Year in Review: Shake-ups at public safety agencies
Columbia County Sheriff's Office loses undersheriff, commissions investigation into use of force
Several revelations about the Columbia County Sheriff's Office surfaced in 2017.
In March, the Spotlight learned former Undersheriff Andy Moyer was demoted to a jail sergeant in the wake of internal investigations into Moyer's behavior that were never disclosed.
Moyer remains with the Sheriff's Office, but in a different role with less authority. The role of undersheriff — second in command to the sheriff — has yet to be filled and may not be, Sheriff Jeff Dickerson indicated earlier this year. Several other positions were moved around.
In June, it was reported that CCSO had also previously been involved in the practice of traveling to out-of-state gun shows to sell concealed carry gun permits to residents wanting to carry guns in Oregon.
The practice, while deemed legal by Dickerson and seemingly innocuous, isn't common and, in fact, sheriff's offices that issue concealed carry permits to residents outside Oregon typically do so on a case-by-case basis, whereas an estimated 40 percent of concealed carry permits issued by Columbia County were given to out-of-state residents.
Another CCSO practice came under public scrutiny earlier this month when body camera footage obtained and first published by the Spotlight showed Columbia County Jail deputies using a K9 to attack a non-cooperative inmate. The incident, which took place in August, complied with jail policies, the sheriff said, but after mixed feedback from the public, the use of force was referred to the District Attorney's Office for review and the use of K9s as a weapon in the jail has temporarily ceased, pending review.
Upheaval at Columbia 911 Communications
The Columbia 911 Communications District faced a series of challenges this year, including the resignation of its director, Steve Watson, following an internal investigation.
An investigation into allegations of sexual harassment began in February and concluded in March, and ultimately supported complaints thatWatson had sexually harassed an employee years prior.
Watson, who had worked with the district since 1991, attempted to resign in the midst of the investigation, but two members of the board of directors who make up the personnel committee took no action to accept his resignation until the investigation was complete. Watson had been promoted to executive director in January 2016.
The results of the initial investigation prompted a secondary investigation into the motives of the person who first brought forth complaints of sexual harassment — Tyler Miller, a subcontractor who had worked with the district on a radio communications upgrade project since 2016 and had been associated with the district off and on since he was in high school. In late April, after both investigations were concluded, discussions about Watson's future with the district ultimately ended in his resignation.
After Watson left, the board of directors appointed an interim director to oversee the district — Brian Burright, a former Columbia River Fire and Rescue division chief and a current employee of the Special District's Association of Oregon.
Burright will remain at the helm until the district hires a new full time director. The board is currently in the process of recruiting someone to fill the position and is expected to hire someone early in 2018.
Controversy follows Scappoose's Tyler Miller
Tyler Miller, a Scappoose resident, became the subject of several investigations, including a criminal investigation by Oregon State Police, earlier this year after he brought forth complaints against the former executive director of the Columbia 911 Communications District, Steve Watson, alleging he sexually harassed another employee.
Miller had worked as a subcontractor on a radio communications upgrade project since 2016 and, according to meeting minute records, Watson and Miller had experienced a deterioration in their working relationship sometime late in the year. Watson suggested the district stop using Miller's services on the project.
In early 2017, Miller confronted Watson about terminating his work, and Miller allegedly threatened Watson by indicating he was aware of inappropriate relationships Watson had with employees who could file sexual harassment claims against him, according to two investigative re-ports from the communication district's legal counsel, Bullard Law.
The results of the internal investigation ultimately resulted in Watson's departure after the claims of harassment were supported, but a secondary investigation into Miller's motives was also prompted
by the law firm's findings. The investigation concluded that Miller had brought forth the claims out of self-interest.
In late April, shortly after the investigation concluded, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office suspended Miller from its reserve deputy program. At the time, Miller was also running for an elected seat on the Columbia County 911 Communications District, a bid he lost to incumbent Rob Anderson.
OSP began a months-long criminal investigation into Miller and his motivations to determine if any charges could be filed against him.
In August, Clackamas County Deputy District Attorney Bryan Censoni ruled that no criminal charges would be filed against Miller, but stated in a letter of no-complaint that Miller had acted in a retaliatory way. Miller was terminated from CCSO in August.
Throughout the year, Miller has retained various legal counsel to represent him and has filed two tort claim notices with C911CD and one with CCSO, alleging damage to his reputation in the community and his business.
Former CRFR division chief harassed, intimidated staff
A former Columbia River Fire and Rescue division chief was ultimately relieved of all firefighting duties this year when a leaked report into work misconduct revealed a long-term pattern of harassment and unprofessionalism.
An internal investigative report into Ron Youngberg that was released to the Spotlight showed the former CRFR division chief had intimidated and harassed staff, made racist and sexually explicit comments, jeopardized public safety and acted unprofessionally throughout his 25-year career with the agency. The 72-page report drafted by David Hepp Consulting outlined numerous claims of inappropriate behavior and a lack of any disciplinary action taken against Youngberg at the time.
During the investigation, Youngberg was placed on paid administrative leave and removed from duty officer status. Youngberg retired from CRFR in February 2016 and was granted a separation agreement that allowed him to retain health benefits for one year and be paid out for unused sick and vacation time.
After he left CRFR, Youngberg went on to obtain sponsorship from the Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department and was able to continue volunteering on active duty with an Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office Incident Management Team. Such teams deploy to emergency conflagrations across the state and elsewhere, as needed.
Initially, the OSFM office indicated no desire to review the investigative report, stating the report was protected by attorney-client privilege and Youngberg has served with the state office for 16 years without incident. After conferring with legal counsel, however, the fire marshal's spokesman said the office ultimately reviewed the investigation and placed Youngberg on stand-down status in August. Youngberg then elected to resign his position entirely.
The misconduct and results of the investigative reports were not reported to the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which have likely triggered an investigation into Youngberg had he been fired for cause.
Youngberg's supervisor, former CRFR Fire Chief Jay Tappan, retired from the agency in 2016, soon after Youngberg's exit.