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Empire South

Former officers, employees allege atmosphere of oppression at Scappoose Police Department


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Doug Greisen, recently terminated from his position as Scappoose Police Chief, sits before a committee of Scappoose city councilors. The committee is tasked with determining whether the termination fell withing existing law and policy.A committee of Scappoose city councilors on Tuesday, May 20, delayed a hearing with Doug Greisen, whose position as Scappoose police chief was recently terminated.

The committee, called the Personnel Review Committee, is tasked with determining whether former interim City Manager Don Otterman was compliant with law and city policy when he terminated Greisen’s contract earlier this month, an action that followed months of investigations into his conduct as chief.

The PRC, made up of Councilors Jeff Erickson, Larry Meres and Jason Meshell, as well as City Attorney Kyle Abraham, met with Greisen — who is appealing Otterman’s decision to fire him — in a brief open session Tuesday to assess what policies or laws Greisen alleges Otterman violated.

Greisen insisted he was unprepared for the hearing without his attorney present. The PRC ultimately granted him an extension, delaying the hearing for the second time.

Greisen’s appearance at Tuesday’s meeting marks the latest in a long string of events that have raised questions about how the Scappoose Police Department operates.

While much of the focus within the department has been on Greisen, former officers and employees said consistent harassment and belittling came from all four officers of the department’s command staff, including Greisen, Lt. Norm Miller, Sgt. Dennis Viereck and Sgt. Doug Carpenter, who in September filed a tort notice against the city claiming Greisen oversaw a hostile workplace.

Harassment claims

Susan Sullivan, who worked at the department as a police administrator from 2001 to 2009, said she left the department because of hostility there. She said officers and employees were constantly subject to belittling from the command staff, including Greisen.

“He berated everyone in the department. It was a joke as to who was going to be the red-headed stepchild,” she said. “When your turn came, you didn’t know when or why.”

Nolan Borders, who worked as a patrol officer and school resource officer at the department from 2001 to 2006, said he, too, left the department because of hostility.

“It was so bad, I resigned without having another job to go to,” he said.

Borders said the harassment went in rotations depending on who had most recently upset the command staff, noting it could last 30 days or until another employee did something to supposedly embarrass the supervisors.

“If I needed help, their response would be, ‘Look it up in the book,’” Borders said. “At the point I left, I realized they did that because they didn’t know.”

In an email to the Spotlight, Greisen wrote that he has been told a recent investigation into the department found claims that he ran a hostile workplace to be unsubstantiated. At this point, that report has not been released to the public. Greisen said he looks forward to its release.

Greisen said the Scappoose officers’ union, called the Police Guild, and its attorney, Mark Makler, represent department employees.

“If there was an issue, there are procedures outlined in their collective bargaining agreement and I would have expected the Guild and Mr. Makler to have brought it to my attention and we could have addressed and remedied any situation,” Greisen argued in the recent email. “Again, none was raised.”

According to county and federal court records, Oregon State Police Trooper Robin May filed a lawsuit against Greisen and the city of Scappoose in 2004 alleging personal injury, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress stemming from a July 2003 interaction with the chief.

According to May’s claim for relief, Greisen on two separate occasions made unwanted advances on May. Today, May said she has a court-issued gag order regarding the case and is prohibited from discussing its details.

The suit went to federal court and ended in a settlement in which Scappoose paid punitive damages to May, but not in the full amount requested, May said.

Greisen said that, since the suit was filed, he and May have been able to discuss the incident, though he declined further comment.

“While there are no restrictions placed on my being able to discuss those events, I would only like to say that Trooper May is a dedicated, professional officer who is committed to Columbia County,” he wrote.

‘Empire South’

Susan Leipzig, a former records clerk for the Scappoose Police Department, said the agency’s nickname among other area departments, “Empire South,” came from an environment of hostility among employees and other agencies.

“It’s just that this department doesn’t get along with other departments — doesn’t cooperate,” she said. “Plus, the chewing up and spitting out of other employees. Greisen treated it like his own little empire, but it wasn’t just Greisen, it was a group of them.”

Leipzig worked for the department from 2006 to 2011. In 2009, she was the subject of an internal investigation following her involvement in an incident at a casino in Grand Ronde in which her co-worker, Scappoose Police Officer Shaun Barrett, was arrested on charges of misdemeanor physical harassment.

Leipzig said the department started pushing her out before she decided to leave.

Borders said the command staff would typically spend more time in the office than on patrol, which he acknowledged is normal for an agency Scappoose’s size.

Still, he alleges much of that time was misspent. He said the command staff spent an inordinate amount of time watching videos taken from patrol cars, seeking out officers’ missteps so that discipline could be issued.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate use of their time,” Borders said.

Borders said Miller propagated an environment of hostility more so than Greisen, but said that since Greisen’s leave of absence and eventual termination, the lieutenant’s attitude has improved.

“I think Miller has learned from Greisen’s experiences, and I hope he’s changed the way he runs the agency,” Borders said.

Asked about allegations of hostility in the department, Miller said flatly, “That’s not the case.”

Miller also said he could not discuss personnel matters, including internal investigations into other officers or employees.

A former officer with the department who asked to remain anonymous said the department’s management style breeds an environment in which officers cannot thrive.

“The management is extremely corrosive,” the officer said. “It comes from incompetent leadership.”

The officer said that, although department supervisors can be hostile, the fault doesn’t entirely fall on Greisen.

“It’s not Greisen’s fault. He’s the fun one to work with,” the officer said. “Greisen was the most fun to work with, when it came down to it. He wanted to catch the bad guy.”

One former department employee, who also requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, said the command staff officers would regularly use profanities against other staff, raise their voices, yell and sometime make inappropriate jokes during serious moments.

The employee said the Scappoose Police Department’s command staff was oppressive to the point where officers wouldn’t come forward with complaints out of fear of retaliation.

“Empire of the South is an agency that operates unto itself in its own ways,” the former employee said. “It was a constant source of humiliation. You weren’t allowed to flourish or do anything, and there’s been a lot of talented, intelligent capital that has gone through and left because they have been treated so poorly.”

High turnover

Rod Edwards, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Willamette Valley Lodge #7, said in an earlier interview with the Spotlight he received a letter from a former Scappoose police officer noting 22 officers have left the department within the last seven years, an average of 3.14 officers per year.

Edwards said a department of Scappoose’s size would typically experience turnover of just one or two officers per year.

“I think there are many factors that must be taken into consideration when looking at employment data,” Greisen wrote in response to a question about turnover rates. “Past employees have left for larger agencies who could offer specialty assignments or promotional opportunities, they have moved out of the area for personal reasons, etc.”

Greisen said some leave the department for economic reasons and added that many who left had resigned.

Several former officers, however, said the Scappoose Police Department’s high turnover rate was due to the alleged harsh environment.

“The turnover rate there is incredible,” said Sullivan, the former police administrator. “That agency is well-funded and has had amazing talent go through there. They should be one of the most respected agencies, not dubbed ‘Empire South.’”

A comment by Borders, the former school resource officer, on the number of employees the department goes through echoed Sullivan.

“Scappoose should have the premier agency in this county. It has the support of the community and it’s well-funded,” he said.

Restrictions

Aside from claims of a harsh workplace within the department, former officers also said they were directed by Greisen not to assist other agencies unless specifically asked to do so. While Borders said he didn’t know why Greisen took this approach, he said he was aware of no other agencies to engage in the same practice.

“We were told not to help another agency unless specifically asked for. At that time, we were one of the only agency’s doing that,” Borders said. “We stayed within the Multnomah County line to Bennett Road toward St. Helens. We wouldn’t go too far out of our city.”

Another officer, again speaking anonymously, believed the reason the department didn’t assist other agencies without a direct call for assistance was because supervisors didn’t want to pay officers for that service, as well as to prevent officers from seeing how other law enforcement agencies worked.

Greisen said the idea that Scappoose officers were not to assist other agencies unless asked was the result of miscommunication between command staff and officers.

“I have always stressed the importance of supporting other law enforcement agencies throughout the county and understand that agencies need to rely on each other for officer safety,” he wrote.