Oregon DOJ finds no criminal wrongdoing by Sheriff Dan Staton
Insufficient evidence to charge Staton for alleged promotion offer to union president, per DOJ.
Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton said he'd "retaliate" against people whod criticized him and dangled a potential promotion in front of his deputies union president while discussing a potential no-confidence vote, two witnesses told the Oregon Department of Justice recently.
But the DOJ has decided it does not have sufficient evidence to file charges over the promotion discussion, according to an investigation released Friday. The criminal probe, which also reviewed several other allegations surfaced against Staton in recent months, found no evidence of a criminal violation in the other claims.
Release of the DOJ investigation wraps up one chapter in the ongoing saga of turmoil in the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. While Staton has said only evidence of criminal wrongdoing would cause him to resign before he's ready to retire, the sheriff's deputys union continues a vote of no-confidence. The union has already urged him to step down.
The sheriff did not immediately comment. But in an interview Thursday, Staton reiterated his earlier statement that only if DOJ found criminal wrongdoing would he step down before he's ready. "The allegations have been blown so far out of proportion that I've lost track of what I'm supposed to have done," he said.
In early February, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and District Attorney Rod Underhill asked the state Department of Justice to see if Staton had committed any crimes related to one of his chief deputies' allegations of a hostile work environment. The request also asked for a criminal review of his effort to gather information on members of county charter review committee, and of an allegation he made threatening remarks.
Staton at the time issued a statement echoing the request for an outside review. But he has denied wrongdoing.
An additional allegation surfaced in April, as first reported by the Portland Tribune. It concerned Staton's telephone conversation on April 13 with the president of the law enforcement deputies' union as his members were about to discuss a potential no-confidence vote against Staton.
The new allegation, and DOJ's take on it, is the most interesting part of the report. While the DOJ's finding of no criminality was widely expected concerning the earlier allegations, the alleged offer of a promotion could have been found to constitute the crime of official misconduct, if sufficient evidence were found. The DOJ did not make any conclusion as to the truth of the allegation, only that there was not enough evidence to charge Staton.
Click the link to read the Letter concerning Staton investigation
Click the link to read the Staton investigative materials
Click the link to read the Union account of alleged promotion offer by Staton
Click the link to read Deputy Kevin Jones' statement
The report, however, does contains new details of the allegation, including the recollection of the union president, Matt Ferguson. According to the DOJ report, Ferguson said that on the eve of the no-confidence vote Staton discussed "retaliation" against his critics and stressed that an upcoming sergeant's promotion would make Ferguson, personally, very happy, noting that Ferguson was on the promotion list. Asked by Ferguson what he meant by retaliation, Staton said he meant litigation.
"Ferguson told me that he felt that Staton was trying to entice him with a promotion if he could direct the union membership away from a vote of no-confidence," according to an investigator's report. "Ferguson said that he also considered the statements made by Staton to be a threat of a lawsuit if he did not support Staton."
A fellow union official, Deputy Kevin Jones, was listening in to the conversation. A copy of the notes purportedly taken during the conversation were shared with DOJ. The notes indicate Staton told Ferguson three times that "you should be happy" with the sergeant's promotion, with the word "you" underlined. The notes then add the word "bribed?"
Jones' statement to DOJ said Staton warned that as issues were being resolved, he would be able to retaliate against "those that turned their back on me."
But in a May 3 interview, Staton initially told DOJ that he never discussed sergeant promotions with Ferguson during the phone call. Then he recalled the discussion, but said he did not recall reminding Ferguson that he was on the promotion list.
Staton's account to DOJ appears to contradict what he told the Portland Tribune concerning the phone conversation during an interview in April. Then, he said that during his phone conversation with Ferguson he did "remind" Ferguson of his position on the list, though he did not explain why he would have done that. He told DOJ and the Tribune that he never intended to suggest Ferguson could be promoted if a no-confidence vote went Staton's way or were never taken.
According to the cover letter summarizing the investigation results to Kafoury and Underhill, "with respect to the allegation that the sheriff offered a promotion to a union official in an attempt to block a vote of 'no confidence' from the union, our investigation did not reveal evidence to support criminal charges."
The request for a DOJ investigation by Kafoury and Underhill followed mounting friction with the sheriff. Staton has claimed the allegations are intended to undermine him even as the county charter review committee examines whether to change the position from one elected by voters to appointed by the county board of commissioners.
The letter notes that the probe was limited only to potential criminal misconduct and did not examine "questions that were purely civil or administrative, nor concerning matters of labor or employment law. We offer no opinion as to the sheriff's conduct in those areas."
On Friday afternoon, Kafoury said the investigation by DOJ seemed "a little light" in terms of the number of people interviewed.
"I think that this is really a question for him whether he believes that (in light of) a lack of trust from his employees and questions about his behavior and his leadership from the public that he can continue in this job."
Through a spokesman, Staton said that he would take the weekend to review the report before addressing it Monday. In the past, he's said Kafoury is trying to undermine him for political reasons, such as to limit the sheriff's ability to fight for his agency's budget.