Internal Affairs--How They Cover Up Police Abuse
This article explores the consistency and pervasiveness of the cover up of police misconduct by Internal Affairs. The article focusses on Internal Affairs in Medford, Oregon.
Joni Hickey first noticed the car weaving in and out of traffic driving "way too fast," she recalls. The vehicle pulled up close behind her, then gunned its motor and screeched to the side, speeding past her. She realized, to her alarm, that this was a Medford Police vehicle.
"We were really far from Medford," she remembers. "We were getting close to Eugene." The car was not sounding its siren, and she was concerned about the recklessness of its driver. She made a report to the Medford Police Department and was put in touch with Internal Affairs. The responding Sergeant told her that the officer was on his way to a training session around Eugene, and had thanked her for bringing the reckless behavior to the proper attention. He assured her that the officer would be disciplined.
In fact, the Internal Affairs summary concerning this matter, filed under IA # 2005-061, reveals that IA found Ms. Hickey's complaint to be "Not Sustained." There was no discipline or repercussions to the officer who so alarmed her on that night in 2005. Hickey says she received a letter from the Medford Police Department, advising her that the officer would be disciplined.
Internal Affairs is ostensibly the internal investigatory body of local police departments. If a party should have an issue with the behavior of an officer of the law, Internal Affairs is mandated to investigate and, should the complaint be found to have merit, to suggest the appropriate remedy for officer misconduct. However, a review of Medford Police Department Internal Affairs summaries from 2005 to the present reveals a disturbing pattern in the handling of these complaints. Time and time again, reports from citizens are being dishonored. Either no investigation is conducted by IA, or the investigation is done in a manner such that witness statements are ignored or altered. Of great concern is that the complaining party is often assured that his grievances have been addressed, when the internal memos state they have not. In a number of cases, the Internal Summaries of the IA reports do not even accurately record the initial complaint.
According to Sgt. Brett Johnson of Internal Affairs, MPD, these internal records are not available to members of the public. This reporter has nevertheless received a stack of these IA summaries, and in the process of contacting the complainants, discovered that the Medford Police seem to be operating from a custom and policy of non-investigation, while informing the public otherwise.
Amy Cushing contacted Medford Police Department's Internal Affairs after an officer began to stalk her. She remembers contacting IA twice in a two month period concerning the same officer. The first complaint revolved around a traffic stop, where she was pulled over for purportedly speeding in a construction zone. In an interview in October of 2008, Cushing reported that the officer made a number of snide and insulting comments during her contact with him. She remembers him asking her age. When she told him that she was twenty-seven, he said, "You mean, thirty-seven?" She contacted IA, and gave the department the name of the party in her car, who witnessed the incident. According to Cushing, her friend was never contacted.
Three weeks later, the same officer was sitting in front of her school when she got out. He pulled her over for "pulling out of the parking lot too fast. " He also said she pulled into a merge lane without signaling. Cushing said that when the officer left the scene, he pulled into the same lane without signaling. She made a second complaint to IA.
The very next night, she reported that he was again in the school parking lot. She remembers sitting in the lot for several hours, declining to leave until he did.
She began to be concerned that the officer was stalking her. Soon after, he pulled her over again. This time, she was on a motorcycle. The reason for the stop, according to the officer, was that he was concerned that she was wearing high heels.
While Cushing insists she reported the officer twice, the IA summaries only list one complaint from Cushing, which was not sustained. While the IA summary states that Cushing was notified of the disposition of her complaint, she insists she was not. She also expressed concern that the witness to the incidents was never contacted by IA.
Pastor Lee Gregory of the Medford Neighborhood Church was surprised to find that his complaint to IA was listed as "unfounded" by the department. Gregory, who has been the pastor at the church for eighteen years, was leaving the church one day when he witnessed a vehicle slide off the road and crash into a concrete irrigation bunker. He reported that two people got out of the car, a man and a woman. He stated that the driver, a man, was "screaming obscenities " at his female passenger. According to Gregory, the man then struck the woman.
Gregory told them to stop. He then called 911. As he was talking to dispatch, the two got back into the car and backed up about fifty yards. At that point, recalls Gregory, the man and woman jumped out of the car and started to run away. The man was yelling threats against the pastor. Gregory stated he was concerned for the 60 children in day care at his church, as well as for the safety of himself and others.
911 told him that the police were on their way and had already received another call concerning this incident.
Shortly thereafter, Gregory left the church on his motorcycle. He was surprised to notice the driver and passenger walking toward the car they had previously abandoned. There were no police officers to be seen.
He drove to the Medford Police Department. He waited in the lobby until the Sergeant was able to come out to speak with him.
"The Sergeant was rude and argumentative," he recalls. Gregory then wrote a letter to the mayor. The letter, which is dated May 7, 2007, states his intent is to "provide information and help emergency services respond with improvement." While reviewing the events, he summarizes his concerns: that dispatch had failed to inform the responding officer that there had been a collision and that there had been threats made to citizens of Medford. Dispatch had told the responding officers only that this was a "domestic dispute," and the officers at the scene did not address the accident or the threats. In conversation with this reporter, Pastor Gregory also expressed concern as to why the Internal Affairs contact, a Sergeant at the Medford Police Department, responded to him in the manner he did. As a result of the letter, he was contacted by both the Chief of Police and a detective. He was then given assurance that his concerns would be addressed. In an interview in October of 2008, Gregory was surprised to find that Internal Affairs listed his complaint as unfounded.
Others have reported Medford Police officers engaged in conduct which they found personally threatening. Internal Affairs has consistently denied the validity of these reports, as well. Michael Piels, a local Certified Public Accountant and Medford business owner, recalls contacting Internal Affairs following a traffic stop. Piels was driving an electric vehicle which is licensed by the city. He remembers being stopped by a motorcycle cop, who told him he was driving "a golf cart." When Piels told him that the vehicle was properly licensed, he reported that the officer became threatening. He remembers seeing the officer begin to pat his gun. At that point, Piels instructed him to just "write the citation." Recounting the incident in an interview this last November, Piels stated that he found the officer's demeanor to be threatening and he "didn't want to talk to him anymore." The citation was eventually overturned.
Piels went ahead and wrote to the Chief of Police, objecting to the threatening demeanor of the officer. He remembers getting a positive response from the responding officers, whom he believed were both a lieutenant as well as a sergeant with the MPD. He recalls being asked what he thought the appropriate remedy should be. He responded that he believed that the officer should be offered counseling, and recalls that this was agreed on by the ranking officers. Piels was taken aback when informed by this reporter that his complaint was also not upheld.
Some of the Internal Affairs summaries simply misreport the circumstances surrounding alleged officer misconduct, and do so to the benefit of the officers. When Monique Madison came home from a business trip, she learned that her high school age daughter had been stopped by a MPD officer, and the car she was in had been towed. The reason given was that her daughter was driving with someone who was underage. When Madison went to the towing yard to pick up the vehicle, she was alarmed to hear what the towing yard worker had to say.
Madison remembers that the worker at the tow yard was nervous and wanted to talk with her outside. He told her that the officer had made statements to him about Madison's daughter that she felt put her teenager at risk. The officer had told the tow truck driver that the daughter had propositioned him, in order to deter the officer from writing the ticket. He also told the tow truck driver that the daughter was home alone, as her mother was out of the area. Besides the obvious slur to her daughter's reputation, this could have put her daughter at risk, should the driver have been "unscrupulous."
The Internal Affairs summary, however, reports that the driver had assured Internal Affairs that no denigrating comment had been made. Madison does not believe the driver was ever contacted by IA.
Brad Wooster's report to Internal Affairs revolved around an officer, Scott Clauson, whom Wooster alleges attempted to coerce him to make false statements at the time of a crime arrest. The police claimed that his father had intentionally passed a counterfeit bill at a local bank. The case went to court and Merle Wooster was found not guilty. In the course of the arrest, Brad Wooster stated that Clauson tried to get him to turn against his father, and to make statements that his father had purposely intended to defraud the bank. When Brad Wooster refused to do so, he remembers Clauson reading back his notes of the interview, which implicated the son as well as the father in a conspiracy to pass the false note. Brad also observed Clauson using excessive force against his father, who is a Vietnam vet with no criminal record. He was also concerned that Clauson wrote down that Merle was "sleeping in a truck" in a city park; in other words, homeless. Clauson's report does in fact state this, which turned out to be untrue.
The IA summary finds Brad Wooster's complaint to be not sustained. Brad wrote to Mayor Wheeler about instances of continuing police harassment. The Mayor responded with a letter assuring Brad that the matter would be forwarded to the Communications Advisory Committee. Peculiarly, the letter from Mayor Wheeler is undated; however, it references a complaint filed by Brad Wooster in February of 2008, detailing his allegations of a continuing harassment by the local police.
A record of CAC review of the Wooster matter could not be found. The videos of the April, 2008 and July meetings of the CAC never mentioned the Wooster complaint and at the time of going to press, the minutes from April and July were not posted on the City's website. Neither the chairman of CAC, Michael Torguson nor the City Manager responded to queries as to whether CAC had ever reviewed this case, and Mayor Wheeler could not be reached for comment. Merle Wooster states that he was not contacted by CAC. He remembers, instead, receiving a phone call from a deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's deputy told him that Brad was "pathological" and that no investigation would be done on the allegations. The Sheriff's office did not respond to queries as to why the County got involved in a City police matter.
The Woosters then received a letter from MPD Sergeant Mike Budreau, who stated that the listing of Brad's complaint had been changed from "unsustained" to "unfounded." Budreau wrote that the "correct finding is unfounded due to the lack of factual basis," thereby negating in totality Brad Wooster's concerns.
However, Officer Scott Clauson's police report of the incident (CASE #05-16518) does state that Brad had implicated his father in the crime, and contains the highly damning statement that "He (Brad) advised approximately one week ago his dad told him he had obtained a 'fake' $100 bill. ... Bradley said he knew his dad was going to try and deposit the bill at the bank on this date... " This does confirm Brad Wooster's complaint that Clauson had written down that Brad had implicated his father. Interestingly enough, when Scott Clauson was on the stand during Merle Wooster's trial, he made no mention that Brad had made any such statement implying intention on the part of his father. Brad recalls that the responding sergeant at Internal Affairs denied that excessive force was used, and then asked leading questions, attempting to maneuver Brad towards incriminating himself or his father.
Deputy Chief Tim George said he would research the case and get back to this reporter. At the time of going to press, he has not responded to the questions tendered to him.
Dianne Hearth did report a positive contact with Internal Affairs. She had found an arrow behind her house, which she believed was shot into her backyard from the street. She did not feel that the responding officer took this seriously enough, so she contacted her friend and fellow Rotarian, Bob Strosser. Strosser, who sits on the City Council, is a former police officer.
Strosser made sure that the problem was addressed, stated Hearth. Her complaint against the officer was listed as Sustained. In the stack of IA summaries in my possession, Hearth's complaint was the only one made by a citizen (non-police) that was listed as Sustained. Parenthetically, all officer complaints (by an officer about an officer) received by this reporter were listed as Sustained.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one complainant had this to say, "We are all humans. We all make mistakes. But I think these officers have a 'God' complex." She had contacted Internal Affairs stating she had been assaulted by an officer who showed up to resolve a domestic complaint. Her estranged husband had struck her daughter, prior to her calling the police. When the police showed up, she said that one of the officers "laid hands on her" and twisted her arm, painfully. The IA summary, however, makes no mention of the assault upon her or her daughter, stating only that the issue concerned a property dispute. She reports her contact with Internal Affairs to be quite unsatisfactory. "The Sergeant was very unpleasant," she recalls. "He told me that I was being irrational and that he understood why the officer did what he did to me."
"They watch each others' backs," she said. "I know there are good cops out there. I just don't want any involvement with police anymore. I feel they can do or say whatever they want and get away with it."
Writing before his father's trial, Brad Wooster, who is medically disabled and dependent on his father's assistance, made an impassioned plea for help: "I'm terrified and I want to do something to save him, but I'm not smart enough ... .It appears that everyone involved who would be able to stop this from happening would benefit from my father's conviction, whether he's guilty or not. There is no incentive for any person or institution charged with the task of protecting people from police...to do anything. Nobody seems to care. I need to know how to make people care."
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