Tamper Tantrum

A troubled Portland cop is caught talking to jurors before a trial in which he was a witness.

A Portland police detective once investigated for illegal drug use and the subject of numerous complaints, including excessive force, is back in hot water after being accused of tampering with jurors.

An audio recording of a Sept. 4 criminal trial describes how Detective Jason Lobaugh, a 22-year veteran of the Police Bureau, approached potential jurors outside a Multnomah County courtroom and talked himself up as "outstanding." Lobaugh was to be a witness in the case.

One potential juror said he felt "coerced" by Lobaugh, while several others questioned his integrity.

Lobaugh's move nearly caused Multnomah County Circuit Judge Jerry Hodson to declare a mistrial. 

Meanwhile, Portland police officials haven't disciplined the detective for his actions.

The state ultimately lost its case against the defendant, a woman accused of five counts of first-degree theft for allegedly buying and selling stolen goods at her Portland minimart.

For law enforcement officers to speak to jurors prior to giving testimony is strictly forbidden and nearly unheard of, legal insiders say.

"It was super weird," says Amanda Alvarez, a certified law student with Metropolitan Public Defender, who represented the defendant. "I don't think it will happen to me again in my career."

Lobaugh didn't respond to WW's questions. Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says the bureau considers the matter closed. "He just made a joke," says Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association. "People want us to engage the community, want us to be real people like everybody else."

The detective's actions came to light only because potential jurors mentioned it during jury selection, identifying Lobaugh.

"Some guy out there says, 'I wanna let you know the detective on this case is outstanding,'" a potential juror says, in a recording of the hearing obtained by WW.

One woman says she felt like Lobaugh was attempting to create bias with the jury. One man adds that he felt coerced by Lobaugh.

"It's inappropriate," another says on the tape. "I think he should have known better. I would question his motives…. I would question his testimony. He can't be trusted."

Judge Hodson dismissed the jurors, hauled Lobaugh before him, and put him under oath to answer questions about his actions.

Lobaugh told the judge his comments praising himself to jurors were intended as a joke.

"They were standing in the hallway for a good amount of time," Lobaugh said. "There was a lot of awkward silence."

"It was bad judgment," Hodson told him.

The judge decided against ruling for a mistrial after consulting with Alvarez and Assistant District Attorney Nicole Hermann.

"I've never had this happen before," Hermann told Hodson. "I've never seen it happen before."

Lobaugh apologized to the judge for his actions, but his behavior outside the courtroom has also drawn controversy ("Officers, Not Gentlemen," WW, June 24, 2005).

By 2005, he had racked up 14 tort claims against his policing, including allegations he used excessive force.

In September 2000, WW reported, Lobaugh was taken to an emergency room for what he told a hospital orderly was an overdose of GHB, an illegal narcotic.

Investigators tried to bust Lobaugh's suspected supplier by sending Turner undercover into a Max Muscle store in Beaverton.

As Turner readied to buy suspected GHB, Lobaugh walked in, recognized Turner and left. Police believe Lobaugh then called the Max Muscle clerk on his cellphone to warn him Turner was a cop.

Prosecutors found insufficient evidence to charge Lobaugh.

More recently, The Portland Mercury reported that the city was forced to pay more than $50,000 to a motorcyclist Lobaugh hit in 2011 after running a red light without flashing his warning lights or activating his siren.

Alvarez says she can't say whether Lobaugh helped her defense. But she agrees with jurors that Lobaugh should have known better than to speak to them.

“If it were me,” she says, “it would have affected the way I view the system.”