Oregon City Council on Monday will vote on whether to amend part of a separation agreement the city made with former Police Chief Tom Gulch that prevents him from speaking about whether he investigated a woman’s complaints in 2002 against Officer Jeff Brown, Mayor Marge Brown’s son.
Nichole Rhoades alleged in 2002 that she had sex several times with Brown while he was on duty.
The Oregon Police Department this year looked into the allegations, as well as complaints made by other women, during an internal affairs investigation of Brown that found him guilty of repeatedly using the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) to gain information about an ex-girlfriend, Tanya Hernandez, over a two-year period.
LEADS gives police access to national criminal justice databases and provides personal details about individuals, including their addresses, phone numbers, and other private information. Unauthorized use of LEADS is a fifth degree felony, according to the Ohio Revised Code.
Brown was given a 20-day suspension for the LEADS violation, and a written reprimand for interfering in the private business or affairs of another woman, Vicky Ferris, a teacher at St. Patrick of Heatherdowns Elementary School.
The internal affairs investigation substantiated Rhoades’ allegations, but they were dismissed because Police Chief Rick Stager said a report of her complaints could not be found.
In an article that appeared in the Oct. 5 edition of The Press, Stager said Brown could have been fired as a result of the internal affairs investigation, but was not because Gulch was aware of Rhoades’ allegations at the time “and did nothing.”
Gulch has been unable to comment due to a clause in a separation agreement he has with the city that prohibits him from speaking negatively about the administration.
Councilman Bill Myers said he was stunned when he read in The Press that Gulch was restrained from talking about the matter.
He requested at a committee of the whole meeting last week that council vote next Monday to lift the restriction on Gulch.
“Is there a way that legislation could be passed by this council…so that open communication could happen? It seems [Gulch] has the information we need, and is not allowed to give it,” Myers said to Law Director Paul Goldberg.
Goldberg, though, said the agreement should be honored.
“There were certain things the city agreed to do, and certain things he agreed to do,” said Goldberg. “As far as I know, those are intact, and ought to be intact. Could we revise the agreement? How could you do that? It’s done already. Generally, a deal’s a deal.”
Gulch was at the meeting, as was Assistant Captain Paul Magdich, who led the investigation of Brown.
“You read in the paper all these allegations,” said Myers, “yet we can’t ask the man, sitting right there, `Is this true or not?’”
Goldberg said the agreement does not prohibit Gulch from talking about Brown.
“Chief Gulch is free to make remarks,” said Goldberg.
Gulch had already answered questions about the city in an arbitration hearing, added Goldberg.
Councilman Mike Seferian said the agreement should be amended, particularly if it is by mutual agreement.
“There’s questions out there, and if there’s a person who can answer those questions, I think they should start answering them,” said Seferian.
“That’s Tom’s choice if he wants to make comments or not,” said Goldberg.
Council President Mike Sheehy wanted to end the discussion and continue with the agenda.
“So you think it’s not relevant?” Seferian asked Sheehy.
“A lot of things are relevant, but I’d like to continue with the agenda,” said Sheehy.
“I think it’s very relevant, and I think it’s the appropriate place to talk about it,” said Seferian. “It’s going to come out one day, one way, shape or form. It probably should have come out a long time ago. Standing around, waiting for a time for something to happen has passed. It’s time to get this done.”
Gulch, he said, feels restricted from answering questions about Brown.
“I’m prepared to rescind that part of his agreement, if that makes him comfortable. I would be surprised if there was an objection to that,” said Seferian.
“I really don’t think this is the appropriate time,” said Sheehy.
“Well name that time, then,” said Seferian. “When would be the appropriate time?”
“The investigation is finished, [Brown] has been disciplined,” said Sheehy.
But Seferian said the investigation, as reported in The Press, indicated there was no evidence that Gulch investigated Brown following Rhoades’ complaints because of the absence of a report.
“If there was someone who could shed light on that, you wouldn’t want to know?” Seferian asked Sheehy.
“I would certainly be happy to know about that,” said Sheehy. “Is there someone who knows about that?”
Seferian asked Gulch if he could “shed light on those things.”
“I know the truth,” said Gulch. “I know exactly what happened, and I know what was done and I’m prepared to tell it. And I will do it as long as I do not deviate from the spirit and word of this agreement.”
Gulch said the agreement states he cannot publicly “say or do anything that will portray the city administration in a negative light.”
“I will not deviate from the spirit or the intent of that language,” he said. “However, that’s not a period. There’s a comma. And it says I will be able to respond in my own best interests to claims and assertions made against me. I am prepared to do that. But I will do it with council, and I will do what is right.”
“In light of that,” said Myers, “I will absolutely insist that Mr. Goldberg do whatever he needs to, in the city’s best interests, for this council to get that information. I would like the legislation prepared as quickly as possible that removes that gag order, and let this council vote on which way they want to proceed.”
Goldberg said he could probably clear up the matter with a phone call to Gulch’s lawyer.
But Seferian said he would be more comfortable if the restriction on Gulch was removed from the agreement.
“I want to rescind that part in its entirety,” said Seferian.
Councilman Jim Seaman asked Magdich if Gulch had written a report regarding Rhoades’ allegations.
“I was unable to locate any. No,” said Magdich.
Seferian said lifting the restriction on Gulch would “give him a comfort level” to share information with council about Brown.
“If you have doubt that you don’t think that’s the right thing, that harm will come by lifting it, vote no. The only downside is he might say something you don’t want to hear,” said Seferian
Seaman suggested that Gulch speak to Magdich as part of the investigation instead of to council if the restriction is lifted.
“Maybe he wouldn’t be comfortable,” said Seferian.
“If you can’t find it in your heart to trust a person who has information he’s willing to share - you think he’ll recklessly hurt the city - then vote no on it,” added Seferian.
Gulch said he would no longer withstand allegations made in The Press regarding his response to Rhoades’ complaints of Brown. He also disputed references in The Press that he was fired.
Mayor Brown told Gulch that she never told The Press that he had been fired.
“Chief, never once did I ever say you were fired. Never,” she said.
But in an interview with The Press last month, Mayor Brown said she fired Gulch because he did not live up to her management expectations, and that he mishandled the case of Candace Elliot, a former police officer who was terminated during her probationary period with the police department in 2003. Elliot sued the city for alleged discrimination and received a $183,000 settlement, though the city never admitted wrongdoing.
Elliot claimed in her lawsuit that she was dismissed, in part, because she had rejected the sexual advances of Officer Brown, one of her training officers.