01/30/2001

Charges unlikely in police pay case
[ Portland, OR]

January 27, 2001 Saturday Sunrise Edition
Copyright 2001 The Oregonian
The Oregonian
January 27, 2001 Saturday Sunrise Edition

( Multnomah County, Ore.) -- The district attorney's office is not expected to file criminal charges against officers involved in the misuse of overtime at Central Precinct after a lengthy inquiry found that the Portland Police Bureau had a long-standing practice of paying officers for hours not worked.

The report was presented to the bureau in December for the city's review. But the district attorney's office said it is still putting "finishing touches" on it.

"I'm optimistic it will be released in the very near future," District Attorney Michael Schrunk said.

The criminal inquiry, done by two Multnomah County prosecutors, three Portland police investigators, an official from the state attorney general's office and another from the U.S. Department of Justice's office of the inspector general, is also expected to find that the money misused is considerably less than the $165,000 in federal grant funds the bureau had announced was misspent.

How the bureau will reconcile its internal findings -- which led to the transfer of the precinct commander, the firing of a sergeant, demotion of another sergeant and 14 written reprimands -- with the criminal investigation is reportedly cause for part of the delay in releasing the report.

The district attorney's office, state and federal authorities began a criminal investigation in September 1999 after a five-month internal police investigation.

Schrunk said the criminal inquiry took nearly a year and a half because investigators wanted to examine Central Precinct time slips and police reports to try to determine exactly how many officers got paid for hours they did not work, when that occurred and how often.

In August 1999, then acting-chief Lynnae Berg said that 30 officers had falsified overtime slips, often at the direction of their sergeants, and fraudulently put in for $165,000 in federal grant money from June 1997 to March 1999. The money, the bureau said, was part of a $300,000 federal grant awarded for Operation North Star, undercover operations to curb drug dealing in Portland's Old Town and downtown.

The $165,000 figure the bureau arrived at was not from an exact calculation.

"The amount that was made was an estimate," said Chief Mark Kroeker, who came to Portland months after the bureau investigation was completed. "Lynnae Berg told me that they made calculations and built assumptions into it to make sure that they would not have underestimated it."

In the bureau investigation, police testimony confirmed the practice of sergeants granting officers overtime for working North Star drug missions, even when the missions ended two to three hours early and the officers were allowed to go home, investigators wrote in an internal affairs summary report. The district attorney's report is expected to conclude that authorities cannot prosecute because the practice of allowing officers to leave before their full shifts ended -- the granting of so-called "short nights" or "cuff time" -- was permitted for many years.

Kroeker said he did not expect the district attorney's report to create a problem for the bureau, although lawyers representing disciplined officers are bound to question the bureau's actions.

"The district attorney's office looked at it and has examined the numbers carefully. Each of the investigations that were conducted are 'stand-alone,' " Kroeker said. "I don't think we have a problem with the lower amount, or any problems with our discipline. To me, it's gratifying, in a sense, that it's a lot less."

But Jaime Goldberg, who represents fired Sgt. Richard Barton, one of the Operation North Star supervisors, said the bureau's actions were "overblown" and that he expects any differences in the inquiries will be used to challenge Barton's firing.

In a federal lawsuit pending against the city, Sgt. Rocky Balada -- a supervisory sergeant for North Star missions who filed a stress disability claim after the bureau sought to demote him -- contends that even past chiefs gave their staffs cuff time. In 1995, for example, the bureau's top budget manager, Nancy Dunford, challenged former Chief Charles Moose when she learned that Moose gave his office staff the day after Thanksgiving off with pay, while payroll records showed they worked "special duties." Dunford was demoted and quit a short time later. She then reached a settlement with the city in which she agreed to a sum of money to drop a claim in which she argued that her whistle-blowing about financial irregularities led to her demotion.

Portland detective Sgt. Robert King, president of the 950-member Portland Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers and sergeants, said he has regularly inquired about the report and thinks it will exonerate officers involved.

"I certainly expect that to be the case," King said. "I'm anxiously looking forward to its dissemination."

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