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What Happened to James Chasse: Tarnished Badges: A KATU investigative report

Friday, November 10, 2006

Tarnished Badges: A KATU investigative report


How hard is it to fire a cop?

A KATU News investigation has uncovered a chronic problem facing police chiefs and county sheriffs: it's difficult to get rid of problem police officers since there is often no clear line between what can, and cannot, get a police officer fired.

One example is Ron Lister. He's a police officer in the city of Molalla, where he carries a gun and a badge.

But the district attorney in Clackamas County believes Lister lied in at least four of his investigations.

The district attorney's office refuses to hear cases he's involved in. As a result, there's a lot officer Lister can't do.

In the past five months, Lister has not written one traffic ticket, and in the past year and 10 months he has not investigated one felony crime.

Officer Lister is one of three cops in the area who are in a state of law enforcement limbo.

There's also Portland officer Joe Hanousek. He's accused of lying to investigators about police evidence.

In a widely publicized case, Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Greene is accused of forcing women to undress during traffic stops.

All three are law enforcement officers, but they now work in limited roles because the district attorney won't use them as witnesses.

And taxpayers are paying for them to keep their badges.

Molalla Police Chief Jerry Giger says that as a senior officer, Ron Lister is at the top of the pay scale in the department, pulling down about $50,000 a year. Chief Giger says he thinks it’s a waste of money.

So what do police officers have to do to get fired? It turns out Oregon has a long history of terminating cops who have broken the law. But the line between what gets you fired, and what doesn't, is not clear.

In recent history, there are some officers that have been terminated.

Brandon Tomkins was a King City police officer who was fired after he was accused of sexually abusing a teenager he met online.

David Verbos was fired for robbing pharmacies in a recent well-known case. He faces state and federal felony charges.

Benton County sergeant Jack Burright was fired for lying about his education and training credentials, and Portland officer John Rebman was let go for hiring prostitutes on duty and using his police radio to avoid other officers.

Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto says the bottom line is you have to break the law to lose your badge.

"If the elements of a crime occur, we have a chance of getting rid of them," Giusto said. "But that shouldn't be the standard in this state There are certain things we expect of law enforcement officers, certain reasons we allow them into our homes, certain reasons we give them the authority to arrest, certain reasons we trust our families to them if we have to turn them over to them temporarily or we turn our kids over to them."

The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training certifies officers and is the ultimate authority in terminating bad cops. Without the board's approval, a person can't wear a badge.

The department certifies 11,000 criminal justice professionals in Oregon. This year the agency has closed 302 cases against officers.

In 49 of those cases, the officer lost his or her badge.

However, in 84 percent of the cases, the officer kept their badge.

Five cases illustrate there's no clear line between what gets you fired and what doesn't.

One officer lied to investigators, another officer lies about being sick, one cop is arrested for domestic violence and drunk driving, and another just for drunk driving.

Finally, an officer was disciplined for drug use, drunk driving and weapons violations.

Of those five cases, only two resulted in a loss of certification.

Back in Molalla, Officer Lister has not been convicted of a crime, but the district attorney says he is not a credible witness. Police chief Jerry Giger tried to fire him, but union rules forced his case to go to an arbitrator and he got his job back.

Officer Lister says a police officer's job "isn't just writing tickets. There's a lot of other things that happen other than just write tickets."

Chief Giger says one of highest paid of Molalla's 12 police officers is virtually useless. "We don't have him specifically taking calls or working traffic, so he's just out there performing a patrol function more as a 'be seen by the public' and that's about the extent of how we can utilize him."

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