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Embattled Multnomah County sheriff defends work record

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JAIME VALDEZ - Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton says he has many duties outside the main county building.Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton is adamantly denying a recent news report that accused him of not working full time.

“This is a 24/7 job. There’s no other way to do it,” Staton says.

The Feb. 17 story in Willamette Week said Staton was only in his office at the Multnomah County headquarters 112 days in 2014 and 114 days in 2015. The story was based largely on a review of electronic parking passes at the county parking garage near the building, which is located at 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.

But Staton has provided the Portland Tribune with detailed calendars and a spreadsheet that shows he worked more than 40 hours a week during the past two years. The spreadsheet says he worked around 43.5 hours a week in 2014 and about 43.4 hours a week in 2015. The spreadsheet also says he worked nearly 51 hours a week through the first six weeks of 2016.

Staton says he spends much of his time on duty outside the headquarters building. For example, the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office has employees in eight other locations in the county that Staton says he visits regularly. They include the downtown Justice Center Jail and Inverness Jail in Northeast Portland, the downtown Multnomah County Courthouse and East County Courthouse, the Hansen Building in East Portland, the Troutdale Police Community Center, and two locations for the River Patrol.

“An important part of the job is visiting each location, talking to the people there, and seeing that their needs are being met,” Staton says.

The sheriff also serves in a number of organizations that meet in other locations. For example, he serves on several committees of the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, which is based in Salem. One is the Legislative Committee, which meets regularly during legislative sessions to take stands on bills and coordinate testimony, Staton says.

Staton also attends training sessions throughout the year at locations outside the county headquarters to maintain his certification to be sheriff. Some are held at the MCSO Training Facility at Northeast 172nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.

He also meets with partner law enforcement agencies at their offices from time to time to discuss mutual issues, including the FBI and U.S. Marshal.

The detailed calendar shows such meetings outside the county headquarters over the past two years. It also shows that Staton attended other events at different locations. They started with a town hall hosted by Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley at the Multnomah Arts Center on Jan. 3, 2014, and ended with a party for the Community Transitional School at Inverness Jail on Dec. 17, 2015.

Outside events this year have included a town hall hosted by Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden at Corbett High School on Jan. 7 and a meeting with other sheriffs in Bend on Jan. 14.

Staton also was in Burns on Jan. 15 meeting with other sheriffs, the FBI and the Oregon State Police during the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge by armed militants on Jan. 15.

The schedules do not include frequent calls and emails that Staton says he responds to from home and while on vacation, sometimes late at night or early in the morning.

Staton maintained this schedule while being hobbled by a work-related ailment during much of 2014 and 2015. It was a recurring injury to his right foot related to a nearly fatal exposure to harmful chemicals while cleaning up methamphetamine-contaminated properties in 2004. As Staton’s organs began to fail, he slipped into a coma and was hospitalized for months with burns and circulatory problems. He nearly lost his legs and needed a kidney transplant, which require him to take drugs to prevent it from being rejected by his body. A foot injury that did not heal properly because of his compromised immune system required him to wear a cast off and on for much of the past two years.

Despite the inconvenience, Staton says he has not thought about retiring because of his commitment to his job. Term limits in the county charter will prevent him from running for re-election again, however. Unless county voters change the charter to make the sheriff an appointed position, a new one will be elected in 2018, and Staton will leave office in early January 2019.

Staton rebuts latest Willamette Week allegations

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton also denies allegations in a weekend Willamette Week story that he retaliated against two former employees involved in an audit that found force is used disproportionately against minorities in the jails he oversees.

The two employees left the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office after a draft of the audit was submitted. Willamette Week reported on Saturday that analyst Amanda Lamb was laid off after presenting a draft of the audit to senior officials in Staton’s office. The story also said that after Lt. Brent Ritchie sympathized with Lamb, he was transferred from the administrative offices to the aging Hansen Building, and resigned.

But Staton has furnished the Portland Tribune with documents showing that Lamb was bumped from her position by a returning employee with more seniority, as allowed in her union contract. The Sept. 1, 2015, letter from MCSO Human Resources Director Jennifer Ott says Lamb was offered other positions in the office, which she declined.

Staton says Ritchie was demoted to his previous rank of sergeant and returned to his previous position after the union prevailed in a grievance concerning who was allowed to take the tests for lieutenant positions. Although a new test was scheduled, Ritchie retired instead of taking it, Staton says. According to Staton, if Ritchie had scored high, he could have been promoted back to lieutenant and transferred out of the Hansen Building.

In his Oct. 27, 2015, retirement letter to Staton, Ritchie says, “Thank you and all the great folks at this agency for such a long, meaningful and interesting career. I will always be both proud and grateful for the relationships I’ve had and the exemplary work that we do.”

Staton admits he was disappointed with “the quality” of the audit, however. He believes more work is required to explain the use of force disparity, and that work will continue on it in coming weeks.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury finds the allegations disturbing, however.

"As the Chair of Multnomah County, I cannot ignore these recent allegations against the Sheriff. I am concerned that wrongdoing by the Sheriff ends up costing taxpayers money and there are real victims. According to the report that was finalized in September, but just uncovered, there is a disproportionate use of force against African Americans in county jails. This is unacceptable," Kafoury says.

A previous Portland Tribune story on the audit can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/gqkam4j