Former Woodburn police officer pleads guilty to misconduct
UPDATED August 1, 2017
A former Woodburn police officer pleaded guilty on July 25 to three counts of first-degree official misconduct. The charges stemmed from an internal criminal investigation conducted this year revealing that former Det. Timothy Cobos, 47, had multiple sexual encounters with at least two women while on duty as a Woodburn police officer.
Cobos was sentenced to 18 months of bench probation and 40 hours of community service. He must complete his community service by April 26, 2018.
Cobos resigned July 21 and has filed his decertification with the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
Cobos, who worked as a K-9 detective and patrol officer, started working as a police officer in 2002 and was employed by the Woodburn Police Department in January 2006, according to court records.
The investigation into Cobos' misconduct began in April when the Woodburn Police Department received in the mail a series of photographs from an anonymous sender. Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris said in an interview that the photographs depicted a man and a woman in a series of sexual positions.
The man's face was not visible in the photos, but Ferraris said the department had suspicions that Cobos was involved.
"There were some notations that led us to believe that it might be connected to Mr. Cobos. That it might involve him," Ferraris said. "Regardless, it had the appearance of criminal conduct."
Ferraris said he reached out to the Marion County District Attorney's office, which then assigned an outside agency — the Keizer Police Department — to begin a criminal investigation.
The investigation, which lasted from April until mid-June, uncovered that while Cobos was not actually the man in the photographs, he nonetheless engaged in consensual sexual relationships with at least two different women that took place when he was both on and off duty. Some of the sexual encounters took place in Cobos' assigned department vehicle, Ferraris said.
Ferraris said the investigation also uncovered photos of Cobos engaged in sexual activity while wearing a police uniform or parts of a police uniform, as well as photos of the women wearing parts of his police uniform while engaged in sexual activity.
"(Cobos was) using his employment as a means for benefit, in this case the personal benefit being the sexual conduct," Ferraris said.
Ferraris, who has worked in law enforcement for 38 years in multiple cities, said he's encountered police misconduct in the past, but never to the magnitude of what he saw in this case.
"I've seen behavior like this before. What I haven't seen is the egregiousness and brazenness of the repetitive nature," Ferraris said in the interview. "The investigation indicated this conduct occurred between 2014 and 2017. And it's safe to conclude from the investigation that it likely occurred dozens upon dozens of times. And that's what causes me to be so astounded by what I read in the file."
Attorney Paige Clarkson, the trial team supervisor from the DA's office who prosecuted the case, said Cobos' repeated misconduct made the case stand out from more minor offenses.
"The fact that it was so habitual and repetitive struck us as something different than an officer using a police vehicle to pick up a prescription on the way home from work," Clarkson said. "It was more egregious in nature. It was repeated, and at least two individuals could prove it in a court of law."
Clarkson confirmed that Cobos is married and has children, and that the sexual encounters were extramarital.
The investigation also revealed that while employed with the department, Cobos "had used police databases inappropriately and unlawfully to run records checks on various people at the request of some of the women involved in the case," Ferraris said.
The two women engaged in sexual relationships with Cobos cooperated with the investigation, providing interviews, photographs and text messages to investigators, Ferraris said.
Once the investigation was concluded, Ferraris said he placed Cobos on paid administrative leave. Cobos agreed to a communications restriction, which barred him from talking to anyone except for privileged individuals (such as a spouse, union representative or lawyer) about the investigation.
But Ferraris later learned that Cobos violated that communications restriction by sending text messages about the case to one of the women involved.
"Now it's a witch hunt…if anyone calls you asking questions about me, please keep it simple," reads one of Cobos' text messages included in a statement read at the hearing by Ferraris. "… No you don't have to talk to them (investigators). No you just say I have nothing to say. You can't be forced to talk. Plus we didn't do anything wrong."
Ferraris said there is reason to believe Cobos' communication with the woman could have constituted as tampering with a witness, but said the DA's office would not pursue that charge.
Clarkson said that even without any tampering with a witness charges, Cobos' punishment was fitting for the crimes.
"The consequence is that he lost a career. He lost his ability to take care of his family in the way that he had for the last 14 years as a police officer. He decertified, which means he has no ability to work as a police officer in the state ever again," Clarkson said. "The fact that we could reach that resolution without adding additional charges was appropriate in this case."
Clarkson said the fact that Cobos' conduct was consensual meant that harsher charges might not have been appropriate.
"The conduct itself was consensual. He was not making victims out of anybody except the community and the department," Clarkson said. "He was not coercing people, he just knew he shouldn't have been doing it under the cover of his badge."
In his statement at the sentencing hearing, Ferraris said Cobos "compromised himself and began that journey down the slippery slope of unprofessional, unethical and criminal behavior," adding that Cobos "meets the definition of a 'corrupt cop.'"
"Through his actions, Mr. Cobos violated many tenets of the Criminal Justice Code of Ethics that he swore to uphold. Mr. Cobos failed to live up to the values that are at the core of the Woodburn Police Department," Ferraris said in the statement.
Ferraris said he sees Cobos' conduct as an anomaly, but that the Woodburn Police Department will review the case to determine whether anything needs to change about how the department supervises and manages employees.
However, Ferraris said Cobos is to blame for the misconduct, not the department.
"This is all about Mr. Cobos making choices, and trying to navigate through our policies and procedures and accountability measures to accomplish his own personal conquests," Ferraris said. "So this is about him, it isn't about us. It isn't about a flawed system. It's about the flawed character of a man who used to be a police officer."