Jail worker dodges charges
- Nick Budnick
- Portland Tribune - News
David Thompson could lose job after bragging on Web about beatings
A Multnomah County jail deputy who bragged online about hurting an inmate and how 'sweet' it is to Taser people while at work will not be prosecuted criminally, but his comments now are triggering a debate over whether he should be allowed to keep his job.
Corrections Deputy David B. Thompson's thoughts were posted on an Internet message board and revealed by the Portland Tribune in September.
In his posts, Thompson described himself as a law enforcement trainer for Tasers, the stun guns that allow delivery of 50,000 volts of electricity, causing the subject to go into rapid-fire muscle contractions that are both incapacitating and agonizing.
'Seeing someone get TASER'd is second only to being the guy pulling the trigger,' he wrote. 'That is money. Puts a smile on your face.' Using a derogatory slang term for a woman, he added, 'Big mouth skank = perfect TASER candidate.'
Those comments were not what triggered a criminal investigation, however. Rather, that probe was launched by the Multnomah County sheriff's office into an incident described by Thompson in response to a self-described ex-cop in North Carolina boasting of being among seven cops who 'took down' a 'brother that was hyped up on PCP' and with 'no cameras around.'
'Sweet, had my share of those,' Thompson responded, adding, 'I crushed a dude's eye socket from repeatedly punching him in it, then I charged him with menacing and harassment (of me).'
Earlier this week, based on detectives' findings about the incident, Senior Deputy District Attorney Don Rees declined to charge Thompson, citing insufficient evidence to prove criminal wrongdoing and the deputy's claim to have engaged in 'grandiose over exaggeration' in his comments.
But Thompson now faces two probes that could cost him his job: First, an internal investigation that looks at whether he violated sheriff policies, and second, a review by the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training of whether he is morally fit to keep his badge.
Thompson's boasts did not happen in isolation. County records show that he has reported using force 61 times since December 2001. So should a law enforcement employee who uses force frequently be fired for suggesting he does it for fun? Or were his comments, as he now claims, just harmless smack talk?
'If he did put that stuff on the Internet, I think he ought to be canned,' said Jeanie King, a former sheriff's chief deputy who oversaw the county's jails, adding that Thompson appears to have violated rules about acceptable conduct. 'He did a disservice to all of law enforcement and corrections.'
'That's ridiculous,' said Phil Anderchuk, president of Thompson's union, the Multnomah County Corrections Deputies Association. He said that while Thompson's comments were 'astounding,' he does not deserve to be fired.
Attack on inmate downplayed
Thompson posted his comments using the screen name 'Trafalgar' on a message board that was affiliated with the subscriber-only, Internet role-playing game called 'City of Heroes.'
In the game, players create superhero characters and choose from an array of powers with which to fight villains. However, Thompson's comments purported to describe his real-life work, and he accurately described himself as a Taser trainer and 10-year veteran working in a jail in 'The City of Roses.'
Detectives looking at the comments confirmed the conclusions of the Portland Tribune article, that Thompson's 'eye socket' comment referred to an incident in May 2005, when Thompson accused inmate David Michael Baker, now 25, of having assaulted him after having complained about garbage in his cell.
Based on Thompson's version of events, Baker was charged with menacing and harassment, and eventually pleaded guilty to attempted assault of a police officer.
Contacted by detectives, Baker repeated his earlier comments that he was seated in his cell when Thompson entered, grabbed him by the collar and began hitting him in the eye and the right side of his face.
Asked to rate Thompson on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being 'a criminal thug,' Baker responded '10,' saying, 'He lets his job go to his head … I think he feels like he's a Mr. Superman and it's going to be his way when nobody else is around.'
However, detectives found that there was insufficient evidence that Thompson committed a crime. Their reports show that no jail deputies were present when Thompson and Baker each say the other attacked them without provocation.
Rees, in a March 31 memo documenting his decision not to prosecute, wrote that Thompson's claim of having exaggerated about the incident were buttressed by medical records showing that Baker's eye socket was not crushed; rather, he suffered a bruised and swollen eyeball.
'No evidence contradicts Thompson's statement that the online posting is anything other than puffing or boasting,' Rees wrote.
Deputy's been sued twice
Most corrections deputies are sued rarely, if ever. However, Thompson has been sued twice by inmates in the last three years. In 2005, an inmate accused him of Macing him in the face and hurting his fingers for no reason.
After being handcuffed, the inmate called Thompson a 'punk,' after which the deputy punched him in the face, the lawsuit alleged.
In 2006, another inmate said Thompson knowingly placed him in a cell with a deranged and violent inmate, and did nothing despite knowing of repeated assaults and injuries caused by the cellmate.
Of the 61 uses of force reported by Thompson since December 2001, less than half occurred in the booking area where using force is considered a major part of the job. There, deputies commonly deal with inmates coming in agitated, under the influence of alcohol or drugs or with mental conditions.
Told of Thompson's statistics, King, who formerly held Bishop's job, said the number 'seems high, not exorbitantly high.' But given the lawsuits and his comments, she said she has little doubt about what kind of corrections deputy he is. 'I wouldn't want him working for me,' she said.
Several current and former co-workers of Thompson told the Portland Tribune that even before his comments were public, people felt Thompson might be a 'thumper' - law enforcement slang for someone who enjoys using force unnecessarily.
'I have heard that, of course,' Anderchuk said, when asked about Thompson's reputation. However, he added that 'I've heard that about half of my association members, myself included.'
Anderchuk pointed out that Thompson has reported only one use of a Taser against an inmate, suggesting that the pleasure he apparently took from using the device mostly came from shocking other law enforcement personnel during training.
The internal affairs investigation now under way also will look at Thompson's use of workplace computers to conduct his Internet gaming activity.
According to the City of Heroes site, Thompson's subscriber account was responsible for more than 1,700 comments on the message board. In one comment, Thompson boasted that all his City of Heroes activity was conducted at work. Based on the starting date of his account, that translates to 13 message board posts per shift, not including the time he spent actually playing the game.
Sheriff Bernie Giusto said that while he would not prejudge the investigation, any deputy that works for him should realize that such comments are 'unacceptable.'
'You don't even hear that kind of talk in police agencies' locker rooms any longer,' he said.