Report calls for revocation of certification
- Holly M. Gill
- Madras Pioneer - News
Call it bad timing, or bad luck, but less than two weeks before the November election, a candidate for Jefferson County sheriff must respond to a motion calling for the revocation of his police certification.
The Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training issued the motion Oct. 12, asking a judge to revoke former deputy John Barrett's basic, intermediate and advanced police certificates. Barrett is running against Sheriff Jack Jones for the sheriff's position, which requires valid police certification.
"I'm fighting this because I think I was wrongfully terminated," said Barrett, who lost his job as a deputy in February, after six years with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.
Barrett, who has 14 days to respond to the motion, indicated that his attorney is preparing his response, and will ask for a hearing.
Anytime a public safety officer is discharged "for cause" -- defined as gross negligence, insubordination, or incompetence or gross misconduct -- the DPSST must revoke certification, according to Oregon statute.
Although the review of Barrett's discharge was initiated by the DPSST in March, the motion seeking a ruling on the matter wasn't submitted until earlier this month.
"I've known about this since March or April," Barrett said, "I thought it would be done with by now. They said it would be mid-summer."
When summer turned into fall with no movement from DPSST, Barrett decided to go ahead with his campaign for sheriff.
In its statement of facts, the DPSST outlines the events leading up to Barrett's discharge from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office on Feb. 7, focusing primarily on his response to a domestic violence call the evening of Jan. 13.
Barrett disputes the department's version of that evening's events, which resulted in his placement on administrative leave Jan. 19, while the department conducted an internal investigation of his handling of the call.
The evening of Jan. 13, Barrett said he was the only deputy on duty when he responded to a domestic dispute at the home of a former sheriff's deputy, Lance Steven McKenzie. Both McKenzie and his domestic partner had injuries, so Barrett was required by law to determine the aggressor and make an arrest.
Acknowledging that he should have made an arrest, Barrett commented, "I agree I made a bad decision." The problem was that he couldn't determine which one of the two was the most aggressive, since both agreed that the female "victim" had caused the first injury, so he decided to separate them for the night.
Besides failing to make an arrest, the report claimed that Barrett allowed McKenzie to take firearms and alcohol from the residence, which Barrett said was completely false.
"I didn't let him take anything but his clothes, toiletries and medication," he recalled. "When I heard alcohol was leaving the scene, I didn't know what they were talking about."
In alleging gross misconduct, the report states that Barrett "had adequate training and experience to make an appropriate decision regarding the arrest of the suspect in the domestic violence assault incident and he chose not only to take no action, but to allow the suspect to leave the scene with firearms and alcohol."
Contrary to that report, Barrett said that the woman insisted that the firearms be removed from the residence, so he allowed a friend she had called -- an off-duty Warm Springs police officer -- to take the weapons and lock them up in a gun safe.
After photographing the scene and taperecording interviews with those involved in the case, Barrett wrote up a report on the incident during the week before he was terminated.
Barrett said he was not aware that he was required to notify the county victim's advocate or the domestic violence detective. "Jack said I broke policy and procedure that was never handed out. He never gave a policy manual out," Barrett noted.
In recommending the revocation of Barrett's certification, the report states that Barrett received ratings of "Does Not Meet Standards," from his employer in 2003 and 2005, and a reprimand for surfing pornographic sites on the Internet while on duty in 2002.
Barrett admitted the 2002 incident, but said that the report should have been removed from his record after two years of a clean record.
The first "Does Not Meet Standards" rating, in August of 2003, identified a deficiency "in the area of needing to complete his reports in a timely manner," also mentioned in the 2002 reprimand.
Barrett said he corrected that problem and was completely up to date on his reports -- unlike others in the department -- when he was terminated.
"Supervisors were the worst, percentage-wise," he said. "It's pretty bad when I do more cases in one year than they do in five years, and I'm caught up and they're not."
In March of 2005, another performance review referred to deficiencies in "compliance with the rules, work judgments, planning and organizing, volume of acceptable work and initiative." The review recognized that he was caught up on his cases.
"I disagreed with the quotas," said Barrett, noting that he was supposed to make two driving under the influence arrests each month, in addition to making more traffic stops and writing more citations.
One month later, another review cited a deficiency in the appearance of his work station. "That's pretty nitpicky," said Barrett, pointing out that his station was no worse than his supervisors' stations.
Barrett believes that his job performance was on par with others in the department, but he was targeted because he announced in October of 2005 than he was going to run for sheriff.
"(The sheriff) didn't talk to me from the time he heard a rumor that I was running for sheriff until the termination hearing," said Barrett. "I was told I was going to get a bull's-eye painted on my back as soon as I said I was going to run in October."
Although Jones said he isn't happy with the timing of the DPSST report so close to the election, he believes it accurately reflects the discipline process undertaken by the sheriff's department.
"You do progressive discipline," said Jones. "You invest time and money in people so you can work with them to make them better when they make mistakes."
Sometimes though, Jones said, the mistakes are too big to work with -- as was the case when Barrett failed to make an arrest after the domestic violence incident in January. "He could have got someone hurt."
Barrett's termination had nothing to do with politics, according to Jones. "What really drives a termination decision is, `Do they have the experience and education to make the right decision?' If the answer is yes, then that person needs to be terminated," he explained. "If no, we can get them the training and experience they need."