'Serious lapse in judgment' costs Portland chief's job

Ryan Frank and Anna Griffen
The Oregonian
Copyright 2006 The Oregonian
All Rights Reserved

In a long-anticipated but still dramatic decision for Portland, Mayor Tom Potter demoted Police Chief Derrick Foxworth to captain Friday and released a 40-page report portraying his accuser as a troubled employee with frequent complaints about co-workers.

The report details for the first time the city and Foxworth's response to allegations by desk clerk Angela Oswalt stemming from an 18-month affair that occurred before Foxworth became chief. Oswalt accused Foxworth of failing to protect her from co-workers' harassment, misusing city e-mail and drinking alcohol before conducting police business, among other charges.

After a three-month investigation, the city substantiated just one claim: unprofessional conduct for spreading a rumor. That got him a written reprimand. The remaining seven allegations amounted to conflicting testimony in which Oswalt's allegations were denied by either Foxworth or her colleagues.

The decision came not because Foxworth broke rules but, Potter said, because Foxworth showed poor judgment in sending e-mails that set off a "media frenzy" and made it impossible for him to lead Oregon's largest police force.

"Members of the public look to their chief to set the tone for acceptable conduct," Potter said at a news conference Friday. "I do not believe Chief Foxworth's example meets the standard that I, as the police commissioner, expect."

Friday's report came three months to the day after Oswalt's attorney, Victor Calzaretta, first met with Potter. Calzaretta later filed two notices with the city threatening to sue.

Both notices contained excerpts from e-mails Foxworth sent Oswalt from his personal e-mail accounts. Potter said Calzaretta effectively orchestrated the media coverage by filing notices that became public documents filled with X-rated e-mails. Oswalt remains on paid leave but can return to her Police Bureau job if she wants it. Neither Oswalt nor her attorney would comment publicly Friday.

Foxworth, who had been ordered not to talk publicly during the investigation, acknowledged in a statement Friday that "it has been very difficult not to be permitted to comment on these unfounded accusations . . . particularly since the accusations were so widely publicized."

Conflicting accounts

Even with Foxworth's response now on the record and the city's detailed report, just what happened between the chief and Oswalt remains clouded. The two disagreed on nearly every detail from exactly how their relationship began to whether her complaints to him were cries for help or more normal workplace grumbling.

In her complaint, Oswalt made eight basic charges, the most serious of which involved abuses of power. The city's investigation, which included interviews with 22 people and reviews of cell phone, calendar and other records, found no substantiation of her claims but uncovered detailed accounts disputing Oswalt's assertions.

Oswalt and Foxworth both agree that they began dating in about April 2000 after meeting at the Chief's Forum or shortly afterward. They struck up a relationship after she called Foxworth's secretary to provide feedback on his presentation. Foxworth called her back, then kept calling to solicit a sexual relationship, she said. The relationship continued until about September 2001, Foxworth said.

In Foxworth's depiction, he and Oswalt were equal partners in an emotionally and sexually intense affair. She was just as willing as he was to engage in what some might consider naughty talk. Although he says the explicit e-mails were reciprocated, Oswalt says they were an unwanted and unwarranted response to "touchy-feely" notes she sent. She acknowledges, however, that she never told him the e-mails were unwanted.

Oswalt didn't provide e-mails she sent Foxworth.

The investigation, conducted by Yvonne Deckard, the city's human resources director, found that Foxworth sent all the e-mails from personal accounts and on personal time. Foxworth said he was especially careful after he got in trouble for misusing his cell phone in 1997, the report says.

Still, Foxworth showed a "serious lapse in judgment" by sending sexually explicit e-mails to another police employee, Deckard wrote.

In another allegation, Foxworth acknowledged drinking and receiving work calls on his pager while at Oswalt's house. But Deckard found no evidence that Foxworth reported to work intoxicated.

She did find a major discrepancy between Oswalt's allegation that she frequently complained to Foxworth about co-workers' harassment. Foxworth says that Oswalt never asked for help.

Investigators say both may be right, but that Oswalt followed a pattern of previous complaints in which she was unable or unwilling to provide specific examples.

"It is likely she made some comments to Foxworth about what was going on, but because of her lack of specificity he has no recollection of these conversations and did not realize she was asking him to take any action," Deckard wrote.

Investigators also couldn't prove that Foxworth abused his power to keep their affair secret or that other officers harassed Oswalt over it.

In Oswalt's notices to the city, for example, she accused supervisors of interrogating her for four hours in 2003. City investigators found that the meeting lasted 21/2 hours and was called to discuss Oswalt's work performance.

In the same meeting, Oswalt mentioned her relationship with Foxworth to Cmdr. Bret Smith. Smith thought Oswalt was trying to "impact what Smith felt had to be done at the precinct."

Oswalt had a history of minor but persistent workplace complaints, which the report says supervisors responded to, and conflicts with co-workers. She also frequently misinterpreted relatively innocuous remarks as jokes at her expense, the report said. Oswalt complained that:

* Foxworth publicly berated her at a luncheon meeting in 2005. But Foxworth said he was sitting with the mayor and remarked to other people: "You guys don't need to sit so far away."

* The Portland Police Museum's entrance fees were discriminatory between members and nonmembers. She mistakenly thought the membership discount referred to sworn officers when it actually referred to members of the historical society.

* She wasn't getting the chief's bulletin with her paycheck. Foxworth followed up by asking an assistant chief to respond and ensured that the bulletin reached each employee's mailbox.

* That another desk clerk didn't take complete messages for her. Precinct leaders set up a separate voice mail so Oswalt could get her messages directly.

* That a co-worker made fun of her by having an exterminator put a spider trap on her desk. In fact, the report says, Oswalt previously had been bitten by a spider, and the exterminator was brought in to combat the spider problem.

In all, Deckard absolved Foxworth of seven of Oswalt's eight claims. The one rule Foxworth broke was passing along a rumor about an internal investigation in an e-mail. Foxworth wrote Oswalt that former Police Chief Mark Kroeker knew of improper conduct within the Special Emergency Reaction Team but took no action.

In his statement, Foxworth disputed the city's claim by saying "such private conversations and sharing of personal opinions are common" in the Police Bureau.

Foxworth notified Friday

Potter first saw the report a week ago. He met with Foxworth on Thursday morning and informed the chief of his demotion Friday morning.

The mayor rarely showed emotion in his Friday announcement in City Council chambers, punctuating it only to call out reporters and editorial writers he said "acted as both judge and jury before all the facts were in."

Early in the statement, Potter referred to "Chief Foxworth's" poor judgment. When he talked of his relationship with his former public information officer, Potter called him Derrick.

"Having been around Derrick for all these years, I had a lot of respect for Derrick," Potter said, before catching himself and repeating that in the present tense.

Union leaders surprised

A career Portland cop who grew up in Northeast Portland, Foxworth was well-respected by activists and city leaders for his even-tempered, soft-spoken nature.

But Oswalt's union leaders said they were surprised that the city wouldn't fire Foxworth even though he is "clearly guilty of profoundly poor professional judgment." James Hester of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 75 said he is concerned that Foxworth will continue to supervise female workers.

Foxworth returns to work July 3. Rosie Sizer will continue as interim chief while the city begins a search for Foxworth's permanent replacement.

Foxworth won't be shuffled to a quiet corner where he can wait out his duty until he's eligible to retire in 2008, Deckard said. But the demotion will cost him. Last year, he earned $145,000. The city's eight police captains earned from $91,000 to $105,000.

One major question left unanswered is: Will Oswalt follow through on her threat to sue?

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