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.
In early May 2009, the Sheriff's Office requested the Portland Police Bureau take over the investigation, which led to Lt. Graham Phalen, of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, meeting with the Portland Police Bureau's Sgt. Margaret Bahnson, according to documents.
In an interoffice memo written before the killing rampage by Portland's Bahnson to a police supervisor, Bahnson referred to Portland's standard police policy that when investigating one of its own officers involved in a domestic violence incident policy is "to bring in our district attorney's office."
"When I brought up the idea of bringing in Clackamas County DA's office for this case Phalen asked that we hold off on that," Bahnson wrote.
"Thinking that I was not making my point clear I further explained the reason we included the DA's office was to bounce ideas off each other, keep the investigation transparent and talk about charges or other legal issues," she wrote. "Lt. Phalen still asked that we hold off on including Clackamas Co. DA's office."
Johns Hopkins University's Thomas criticized as "ludicrous" the decision by Portland police to honor the request of Phalen to keep district attorneys out of the case.
Bahnson recently told Women's eNews that, "Yes there were a ton of red flags, but there was nothing criminal he was doing that we could come up with." When asked specifically about the red flags, Bahnson said Grahn scored "very high" on a lethality assessment conducted as part of the investigation.
Ultimately, there were no criminal charges because of "insufficient evidence without further cooperation from family members," she said.
In June 2009, the investigation was closed and returned to Clackamas County. Subsequently the county elected not to deal administratively with Grahn, allowing him to keep his badge and gun.
In May 2010, in the aftermath of the killings, the Sheriff's Office said it was standard protocol to submit internal criminal investigations to district attorneys for prosecution after sufficient criminal evidence emerged to suggest criminal conduct.
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote disagreed. "Whenever there is a criminal investigation of a police officer, we should be involved," he told a local TV station.
In an interview several weeks ago--about five months after the killings-- Clackamas County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Strovink told Women's eNews that, at the time of the shooting in February, the agency did not have a policy on handling officer-involved domestic violence.
"The county is presently working on a brand new policy addressing domestic violence," Strovink said, but could not elaborate on the new provisions.
Diane Wetendorf, a specialist in police-perpetrated domestic violence, says domestic violence within police ranks is a litmus test of law enforcement's commitment to public safety.
Legal claims against the Sheriff's Office have cost Clackamas County nearly $2.4 million over the last three years, with deputies guilty of crimes ranging from armed robbery to forging prescriptions to sex with minors. This past June, Clackamas County Deputy Darin Fox was convicted of having sex with three jail inmates; the second sheriff's officer in six months arrested for having sex with inmates.
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Judith Spitzer is an award-winning journalist, columnist and features writer currently living in the Pacific Northwest.
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