A corrections officer who brags about brutalizing inmates and who uses work time to post inappropriate messages on the Internet is nothing but poison for a Multnomah County sheriff's office that already has suffered a significant loss of public credibility.
If Sheriff Bernie Giusto hopes to improve the public's perception of his department and its employees, he must investigate and respond to allegations against Corrections Officer David B. Thompson.
Such action includes placing Thompson, who works at the downtown jail, on leave until an investigation is complete, and then firing the officer if the accusations against him prove true.
As revealed through the investigative work of Portland Tribune reporter Nick Budnick, county taxpayers have been subsidizing the Internet activities of Thompson, who allegedly used his work computer to post numerous messages on an Internet game site.
Such behavior by itself is troubling, since it involves misuse of public resources. Even more disturbing, however, was the content of the postings. The author wrote of the joy of watching inmates get stunned with Taser guns and boasted about repeatedly punching an inmate until he crushed the man's eye sockets.
Give citizens assurance
Even speaking of such brutality is improper for a corrections officer, but it's possible that Thompson did more than brag about his role.
He was involved in a fight with an inmate in May 2005. At the time, Thompson claimed the inmate assaulted him, but the prisoner said he was seated in his cell when Thompson grabbed his collar and began hitting him around the eye and face.
That case, which previously was investigated and settled in Thompson's favor, obviously needs a new, independent review.
Giusto says the Multnomah County district attorney's office has launched just such an investigation. We encourage Giusto to cooperate, but not participate, in the probe and to invite detectives from other jurisdictions to help if necessary.
In his public statements about the allegations against Thompson, Giusto seems determined to send a message that such behavior won't be tolerated. But the sheriff also says his ability to act is limited by the rules for disciplining and dismissing public employees.
We realize that all employees have the right to due process. Citizens, however, need immediate assurance that the people entrusted to spend their tax dollars are doing everything possible to protect their interests and are engaged in appropriate behavior.
What procedures are in place?
Citizens are frustrated enough already by the performance of the sheriff and his corrections division. A district attorney's report last year said county jails were being mismanaged and corrections officers were abusing sick leave.
And the biggest frustration of all - the $58 million Wapato jail, completed in 2004 - still sits empty today.
Giusto can't win back public credibility overnight, but he can act forcefully now to keep his office's image from suffering further.
The sheriff and district attorney should be asking whether others within the corrections division knew of Thompson's alleged behavior and chose to condone or ignore it.
The district attorney's investigation also must include a review of how Thompson's alleged computer abuse went unreported until now. And the sheriff must put procedures in place to guard against - and appropriately and swiftly punish - department employees engaged in improper use of public resources or abusive behavior in the future.