday, cleared Staton of criminal conduct. Kafoury blasted that result, as did the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
"The DOJ's conclusions represent only part of the picture. They only looked for violations of criminal law, not civil or administrative laws," said ACLU of Oregon executive director David Rogers. "The DOJ's findings strongly suggest to us that Sheriff Staton violated the civil law that protects Oregonians from state surveillance as well as free speech and association rights."
But the DOJ report also provided additional details about a strange interaction he'd had with Ferguson, witnessed by another deputy, in which Staton allegedly dangled the prospect of a promotion in front of Ferguson if the deputies union were to cancel the no-confidence vote, and also allegedly threatened to sue people who were critical of him.
Staton denied those allegations, but Ferguson's statement today included a stinging critique of Staton's management style.
"Sheriff Staton leads ruthlessly and unpredictably through fear and favoritism, threatening to fire those in his way, yet rewarding those who get in line," Ferguson said. "He has fostered an environment of hostility, where those who constructively criticize his actions are met with retaliation, threats, and name calling."
Staton rose through the ranks as a member of the union that today said it is finished with him, a decision after a dialogue the agency's performance and future in recent weeks.
"True to form," Ferguson said, "our attempts to constructively address his failed leadership were met with threats. Sheriff Staton likens dealing with his law enforcement deputies as 'worse than dealing with a bunch of criminals.'"
Updated at 12:40 pm with complaint from the Deputy Sheriff's Association against Staton:
In addition to voting to express no confidence in Staton, the Deputy Sheriffs' Association today filed a complaint against Staton with Multomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. Although Staton is independently elected, Kafoury, in addition to setting the sheriff's budget, oversees the count's human resources and legal staffs, who are responsible for ensuring all county employees follow workplace regulations.
Here's the complaint from the deputies' attorney, Anil Karia, and an excerpt explaining what it says:
The enclosed memorandum sets forth the details behind the DSA’s complaint. Of particular concern to the DSA is the Sheriff’s April 13, 2016, interaction with DSA President Matt Ferguson, during which Sheriff Staton with one hand attempted to influence the DSA’s no-confidence vote by dangling a promotion in front of President Ferguson, while with the other hand threatened to retaliate and sue those who did not support him. While the Oregon Department of Justice has declined to pursue criminal charges against Sheriff Staton, the threshold for workplace misconduct is far lower than the bar for criminal misconduct, and we strongly believe that an administrative inquiry is necessary to determine if Sheriff Staton has violated County and Sheriff’s Office workplace policies.
Updated at 4:45 pm with response from Multnomah County spokesman David Austin in response to the deputies' request for an investigation:
"Chair Kafoury is extremely concerned by what came out of the Deputy Sheriff's Association today," Austin said. "She's deeply concerned about the element of fear of retaliation against Multnomah County employees. We've seen that allegation around the sheriff's behavior before and it's very disconcerting. She's discussed the matter with high level staff, including the county's human resources department. This isn't a quick decision. It has to be something that is thoughtful and well-planned. She takes allegations of the fear of retaliation against any Multnomah County employee very seriously."
In response to a question about whether Kafoury had communicated her concerns to Staton, Austin said the sheriff on Monday morning had canceled all future regularly scheduled meetings between the two. "The chair regularly meets with all agency heads," Austin said. "The request to cancel all meetings is unprecedented. There's still a lot of work to do around next year's budget and to cancel meetings at this critical time makes you wonder what he's thinking. It should be about the work."
Staton's spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.