Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Received State Report on Deputy Abuses Three Months Before the Sheriff Read It

The problems outlined in the report appear to extend far beyond the actions of a few individuals.

Multnomah County Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell (Jordan Hundelt)

The timing of Multnomah County Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell’s Feb. 20 disclosure of alleged deputy misconduct inside her jail was odd. Her outrage came three months after the report from the yearlong state investigation had been forwarded to her office.

Now her spokesman has provided an explanation. She hadn’t seen it.

According to her office, she first saw the report on Feb. 12 when it was forwarded to her office by the Oregon State Police. (It was sent to WW the same day in response to a public records request.)

The report, which she released to the public eight days later, includes allegations of widespread misconduct by a half-dozen deputies in her jail, including that they facilitated jailhouse assaults by gang members.

When Multnomah County prosecutors declined to issue criminal charges three months earlier, on Nov. 16, they forwarded the report directly to the MCSO Internal Affairs Unit, her office says.

The timing is significant because it means the Internal Affairs Unit knew the extent of alleged violence in the jails for three months while the elected sheriff was in the dark.

But that’s standard practice, says spokesman Chris Liedle. “Generally speaking, to reduce any perceived or actual conflicts of interest or bias, and to ensure integrity of a professional standards review or investigation, it’s IAU’s practice to not share case details with members outside of IAU (unless there is an investigative reason to), including decision-makers such as a chief deputy or sheriff,” he tells WW.

The allegations in the report raise questions about supervisors’ oversight of the downtown Portland maximum-security lockup.

In 2021, a confidential defendant in a federal racketeering case against the Hoover gang told the FBI that jail deputies had helped gang members assault their rivals while several defendants were in the Multnomah County Detention Center two years earlier. The sheriff at the time, Mike Reese, put three deputies on administrative leave and ordered the Oregon State Police to investigate.

The investigator, Sgt. Nicole Watson, interviewed witnesses, listened to recorded jail calls and reviewed inmate complaints alleging that deputies on the fifth floor of the jail were doing favors for Hoover gang members, which included unlocking cell doors to allow them to exact revenge on their rivals.

The problems outlined in the report appear to extend far beyond the actions of a few individuals.

One former deputy said that one deputy put on leave, Gustavo Valdovinos, had been previously investigated for “serious allegations” but was allowed to keep his job because he was “liked” by his superior, then-Lt. William Hong. (Hong was promoted to captain last year. He now runs the office’s Behavior Health and Emergency Response teams.)

The former deputy cited an old-school culture at the county jails, which allowed misconduct to go unreported. Another deputy who witnessed assaults said she was scared to report her co-workers, saying she believed “nobody was gonna really take me seriously.” A third said “no one reported [misconduct] because they would be considered soft or weak.”

The sheriff in charge of the jails at that time, Mike Reese, now runs Oregon’s prisons as head of the state’s Department of Corrections. Reese declined an interview with WW, and released a statement calling the deputy’s behavior “reprehensible.”

“Although the criminal case didn’t move forward, these allegations are serious and support the further action taken by Sheriff Morrisey O’Donnell,” he said.

Leadership at the county, which controls the office’s budget, is currently standing behind Morrisey O’Donnell. “I have since spoken to the sheriff about this and know she shares my values in wanting to see the highest level of professionalism in our staff and safety for everyone in our custody,” County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson says.

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