County payout, resignation followed sexual harassment claims
A $55,000 payout made by Columbia County in April to a former sheriff reserve deputy was tied to allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination.
Documents obtained by the Columbia County Spotlight show Kellie Smith submitted a tort claim notice to Columbia County on Feb. 23 outlining complaints stemming from her time as a volunteer deputy with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
Smith claims she was sent sexually explicit text messages from the former undersheriff and current sergeant, Andy Moyer, and eventually faced discrimination and retaliation for reporting the messages to officials.
Tort claims are notices filed with public agencies as formal notification that litigation against the agency could follow.
In her claim, Smith, who also serves on the St. Helens School Board, notes that she began volunteering as a reserve deputy with CCSO in 2014.
Shortly thereafter, she met and occasionally worked alongside Moyer, who served as undersheriff at the time. Smith said during her volunteer work, she struck up conversations with Moyer and the two started texting each other. At some point in 2015, he began sending her nude photos.
"I was shocked that he sent me the picture," Smith stated. She said she asked Moyer if he "was trying to be the step-father" to her children, and Moyer reportedly replied, "No, I just think we would have fun together."
Over the next year, Smith says Moyer invited her to places outside work.
At one point she claims she received sexually explicit videos from the sergeant.
Reserve deputy says whistleblowing led to retaliation
Eventually, Smith says she and Moyer stopped talking outside of work and, shortly thereafter, she noticed a pattern of being shut out from department roles, training opportunities and even being passed over for a paid position. The tort claim outlines a sequence of events in which several employees within the Sheriff's Office became less communicative with Smith and eventually told her she and a few others would have to re-apply and undergo qualifications testing again to stay on as reserve deputies, despite other reserves being "grandfathered in."
"On or about August of 2016, I had added mine and two other reserve names to a list of names on a whiteboard at the Sheriff's Office, of people that also needed firearms qualification training," the tort claim states. "Our names were later erased and we did not qualify that summer. Moyer was the firearms instructor."
In January 2017, after she was told she was being considered for a summertime marine patrol job that she'd expressed interest in, she found out that Moyer had been assigned to marine patrol supervision. Smith said while working a river patrol assignment with CCSO Sgt. Phil Edwards, she told Edwards that Moyer had sent her explicit messages years prior.
The reserve deputy said she confided in Edwards, voicing concern about Moyer being the marine supervisor if she were to take the assignment. Edwards later reported it to the Sheriff's Office and, in February 2017, Columbia County began investigating the sexual harassment claim.
Moyer was placed on leave from CCSO in February 2017 and investigated for potential "policy violations." County officials never revealed what exactly prompted the initial investigation at the time, but when Moyer returned to work the following month, he was demoted from undersheriff to sergeant.
Moyer declined to comment on the allegations at length, except to say many of the events outlined in the tort claim "did not happen as construed."
"I take responsibility for my violations of policy for having that kind of relationship with someone under my chain of command," Moyer told the Spotlight, noting he and Smith maintained a pattern of "mutual texting."
In July 2017, Smith later found out she was bypassed for the marine patrol job and it was instead offered to a male counterpart.
In February, through an attorney, she filed the tort claim notice with the county, alleging she was subjected to discrimination and retaliation after the sexual harassment investigation.
County settles, sergeant resigns
The county settled with Smith out of court for $55,000.
Both Smith and her attorney declined to comment on the settlement or the tort claim.
Moyer was again placed on administrative leave in early May. While on leave, an investigation into the alleged behavior ensued. The sergeant tendered his resignation while on leave, effective Aug. 31.
"I'm resigning out of respect for my family and the current members of the Sheriff's Office," Moyer said Wednesday. "I very much enjoyed my time serving the citizens of the county and working with the great people of the Sheriff's Office and I no longer want to be a distraction for the Sheriff's Office."
Steve Salle, chief deputy and acting sheriff at CCSO, declined to respond to a request for comment.
The resignation and settlement come during an eventful year for CCSO. Since 2017, three employees have been investigated, with two ultimately resigning. Earlier this year, the sheriff retired early before the end of his elected term.