11/27/2014

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Field Notes

Court papers paint picture of fractured Woodburn Police Department

Court papers paint picture of fractured Woodburn Police Department
Photo: Woodburn Police Department
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Officer Daniel Kelly had been a member of the Woodburn Police Department for less than a year in 2009 when his supervisor allegedly attempted to sexually attack Kelly’s girlfriend.

They had all been off-duty at a party when the supervisor, a sergeant, asked Kelly to give him a ride home because he had had too much to drink. Once home, the sergeant asked the two to stay the night given the shape was he in.

They agreed.

Later that night, court papers say, the sergeant “burst in sexually aroused, and attempted to sodomize the female companion of Officer Kelly, in Officer Kelly’s presence.”

That incident is detailed in a series of court papers filed on behalf of three Woodburn officers against the department. The first papers were a notice of intent to sue filed last November. A second notice with more allegations was filed this past week.

According to the papers, these officers gave “details which would lead to the reasonable conclusion that serious issues of public safety and mismanagement of the police department had occurred and was continuing.”

They charge that there is a “civil conspiracy to protect wrongdoers and to punish scrupulous officers” in the Woodburn Police Department.

One of these officers who say they intend to sue is Kelly, who had spent about six years as a law enforcement officer in Tennessee before moving to Oregon. According to the papers filed by his lawyer, in his 12 years as a law enforcement officer he had never been disciplined.

That is, he had never been disciplined until this past Wednesday, when he was stripped of his badge and gun.

The story is enough that no one would blame a resident of Woodburn for looking at their police department and wondering what is going on.

It goes back to the 2009 attempted sexual assault of Kelly’s girlfriend. His lawyer says that Kelly was a probationary officer at the time and could be fired without cause. As a result, he did not want to accuse his boss of anything, let alone trying to attack his girlfriend.

When he finally did it bring it up, he felt he was being told it would be in his own interest to let the matter drop, according to his lawyer. In the end, though, he did pursue it and his decision at the time to not rock the boat in the beginning has come back to haunt him, his lawyer says.

“Officer Kelly was placed on administrative leave for being ‘untruthful,’” lawyer Jeffrey Boiler writes in court papers filed this past week. The Woodburn Police Department “advised him at that time they were informing the Marion County District Attorney his credibility ‘had been called into question.'”

Boiler says this move puts Kelly at “imminent risk” of “a career ending event,” adding “this sham investigation based on his ‘credibility’ appears to be strong evidence of a continuing and brazen abuse of investigative process and one of the most obvious forms of retaliation imaginable.”

On top of it, Kelly is not alone in having problems with the department.

His notice that he intends to sue was also filed on behalf of officers Pete Lichte and Jarrod Bowers.

Lichte, along with Kelly, claims a hostile work environment. Bowers charges he was placed on leave when he complained that an officer was humiliating a female crime victim by sharing nude photos of her with other officers.

According to Boiler, the operating philosophy at the Woodburn Police Department is “Go along and get along with anything the command structure presently in place at Woodburn PD demands or face termination or worse.

“Do so even if it conceals known improper or openly unlawful activity by command officers.”

Woodburn’s police department has had a rough couple of years – from the bomb blast at the bank that killed a captain along with a trooper from OSP to the burglar who shot a sergeant three times.

The current police chief – Scott Russell lost his leg in the bank blast and is the subject of several complaints. Sgt. John Mikkola, who was shot by the burglar, is the supervisor Kelly says tried to attack his girlfriend. Mikkola has always denied the charge and was cleared in an internal probe.

There never was a criminal investigation.

Mikkola has also informed the city that he plans to sue, charging mistreatment after he was shot.

Asked by KATU for comment on the charges, a spokesman for the city said they don’t comment on pending litigation and personnel matters.

It is believed there will be more notices from people intending to sue. And, of course, there are the now-seemingly inevitable lawsuits expected to be filed in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the people of Woodburn have to stand back and try to make sense of an increasingly fractured situation.

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