Board mulls possible change in Clackamas County Sheriff's Office
Awkward is one word that comes to mind for the July 10 meeting of Clackamas County commissioners to discuss a report critical of the sheriff's office, a meeting that the sheriff refused to attend.
County commissioners met with attorneys Michael Gennaco and Robert Miller from the Independent Police Oversight and Review group to discuss a report they investigated regarding longstanding issues in the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.
Though Sheriff Craig Roberts was not present at the hearing due to a lawsuit against his office, Gennaco and Miller said they met with him before the hearing to review their report and 51 recommendations regarding how to run CCSO in the future.
"It was a relatively unique project," Gennaco said, noting that they don't normally receive requests from county commissioners to investigate independently elected positions like the sheriff. "I think it's a testament to the forward thinking of [the board]."
County Commission Chair Jim Bernard said without agreement from the sheriff or his presence to provide input, the board has nothing to move forward with.
"You have to have the sheriff's buy-in," Bernard said.
County Commissioner Ken Humberston offered the idea to rehire the police oversight group and have them work directly with Roberts as he implements change. This, Humberston said, would allow a third party to hold CCSO accountable in the public eye by asking for progress reports every two to three months. Commissioner Paul Savas agreed with Humberston's notion.
While agreeing with the idea of keeping consistent third-party validation, Bernard said if the sheriff had attended the hearing, the other elected county officials would have asked him to comment.
"The commission needs to talk with the sheriff about where we go from here," he said.
Gennaco and Miller said they appreciated the sheriff's "unfettered and full" cooperation during their investigation and highlighted that at one point, they requested 28 documents which were difficult to track yet the sheriff provided all of them.
They also made it clear, however, that the sheriff's office was well aware of former detective Jeffrey Green's misconduct, made efforts to address them over the course of 15 years, yet never followed through. This resulted in evidence indicating Green's neglect for more than 50 cases related to alleged rape and child abuse within the last few years. Green eventually pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of second-degree official misconduct in June 2017.
Gennaco and Miller pulled five distinct categories from the report's recommendations and focused on how CCSO could implement them to ensure true reform. Topics ranged from ensuring professional standards, robustly attending to any reports of misconduct, centralizing supervision, focusing on remediation, transparency and installing an auditing unit to keep track of employee evaluations.
Gennaco said an auditing unit would help create an organizational "watchdog" for the internal assessment of CCSO programs and discourage submissions of "boilerplate" employee evaluations.
One of the bigger issues, Gennaco said, was the lack of paper trail, resulting in fewer follow-up investigations and a lack of public transparency. CCSO needs to be transparent "even when referring to the most sensitive parts of that organization," Gennaco said.
He said they were happy the sheriff addressed that things could have gone differently after the report was issued, but they strongly recommend he continues to address the public through clear updates regarding the reform process.
Gennaco said transparency also means the sheriff should begin moving forward now, despite the lawsuit.
"Litigation should never stand in the way of real reform," he said.
The oversight group said the board of commissioners should request the sheriff to report to them with an implementation plan of how he is moving forward or enacting any of the recommendations. They said only six of the 51 recommendations would actually require extra resources or budget.
Gennaco said conducting another assessment of CCSO nine months from now may be a way to verify change too.
With background as a local lawyer, Commissioner Sonya Fischer said she's always noticed a culture of protection in law enforcement agencies. Fischer's goal is to regain community trust despite that concept looming in the background.
"Policy should be clarified, but also, practice makes perfect," Miller said in response, noting that the report covers that concept too.
Miller and Gennaco said criminal investigation should become immediate and the documentation of the investigation should be released every six months informing the public that the department is not just talking about change, but truly creating it.
"We really need to systemize accountability," Fischer said.
The recommendations, Miller and Gennaco said, should be displayed so there's public expectation perpetuating CCSO's momentum to change.
Limitations on progress
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote said the issues within CCSO have serious weight.
"The issue is not about personalities," he said. "That cheapens it."
Foote said this disregard for misconduct goes back to 2010 when former CCSO Sgt. Jeffrey Grahn murdered three people then shot himself. Foote said when this case was first investigated, CCSO claimed they were told not to tell Foote, meaning it was never sent to him for official review.
"That is a lie," Foote said. "That is just simply not true."
Foote said the Portland Police Bureau, who formally investigated the case, recommended that CCSO send it to Foote but they never did.
"The nature of this is you don't know how many other times this happened," Foote said. "It allows flexibility to not tell us…and I think that should concern everyone."
Foote said this issue should be taken seriously and addressed: "I find it upsetting that we can't get our sheriff to change it."
Fischer said she felt there was an agreement among the board about what plans should be made in the future, even with the sheriff's absence at the meeting.
"I don't want us to accept that this situation will happen again," she said, referring to the past when recommendations were never implemented.
Bernard said final decisions and actually putting things into motion comes down to the sheriff, and Bernard said he will be talking with Roberts soon.