Albany Police Corruption Ruins Cop’s Career

img_6807Former Albany police officer Ryon McHuron was an honest cop.

The superiors who worked to undermine the Corvallis High graduate’s career, who fired him for allegedly being untruthful during an internal affairs investigation, who got the Linn County district attorney to categorize him as not credible, were not.

McHuron’s former superiors at the Albany Police Department, including two chiefs of police, one captain and one lieutenant, were major players in his demise, having teamed up to get a Brady determination, which to this day discredits McHuron’s honesty as a witness and investigator—keeping him from returning to police work. This determination remains in place despite a judge’s ruling that McHuron demonstrated honesty and those who accused him did not.

Wrongdoing at the APD is perhaps most evident when comparing McHuron’s treatment with the career of a former colleague who was investigated and found to have committed many instances of misconduct, many of them sexual in nature. This colleague never received a Brady determination, while McHuron’s career, chock-full of honorable achievements, remains thwarted. His knack for exposing internal injustices, including confrontations with said superiors, he suspects is the reason he was targeted.

That these facts have been generally obscured is the reason McHuron was discontented even after receiving a $200,000 settlement in December 2015, plus another $100,000 to cover legal fees, from the wrongful termination suit he filed against the City of Albany and former Police Chief Ed Boyd.

That’s why a little more than a month after accepting the City’s deal, McHuron tracked me down via email. The subject line read, “Character assassination of a whistleblower.”

McHuron’s Upstanding Character and Career
I’d never met McHuron but was familiar with him. His 14 years as an Albany police officer were during my 25 years with the Albany Democrat-Herald; I edited the paper’s daily police report and other crime stories hundreds of times, and McHuron’s name appeared a lot. That’s because, I was to learn later, he was one of the department’s more ambitious crime fighters.

“Some guys are content just to park their car somewhere and sit in it for their entire shift,” McHuron said. “I wanted to be out making contact with people to prevent crime and apprehend suspects and get criminals off the streets. That means going right up to the edge of what’s legal police work—not over the edge, but right up to it.”

By the time McHuron emailed me, I’d been away from the Democrat-Herald for more than a year, having taken a job at Oregon State. But still I wanted to hear what he had to say.

“I had an exemplary career prior to speaking out about gross misconduct and criminal activity,” he wrote. “Criminal activity conducted against city employees and members of the community. Several officers still at APD were relying on my trial for these activities to come to light. I am hoping you will be interested in speaking to me in person and exposing the gross misconduct and criminal activity which has been completely covered up and why the city went to such great lengths to assassinate my character.”

McHuron sought me out personally, thanks to an investigative story I’d done in 2014 detailing years of sexual harassment at the Albany Fire Department. He wasn’t interested in my suggestion of speaking with police reporters on staff at the Democrat-Herald, who he feels have burned him in the past.

“Either you tell my story or no one does,” he said.

I decided to start poking into McHuron’s claims in my spare time with the thought of possibly putting together an article, pro bono, that the Democrat-Herald would be eager to run. But for reasons unexplained to me, the DH wasn’t interested. And by extension the Corvallis Gazette-Times wasn’t interested either, since the same corporation, Lee Enterprises, owns both papers and employs a single editor for the pair.

After my former colleague turned down what I viewed as a useful gift for his papers’ readers, I offered the story to The Advocate, and here we are.

This story comes from several hours of interviews with McHuron, email exchanges with Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny, corroborating interviews with a now-retired police colleague of McHuron’s, and more than 1,000 pages of legal paperwork. The police department and the City of Albany had no comment but one of its attorneys, Andrea Coit, did respond, via an email we’ll get to later.

Hearing and Testimony
Among the documents I reviewed is a 37-page opinion issued in April 2015 by Senior Administrative Law Judge Bernadette H. Bignon. Bignon was on the bench when McHuron contested the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training’s revocation of his police credentials—standard procedure after such a firing—and ruled in his favor, finding McHuron to be a credible witness and determining APD had no viable evidence he’d been dishonest during the internal affairs investigation.

The investigation had stemmed from conversations McHuron had with colleagues during down time at a
Feb. 5, 2013 training exercise. McHuron had recounted a 13-year-old incident in which he was close to having to shoot a suspect reaching for a weapon, and a fellow officer, Troy Mickelsen, reported to his sergeant that he had heard McHuron say he wished he had been able to kill the suspect.

Mickelsen’s report resulted in Lt. Curtis Hyde being assigned to investigate the comments by McHuron, who denied expressing a desire to shoot anyone. During the investigation, McHuron testified to a conversation he’d had with another fellow officer, Joe Clausen.

Clausen, who unbeknownst to McHuron had been listening to the recounting, approached McHuron right after and commented to McHuron that he had sounded “disappointed.”

“And I was kind of like no. It’s not about me. It’s about them”—that’s how McHuron’s testimony reads in the DPSST hearing transcripts. “I said something to the effect that if he would have grabbed the gun I would have shot him.”

When Clausen testified at the same hearing, he said, “I don’t remember any conversations that I had with him specifically, um, throughout that training.”

Likewise, when Hyde interviewed Clausen and McHuron during his investigation, McHuron told him about the conversation with Clausen, whereas Clausen said he did not recollect talking to McHuron.

Hyde sought to re-interview McHuron over the matter of the Clausen conversation but was instructed not to by Capt. Eric Carter, a superior whom McHuron had long felt targeted by and had in fact once lodged a formal complaint against for intentionally (and literally) standing on his foot while upbraiding him at another training event.

Carter testified at the DPSST hearing that it was Chief Boyd who made the decision that McHuron would not be re-interviewed, while Boyd testified, “I wouldn’t have made that order. Um, it wouldn’t have been my role to tell the lieutenant at that point to do something or not. … Absent extraordinary circumstances the chief doesn’t get involved in things like that.”

Based on the collective bargaining agreement between the Teamsters, the union that represents Albany police officers, and the City of Albany, the suspected lying should have triggered a separate investigation, complete with a different internal affairs log number and McHuron being notified of a new investigation. That process was ignored and instead McHuron was fired in July 2013.

“I was terminated simply because a person I had an exchange of words with did not recall it,” McHuron said.

Superiors Strike, DA Makes Brady Determination
Six months after being fired—by the time of the firing, Mario Lattanzio had been the police chief for two weeks, having taken over for the retiring Boyd, and Lattanzio signed McHuron’s termination paperwork without ever talking to him—McHuron filed a wrongful termination suit against the City of Albany, and against Boyd. He sought $500,000.

The City’s insurance company was willing to settle for $300,000 in December 2015 after determining McHuron had a substantial chance of prevailing at trial, City Manager Wes Hare said at the time of the settlement.

“It’s a difficult decision to accept,” Hare told the Democrat-Herald. “McHuron was fired for good reasons that were recognized by both outgoing Chief Boyd and incoming Chief Lattanzio.”

After the firing—but before either the union arbitration hearing (which the Teamsters lost) or the DPSST hearing, in which a judge validated McHuron’s honesty while ruling that “Hyde’s manner of questioning poisoned the objectivity” of his interviews, had run its course—Lattanzio teamed up with Hyde and Carter on another move regarding McHuron.

The new chief, the captain, and the lieutenant went to Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny and asked for a “Brady determination” on McHuron. In 1963, in Brady vs. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors must disclose all material evidence that’s favorable to the defense, including witness impeachment information—in this case, the alleged dishonesty of a police officer.

Marteeny’s Brady determination on McHuron was that he could not be a credible witness or investigator, which is an obvious career killer for a police officer.

“Lt. Hyde, Capt. Carter and Chief Lattanzio have formed opinions regarding Officer McHuron’s character for truthfulness,” Marteeny wrote in a Sept. 27, 2013, “Brady letter” to McHuron and Lattanzio. “Their opinions appear to be based upon interactions with Officer McHuron and/or based upon an investigation conducted by a highly qualified investigator, Lt. Hyde. … I find that their opinions as to Officer McHuron’s character for untruthfulness are potential Brady material and must be included within this office’s Brady file.”

When I asked Marteeny how many officers on which his office maintained Brady material, he replied via email, “Through the years, we have received information implicating Brady on a handful of officers.”

That answer contradicts, though, what he told the arbitrator during the Teamsters’ grievance. The transcript of Marteeny’s testimony reads: “This was the first Brady-affected law officer situation we had to deal with.”

“It’s so crooked and Marteeny got played and was a major contributor to my demise, because he was willing to play before the other issues played out, even though the union’s attorney and my attorney both requested he hold off on it,” McHuron said. “It was all calculated and executed perfectly by APD, the city and their attorneys. Based on Marteeny’s own theory there should be Brady letters on Boyd, Carter and Hyde because a judge who reviewed all of their work product, not just ‘the findings,’ found them ‘not to be credible.’”

Of McHuron’s accuser, Bignon wrote, “I find Mickelsen’s testimony self-serving and untrustworthy. Mickelsen’s story about the training day incidents and his subsequent interview were internally inconsistent and lacked trustworthy corroboration.”

And of the testimony of Boyd, now the executive director of the Oregon Accreditation Alliance: “When under cross examination, former Chief Boyd answered many of counsel’s questions with a question of his own. His eventual answer to many questions posed was that he did not recall. Former Chief Boyd’s manner of testimony was not direct and therefore, evasive.”

According to its website, the alliance Boyd now leads aspires “to increase the level of law enforcement professionalism among law enforcement agencies throughout the state of Oregon.”

Boyd declined to comment.

The Blame Game
Judge Bignon declined to comment when asked about the contradiction between the Brady determination against McHuron and her findings and ruling. The Linn County district attorney, meanwhile, is unmoved by the judge’s review of the entire matter and not just the portions of it provided by Lattanzio, Carter, and Hyde.

“Brady information concerning an officer’s reputation for dishonesty formed by his supervisors remains Brady information unless those opinions change,” Marteeny said via email. “Lt. Hyde and Capt. Carter worked with Officer McHuron for a very long time. They formed the opinion that McHuron was not trustworthy. Their extensive experience working with Officer McHuron suggests their opinion would likely have sufficient basis to be admissible in court; therefore, their opinions qualify as Brady material that is subject to disclosure. The only mechanism that would change that determination would involve a change in Lt. Hyde’s and Capt. Carter’s opinions.”

To paraphrase the district attorney: The letter declaring McHuron to be dishonest stays on file at his office unless the people who said he was dishonest eventually say otherwise, irrespective of what a judge who reviewed everything thinks, or what testimony in various proceedings indicates.

For her part Coit, the city’s attorney, wrote in her email, “The district attorney is the decision maker on what is and is not Brady material. The Albany Police Department has no discretion to withhold or withdraw possible Brady evidence from the district attorney because another set of eyes viewing that evidence has reached a differing conclusion. Mr. McHuron can … (bring) the … ALJ’s opinion to the attention of the district attorney. It is up to the district attorney to investigate and make a final determination.”

The final stages of McHuron’s career with the Albany Police Department included three different occasions for him and fellow officers and superiors to give sworn statements: the Teamsters’ failed grievance hearing before an arbitrator, the DPSST hearing, and discovery for his lawsuit against the city and Boyd.

Boyd, Carter, and Hyde each gave testimony that would give a reasonable person pause.

For example, during arbitration Carter produced a flash drive containing disciplinary actions against McHuron that had expired 10 years earlier (in the Albany Police Department, letters of discipline typically stay in an officer’s file for a set period of time, then are expunged). Three months later, while giving his deposition, he said he never maintained any records of discipline against McHuron.

At the DPSST hearing, Carter testified he never had anything to do with any disciplinary action against McHuron, that it was all done above him. At the same hearing, Chief Boyd testified it was all done below him.

“No disciplines occurring against me were not initiated and/or signed by both Carter and Boyd as they were the creators and authors of those investigations,” McHuron said.

During the same hearing, McHuron and another officer, Ken Fandrem, both testified that they’d asked Hyde for protection from what they saw as Carter’s abusive leadership and that Hyde’s response was that he “wasn’t going to do anything that might interfere with putting food on the plates of his children.”

Hyde, meanwhile, testified, “I don’t believe I said that, no.”

Comparable Misconduct, McHuron at Standstill
McHuron is convinced he was targeted, and eventually fired, for being a hard-working officer of integrity who called attention to misconduct within the department—including sexual harassment; officers being ordered to arrest and detain juveniles without cause; an officer masturbating in his patrol car and texting pictures of his penis; another officer allowing a citizen to pose for a photo with his rifle; and yet another officer boasting of sexually assaulting a Las Vegas exotic dancer. He also thinks reporting “Eric Carter for physically harassing me”—Carter, McHuron says, stood on his foot while chewing him out at a training exercise—played a role.

“It comes down to egos and abuse of authority and power,” McHuron said.

How discipline was handled regarding ex-officer Steve Westling would seem to back up McHuron’s contention. Westling is a former lieutenant who was eventually demoted after multiple instances of sexual harassment, as well as for crimes he committed and ordered others to commit under the color of law. He was also found to be untruthful during an investigation into his behavior conducted by a law firm hired by the city.

Despite all of that, Westling’s superiors—Boyd and Carter—apparently never asked the district attorney for a Brady determination on Westling, whom McHuron says was used as Boyd and Carter’s hatchet man for harassing certain officers. Marteeny, Linn County’s chief prosecutor, said his office has no Brady material on file for Westling, who retired when subpoenaed for McHuron’s trial.

“I was told he left all his gear in his locker and just taped the key to the door,” McHuron said. “He told them to mail anything he needed to sign. If his criminal conduct outlined in his investigation had come out in court he could have been charged and lost his PERS.”

Westling couldn’t be reached for comment.

McHuron, meanwhile, has because of the Brady determination lost his law enforcement career, during which he was regularly noted for excellence by citizens and colleagues. He’s studying to be a nurse and has understandably developed a foul taste for the police environment.

But even if that taste ever goes away, he can’t return to police work as long as the Brady letter remains in place at the office of Marteeny, the district attorney.

“I’m seriously disappointed in him,” McHuron said. “He should take a poll of who’s reputable at the police department because many officers know who the real liars are.”

Former Albany Democrat-Herald reporter Steve Lundeberg, now a writer for OSU News and Research Communications, wrote this story as a freelancer.

By Steve Lundeberg