By Judith Spitzer
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
A suicide-killing rampage by an Oregon sheriff's officer in February leaves critics wondering why district attorneys were not involved in a domestic-violence investigation of the officer in 2009 and why he kept his badge and gun.
PORTLAND, Ore. (WOMENSENEWS)--The suicide-killing rampage by an Oregon sheriff's officer last February leaves questions about why early warning signs in 2009 went unheeded.
A particular matter of concern: the Portland Police Bureau's decision to honor a request by the Sheriff's Office of Clackamas County to keep the local district attorney's office out of an internal investigation of the officer last year.
As has been nationally reported, on Feb.12, 2010, Clackamas County Sheriff Sgt. Jeffery Grahn, 46, killed his wife Charlotte, 47, two of her friends--Kathleen Hoffmeister, 53, and Victoria Schulmerich, 53--and then himself at a bar in Gresham, Ore., a suburb of Portland.
The family of Kathleen Hoffmeister filed a tort claim recently against Clackamas County for inadequately investigating instances of anger, abusive behavior and domestic violence involving Jeffery Grahn.
Both Charlotte Grahn's family and the Schulmerich family have until Aug. 12 to file similar claims. Charlotte Grahn's family is considering litigation, according to Walter Trapp, her brother.
For weeks after the shooting the Sheriff's Office of Clackamas County denied there were warning signs of domestic violence in Jeffery Grahn's personal life prior to the shootings.
Under pressure from local media, however, it made public documents that since have been widely reported on, showing allegations of domestic abuse just 10 months before the shooting.
In April 2009, the Sheriff's Office was investigating possible officer-related domestic violence in the case of Jeffery Grahn and his wife after a tip from Chris Kipper, a friend of the family and a probation officer married to an Oregon State patrol officer. Kipper said she feared receiving a phone call one day "if something wasn't done … with Jeff being reportedly suicidal … that the result could be Jeff killing his family and then himself."
One of Charlotte Grahn's sisters and her brother, Trapp, also reported incidents of abuse, including one in which Jeffrey Grahn held a gun to his wife's head and another when he injured her badly enough that she was hospitalized.
Women's eNews recently asked Dave Thomas, a retired Montgomery County Maryland police officer familiar with the case, to review how the Grahn case was handled. Thomas, now at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., trains police departments across the country about officer-involved domestic violence.
"We're talking here about someone who is incredibly dangerous and agencies with prior knowledge," Thomas said in a phone interview. "The totality of it says even if he wasn't physically abusing her--which I totally think he was--there was enough administratively to pull his badge and gun given everything that's going on. He's a danger to himself, to his family and to the community."
Jim Strovink, Clackamas County Sheriff's Office spokesperson, has consistently told reporters that the county's hands were tied because Charlotte Grahn would not talk with officers about specifics of the abuse.
A Portland police investigation showed Jeffrey Grahn had reportedly been drinking heavily, had threatened suicide, was suffering from depression and had cut off communication with friends. When Charlotte Grahn was interviewed she "pleaded the Fifth"--referring to the legal right of refusal to testify on the grounds of self-incrimination--when she spoke to investigators.
Thomas said Charlotte Grahn's reluctance to talk to officers should have itself been a sign that Jeffrey Grahn fit the profile of a batterer.
"The fact that his wife says she's pleading the Fifth Amendment," he said. "That's a huge red flag that we have something seriously wrong here. If it's on the up-and-up why is she pleading the Fifth instead of just saying that there's nothing wrong?"
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