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Eugene Weekly : 3.29.07

Whitewash

Victims' attorneys blast city report on officer sex scandal

BY ALAN PITTMAN

When Roger Magaña worked at the Eugene Police Department (EPD), women complained over and over that he was using his badge to force sex, but Eugene police did nothing. After Magaña was finally caught after six years and sent to prison for abusing a dozen women, substantial evidence emerged that other police officers had failed in the investigation, supervision and hiring of the criminal. But the police again did nothing.

What the police and city did do is select a former cop who wrote a report that agreed with their inaction. That consultant, former McMinnville Police Chief Rod Brown, released a report last week that city officials claimed should restore lost citizen confidence in the EPD.

City Manager Dennis Taylor praised the "incredibly objective" report, which largely concurred with the city position that no other officers should be investigated, disciplined or reprimanded for their handling of the Magaña complaints. The city paid $5 million to settle lawsuits by the victims of Magaña and Juan Lara, another officer convicted of a lesser sex crime spree. "I just hope this will close the chapter," Taylor said of the Brown report.

But Michelle Burrows, the Portland attorney for one of Magaña's most frequent victims, called the Brown report a "whitewash." Burrows emailed that the retired police chief's report "itself manifests why society should not let the police review their own conduct." She continued:

The analysis by the report writer just repeats all the justifications and excuses proffered by the Eugene Police Department as to how the abuse was allowed to spread to 35 women over six years. It isn't just the benefit of hindsight that allows us to see this. The law enforcement community who worked with Magaña and Lara are trained to detect criminal activity, especially sexual misconduct. The officers who knew parts of the entire puzzle are as important a part of how the extensive abuse continued as Magaña or Lara, and in some respects their willful disregard of what was obvious is just as bad as what Lara and Magaña did. We trusted them to do the right thing and even now with this inane report, they still refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.

Elden Rosenthal, a prominent Portland civil rights attorney, represented two of Magaña's other victims. "I disagree strongly with the conclusions of the report," he said.

"This is the reason that you don't have the police investigate the police," Rosenthal said. "This is the reason you need to have independent review."

"The people of the city of Eugene should not countenance police not reporting the misconduct of their fellow officers," Rosenthal said. "Unless the culture of the Eugene Police Department changes, there will be other incidents of misconduct in the future."

In his $25,000 report, Brown argued that "the dynamics of working in law enforcement ... are only comprehended when you have lived that professional life."

But Rosenthal said the judge and jury system doesn't leave it only to cops to judge cops. "That's what the civil rights laws are all about."

Rosenthal noted that federal Judge Thomas Coffin dismissed many of the city's and Brown's arguments in ruling against the city on summary judgement.

Brown argued that the "crux" of the issue was that the seriousness of the complaints against Magaña made it more "reasonable" to ignore them. "When a complaint is regarding an offense or action by an officer that is so egregious as to be outrageous and inconceivable, the receiving officer looks upon the allegation with incredulity and skepticism."

"It's absurd," said Rosenthal of the argument by Brown and the city.

Greg Veralrud, a Eugene attorney for several victims of Magaña and Lara, said he hadn't had a chance to read the report. He said in some cases, he could understand why officers didn't believe the women when they complained, although "the pattern should have been recognized by someone."

But Veralrud said officers clearly failed in other complaints. He cited an early incident where Magaña sexually abused an underage police cadet who complained to two other officers who believed her but did not report the incident to superiors. "I thought that was egregious," he said. "That should have sent some shivers up the ranks."

Brown laid out his arguments absolving the police in a 33-page report after reviewing depositions, personnel files and documents provided by the city and interviewing a few police officials but not talking to victims.

Burrows, who conducted many of the 40 depositions and read 12,000 pages of discovery documents in the case, said Brown's report is refuted by a heavily footnoted, 133-page motion for summary judgement she filed last year before the city paid to settle the case.

In the document, Burrows alleges Magaña had "nearly 45 victims in over 100 documented acts of sexual abuse." She alleges that officers and police repeatedly failed to respond to complaints. "During the entire five years of Magaña's activities, 23 different officers, one chief of police and the director of human resources had actual knowledge of no less than 15 different complaints involving 15 different women who were being either harassed, raped or sexually abused by Magaña."

Here's a list of some of the key allegations that Burrows makes, citing sworn depositions from Eugene police officers, city officials and city documents:

• City police and human resource officials "knowingly covered up officer Magaña's pre-employment criminal history in order to fulfill minority quotas," Burrows alleged. Det. Scott McKee said that when Magaña was 17 or 18, Magaña was "accused and ... convicted of an offense that involved forcible or compelled sexual acts with a young girl." The next year he was arrested for burglary but not convicted. Documents relating to the criminal history were "lost" but later "mysteriously resurfaced" during the criminal investigation.

The police background investigator recommended against hiring Magaña, but he was "hired anyway at the insistence of Chief [Leonard] Cooke, Captain Roy Brown, [officer] Frank Bone and Helen Towle." Burrows cited police Human Resources Director Towle's deposition in writing that Towle "does not believe that criminal arrests disqualify an applicant for an officer position."

By hiring Magaña, the city was "giving that violent sex offender the means to rape and sexually abuse as many as 45 known victims," Burrows wrote.

• "Officer [Gerald] Webber testified in trial and deposition that a woman told him Magaña was asking for 'blow jobs,' but he thought that she was making it up despite the fact that he knew the woman never lied to him." Webber repeatedly testified under oath that he told acting Lt. Jim Fields about the accusation and Fields told him to drop it. But Fields called that claim a "damn lie."

• After a woman's sexual complaint, "Magaña apparently sent [officer Mel] Thompson and another officer back to the woman to tell her to stop 'making up' information about Magaña. ... The woman apparently believed she had been threatened."

• A woman told officer [William] Reimers that Magaña was fondling another woman. Reimers had sworn under oath in court documents that the woman was an honest or reliable source for criminal investigations, but decided that she "was not credible in a complaint about another officer," Burrows wrote.

• Lax discipline was prevalent in the department, Burrows alleged. Drunk driving "officers were stopped by patrol, taken in to the department for booking, but a lieutenant intervened, turned off the videotaping equipment and arranged for the officer to be taken home with no charges."

• There were unconfirmed "accusations by the wives of some of the RDU [Rapid Deployment Unit] officers that some officers were frequenting prostitutes on duty and as part of the job."

• RDU officers showed their genitalia to prostitutes during sting operations, Burrows alleged. "The RDU officers, seeing nothing wrong in removing their clothing, were complying with the women's request to undress to 'prove' they were not cops."

• Within EPD Magaña "had the reputation as a 'ladies man' and openly bragged to other RDU officers of having sex with over 100 women."

• The complaint by Magaña's final victim was initially dismissed. "Officer [Kathy] Flynn's 'investigation' of the [woman's] complaint that Magaña was fondling her lasted 90 minutes, was never referred to Internal Affairs and was not sent on to a superior officer." The persistent woman pressed her complaint with other officers but initially, "Neither Officer [Randall] Smith nor [Scott] McKee believed the woman, refused to meet with her personally and asked her questions designed to intimidate or discourage her."

• Supervisors failed to supervise, Burrows alleged. Magaña's supervisor "Sgt. [Joseph] Harris was viewed as a 'lax supervisor' who "sometimes misses the point." Supervisors were consumed with bureaucratic duties to the extent that they had less than 15 percent of their time available for direct supervision, another city consultant reported. "The RDU was a secret entity all unto themselves with almost no oversight by management."

• "Sgt. Harris reviewed a complaint made by [a woman] and seemed to conclude that Magaña was not telling the truth, engaged in activity which was not verifiable." A review consultant also told Towle and Chief Thad Buchanan that Magaña lied in the case. But everyone who knew about the case, Harris, Buchanan, Towle, Lt. Fields and Capt. Becky Hanson, did nothing.

• A police recruit complained that Magaña made sexual advances to her in 2003 when she was being trained by him, but there was no evidence the complaint was investigated.

• Officers Rich Bremer, Sgt. Jennifer Bills and Lt. Rick Siel knew that an underage police volunteer complained that Magaña had made inappropriate sexual contact with her that led her to leave the police. Magaña was not investigated and no record was made of the incident.

• The mother of one of Magaña's victims called to complain to an unidentified captain who took no action.

• A victim told officer Ryan Wolgamott that Magaña had raped her. The complaint was in front of officers Kara Bankhardt, Mel Thompson and Sgt. Scott Fellman. They ignored the complaint.

• A woman "made a statement to a municipal court judge, 'How would you like it if a Eugene cop forced you to suck his dick?'" The judge did not investigate or report the incident.

Burrows alleged that Magaña thrived in an EPD atmosphere where sexual impropriety was tolerated. One female sergeant allegedly had sexual relations with an 18-year-old male cadet she was supervising and with four different officers, two of whom were married. Her simultaneous relationships with two officers caused tension and "safety issues at work."

Sgt. Derel Schulz, while married, engaged in a sexual relationship with a female Coburg officer, Burrows alleged. "Apparently, the female cadet broke it off, but Schulz started 'stalking her' and she obtained a stalking complaint. The department 'covered it up and made the complaint go away.'"

A woman who was a secretary on the narcotics team filed sexual harassment complaints against three to four officers including Sgt. Ron Swanson and Thad Buchanan, who later became chief. Chief Hill admitted he received two sexually based complaints which he said were not substantiated.

Officer Jeff Glemser said under oath that the unpunished impropriety by other officers contributed to the scandal, Burrows reported, quoting him. "Other people were getting away with it. Supervisors, people you are supposed to look up to. ... Now if these people were dealt with appropriately, Magaña may still be working here and he may have not done as much as what he was doing."

"Things are covered up because they are afraid of what the public will find out," Burrows quoted Glemser.

Burrows called it "damning" that a "stunning number of officers" supposedly trained to recognize criminal activity received complaints about Magaña and did nothing.

"It is not enough for them to pretend to some level of naivete, or innocence. 'We'll never be the same again.' They had a duty to know and to be mindful of their oath to the very citizens they failed," Burrows wrote.

Brown and the city claim that the police department won't ignore complaints in the future.

But Burrows notes, "The street level officers who were questioned said without hesitation that it was the standard policy and procedure" to not act on the complaints against a fellow officer. "Even to this day they see nothing wrong with discounting the complaints as they did."