Jury indicts Culver officer
Misuse of credit card alleged
The city of Culver is once again without a police officer as it awaits the result of an investigation and court case.
Culver police officer Kecia Powell, who was hired by the city in July of 2007 to train for the position of police chief, was indicted by a grand jury on March 21 on charges of first-degree official misconduct and second-degree attempted theft.
Although the Culver City Council put Powell on administrative leave on Feb. 15, councilors were surprised by the indictment.
Shawna Clanton, police commissioner for the council, said that she had seen no evidence that Powell had committed a crime.
"She was put on paid administrative leave in order for the city to investigate a possible misuse of a city credit card," Clanton recalled. "Two days later, the mentor that the city hired for her, to instruct her in administration, informed me that he would be heading up the investigation and that he would submit a report to the city."
Enes Smith, of Madras, formerly the police chief in both Warm Springs and Madras, was hired on a part-time basis by the city of Culver last year to help Powell learn administrative rules and regulations.
According to former Councilor Richard Hancock, who resigned March 17 in part because he was bothered by the handling of the incident, the charges stemmed from a single occurrence in January.
Powell was at a conference on behalf of the city on Jan. 15 and 16, when her cell phone was cut off, he said.
"She has to have a cell phone wherever she is," he explained. "She called the phone company; they said she had to pay $30 something to have it turned back on."
"She charged the $30 some to her credit card," Hancock continued. "Apparently there was a decimal point error and the city was billed for $300."
The bill for $326 was received on a Monday, and by Friday, Powell had paid it back and brought a letter from the phone company attesting to the error, he added.
Hancock was surprised that Smith was able to start an investigation on his own. "The council is the only authorized body that can conduct business on behalf of the council," he said.
"To me, people can make mistakes," Hancock said. "This should have been, to me, an internal thing. If we wanted to give her a reprimand, we could have."
Powell confirmed Hancock's account, pointing out that the city reimburses her for the phone, which she also uses for work. Because her arraignment is pending, she said she could not comment further.
When contacted on Monday, Powell's attorney, Foster Glass, of Bend, said he hadn't yet received discovery -- the facts and documents supporting the indictment.
"I hope that when the evidence is all in, it will be clear that it was a misunderstanding fomented by an individual who has an axe to grind against her."
Even though the charges are misdemeanors, Glass said, "It wouldn't be minor for her. It would destroy her career."
If a police officer is convicted of official misconduct, "The BPSST would yank your certification," he said, referring to the Oregon Board on Public Safety Standards and Training.
Steve Leriche, chief deputy district attorney for Jefferson County, said that the charges were brought by District Attorney Peter Deuel, who was out of town on Monday and unavailable for comment.
"Like any other case in the county, there's only one person that can bring charges, and that is the district attorney," Leriche said. "The case was investigated by the Madras PD, and then forwarded to us, and then Mr. Deuel made the decision to refer it to grand jury, and the grand jury made the decision to indict."
Hancock feels that a "grave misjustice" has been done to Powell.
"Why this whole thing ended up as a grand jury matter is beyond me," Hancock said. "It should have been a minor internal city matter, and that's what it would have been had it come to the council."
Powell will be arraigned on the charges Thursday, March 27, at 9:15 a.m. in the Circuit Court.