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Eugene Weekly : News : 05.18.06

Police Sexual Misconduct

Magaña wasn't the only one; former chief was disciplined for sexual misconduct.

BY ALAN PITTMAN

Former Eugene Police Chief Thad Buchanan, who failed to stop Officer Roger Magaña's sex crime spree, was himself disciplined after an earlier sexual harassment complaint, according to court documents.

In a sworn deposition last June for women suing the city for abuse by Magaña, Buchanan said he had been given a two-day suspension after a woman complained that Buchanan had sexually harassed her in 1995. The woman worked for Buchanan when he was a police sergeant in the local narcotics squad.

Buchanan said he had a "nonsexual relationship" with the woman, a "kissing" and "holding hands kind of thing" that he said he knew was "basically craziness." But the woman later complained the interaction was "unwanted," Buchanan said, according to a transcript. Buchanan said he was disciplined "because I was letting her go out with the officers on surveillances and search warrants and because we were basically carrying on this conduct in the office."

Buchanan said the woman also accused two other officers of sexual harassment at the same time, but the other officers were not disciplined.

Jim Hill, EPD chief from 1998 to 2002, was serving in police management at that time. Asked in a deposition why Buchanan wasn't fired for the alleged sexual harassment, Hill said Buchanan's conduct was "clearly inappropriate" but he "had a very good work history," was "honest about his screwup" and the relationship was "a consensual situation, albeit the fact that he was married." Hill added, "There was no-nothing in there that indicated he was abusing his position in order to engage in that conduct."

Hill described the punishment given to Buchanan for the misconduct as "the maximum discipline short of termination." The discipline after the sexual harassment allegation did not appear to have much impact on Buchanan's career at EPD. He was promoted to lieutenant, then captain and then police chief, where he served from 2002 to 2003.

In his sworn deposition, Buchanan initially did not admit to the sexual harassment case. Only after a break did he say he would like to clarify his response to questions. Buchanan said he was subpoenaed to testify in the Magaña criminal trial but the district attorney dropped the subpoena after Magaña's defense attorney said he would bring up the sexual harassment case.

In March Federal Judge Thomas Coffin ruled against the city to allow six lawsuits to go forward. He noted evidence that Buchanan and other officers failed to act to rein in Magaña even though there was strong evidence that he lied to get out of a sexual harassment complaint by a woman he stopped while on patrol. The judge listed 13 separate incidents where 12 women and one man allegedly had reported Magaña's sex abuse, ranging from harassment to rape. The reports went to at least 14 different police officers and a municipal judge without the city stopping Magaña's abuse.

In their lawsuits Magaña's victims alleged that the city of Eugene had a pattern and practice of failing to investigate and discipline officers for sexual misconduct.

Buchanan described three other cases of discipline for sexual misconduct in EPD. A police SWAT sergeant was disciplined with a suspension for sexual misconduct but not fired because of his "good work history," he said. "A school officer was terminated for sexual misconduct with a student," Buchanan said. Another police sergeant was fired after "allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor" about 25 years ago, he said.

Hill said he was accused of sexual misconduct twice in his 28 years as an officer, but both charges were not substantiated. One woman said he "looked at" her wrong and another said he was "being too friendly," Hill said.

The lawsuits also allege the city failed to properly screen Magaña before he was hired. A 1995 background investigation of Magaña before he was hired by EPD notes that he was arrested twice for burglary. In the 1982 arrest no charges were filed. In the 1981 arrest Magaña was 17 and the EPD investigator wrote that he did not look into the case because he was a juvenile. Magaña also was caught driving 85 mph in a 55 mph zone in 1991.

At the time of the background investigation, Magaña was 31 years old, had no college degree and had a job maintaining parking meters for the city. City supervisors praised his "integrity" and described Magaña as "honest." The EPD background investigator wrote, "His current supervisor said, 'He will never disappoint you.'"

Roger Magaña was sentenced to 94 years in prison in 2004 for using his police power to rape, sexually abuse, assault and harass a dozen women over six years as a Eugene police officer. The city has so far paid $2 million to settle Magaña-related lawsuits. Another six lawsuits are still pending seeking more than $20 million in damages.