Investigation Clears Former Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone of Wrongdoing in Retaliation Claim

The report did conclude, however, that Boone’s involvement in the 2022 investigation of her deputy chief and close personal friend “skated close to the line of interference.”

An independent investigator could not substantiate any of the three allegations lodged by a former division chief at Portland Fire & Rescue against former Fire Chief Sara Boone earlier this year, according to a copy of the investigation’s findings obtained by WW.

The report, dated March 14 of this year, finds that all three of the claims made by Division Chief Tim Matthews against Boone, who retired last month, were not backed up by a preponderance of the evidence.

All three allegations, which WW first reported this summer, centered on Boone’s involvement with a fire bureau investigation last year into a close friend of Boone’s, Lisa Reslock, who served as the fire bureau’s deputy chief at the time. (Among other things, Reslock was accused of mocking the idea of employees sharing their personal pronouns before meetings.) Matthews, who ran the investigation, concluded that the fire bureau should fire Reslock, but she retired last fall before an official termination could take place.

Matthews alleged that Boone interfered with the Reslock investigation and retaliated against him for recommending Reslock’s firing. He also alleged Boone had told Reslock to discourage bureau employees from filing complaints after an employee repeatedly used the N-word while quoting a mentally ill client.

The investigation, conducted by the Klein Munsinger law firm, could not substantiate any of Matthews’ claims.

“While Chief Boone allowed her friendship with Deputy Chief Reslock to affect her judgment about the investigation, her actions did not impede the process or the outcome of the investigation,” the report concludes. It also says Boone’s decision to override Matthews’ recommendation to fire Reslock was “not substantially caused by [Matthews’] oversight of the investigation of Reslock” and instead was because Boone had felt in recent months that Matthews “undermined her authority.”

Matthews was paid $189,000 to resign and drop any legal claim against the city, The Oregonian reported earlier this week.

Though the report is dated March 14, its contents are relevant to issues playing out currently in the fire bureau.

Matthews led the bureau’s Community Health Division, which contains two young programs: Portland Street Response, an unarmed alternative to police response to mental health calls, and the CHAT program, which sends two-person vehicles to low-acuity medical calls to target “frequent flyers” who overuse 911.

Portland Street Response was the brainchild of former City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who lost her reelection bid last fall to a business-minded challenger, Rene Gonzalez. Many within PSR feel that Commissioner Gonzalez is depriving the program of the resources it needs, though Gonzalez has always maintained that he aims to fully fund it. (His office is currently seeking federal funding for PSR.)

According to another fire bureau leader interviewed in the course of the investigation, Boone had become “more protective of both her own authority and of the two largest programs she and Hardesty had spearheaded: PSR and CHAT,” partly because of “the pending substitution of Hardesty, who had appointed Chief Boone, with Gonzalez.”

While the report found the allegations of retaliation unsubstantiated, it warned that Boone’s conduct did, at times, come close to interfering with Matthews’ investigation.

“She expressed her opposition to the duration and outcome of the investigation that put pressure on both [the city’s Bureau of Human Resources] and on Matthews,” the report concludes. “It is concerning that the Chief’s judgment was affected by her friendship. While Chief Boone’s actions were all within her authority, they skated close to the line of interference.”

Boone had asked Matthews in November if he’d like to serve as assistant chief at the bureau. She then put that offer on hold, ostensibly because of a personnel requirement. The report found that Boone’s rescinding of the offer was not a form of retaliation for Matthew’s involvement in the Reslock investigation. But the report did note that Boone’s unhappiness with the outcome of the investigation was “one factor in her mixed motives,” including that Boone “had an outsized and growing defensiveness around her authority, and she deeply resented having her judgments second-guessed by others around her, including but not limited to Matthews.”

Then, in December, Boone decided to move CHAT under her direct authority, essentially taking the program away from Matthews. Matthews alleged this was in retaliation for the Reslock investigation. (Boone reversed her decision to take over CHAT shortly after Matthews told her he would file a retaliation complaint against her.) The report also found this claim to be unsubstantiated.

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