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Police employees ask to file complaint against command: 'We failed'

Police cordoned off a home Tuesday while officers attempt to make contact with a man inside. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. – The Eugene Police Employees’ Association sent a letter to the Eugene Police Auditor’s Office, calling into question the police department’s decision to leave a domestic dispute situation Tuesday.

Police responded to a report of a domestic dispute at a home on Bardell Avenue and Lindley Lane. Officers attempted to contact the man inside, but were unsuccessful.

Later, police learned the suspect, Joshua Austin Thomas, 26, had threatened a woman with a handgun. There is also a warrant out for Thomas’ arrest for parole violation

Officers searched the home, but never located Thomas. Police decided to leave the residence after ensuring the woman was safe.

“We can't confirm whether he's inside or not inside and given the fact that he's not a continuing threat to the neighborhood, as opposed to going in there and risking confrontation, we're going to pull back and approach it from a different angle and see if we can't find a way to get him in to custody,” said Lt. Eric Klinko with the EPD at the scene Tuesday.

In the letter, the EPEA says the suspect denied being inside the residence when they spoke to him by phone. However, the letter says, “There were other indications that the suspect was in the residence and was likely lying to the officers about not being there.”

The EPEA claims the command staff violated ORS 133.055. They say officers should not have left in this type of domestic violence incident and they should use all reasonable means to prevent further abuse.

“The victim put her trust in us, and we failed her. We failed to keep her safe. We had a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to make an arrest yesterday, and we failed,” the letter reads.

They claim officers also left too soon earlier in the month when a man fired shots outside his house and refused to come outside.

Officers are continuing to search for Thomas.

The EPEA letter says, “Our officers are telling us that they feel the orders yesterday at the other incident were unethical, cowardly, and irresponsible.”

We don’t know exactly what time the letter was delivered on November 23, but there was no mention of the second standoff involving Thomas that occurred Wednesday.

Eugene police closed Q Street and called in a SWAT team after a report that Thomas was inside and apartment. Police also left that day without making an arrest.

The EPEA requests to file a complaint against the police command who made the decision to leave Tuesday.

The Eugene Police Department spokesperson Melinda McLaughlin responded to the letter saying, “The chief does not wish to taint the complaint process by commenting ahead of it… The leadership of the department not only accepts this scrutiny but welcomes any opportunity to learn from cases how to best and most effectively serve the community.”

Read the entire letter below:

Eugene Police Employees’ Association

450 Country Club Road #153

Eugene, Oregon 97401

November 23, 2016

To:

Mark Gissiner

Police Auditor, City of Eugene

When the City of Eugene hires its police officers, it requires them to swear an oath. Our

officers swear to safeguard lives and property and to protect the innocent against

deception, and the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against

violence or disorder, and to respect the constitutional rights of all people to liberty,

equality, and justice.

On November 22nd, 2016, our officers responded to a domestic violence call in which

the male suspect had menaced the female victim with a firearm. Officers were able to

get the female out of the residence upon arrival and surrounded the residence. The

victim said the suspect was inside the residence with a firearm, which he had pointed at

her prior to police arrival, putting her in fear of serious physical injury or death. She

gave consent for officers to enter her residence to effect an arrest. Officers made

contact with the suspect by phone, who told them they could go inside but denied being

at home. There were other indications that the suspect was in the residence and was

likely lying to the officers about not being there. The suspect also had a felony warrant

for his arrest for an unrelated incident, which by itself would be enough to search the

residence for him given that there was every reason to believe he was inside the

residence.

Our command staff then did what our officers are sworn not to do: they ordered officers

to leave. In doing so, they violated ORS 133.055, which requires officers to make an

arrest in this type of domestic violence incident and use all reasonable means to

prevent further abuse. They ordered officers to forsake their oaths, violate several

department policies, and walk away.

In doing so, they created a significant risk to the public, the victim, the officers, and the

suspect. The proper action would be to follow existing best practices, policies, and

Oregon law. When the residence was surrounded and under observation, the officers

had a static scene that they could work with. With the suspect at-large, he has the

advantage.

This new way of handling barricaded suspects has been used within the last month for a

barricaded suspect with a firearm who had shot outside his residence and refused to

come outside. Again, police were ordered to leave, despite the ongoing threat to the

public. The only reason no one was hurt was luck.

This practice does not protect the public or our officers. It is an experimental approach

that our command staff is trying out. The chief has told the EPEA Executive Board that

this is the direction police are moving nationally. We disagree. By choosing not to take

action yesterday, command staff put the suspect’s well-being above that of the victim,

the public, and his officers.

Our officers are telling us that they feel the orders yesterday and at the other incident

were unethical, cowardly, and irresponsible. There is a lack of clear guidance, and our

command staff are paralyzed by questions of liability.

Our officers are telling us that they feel ashamed to work for command staff that makes

these types of decisions, and that they are eroding public trust by needlessly

endangering the citizens that they are sworn to protect.

The victim put her trust in us, and we failed her. We failed to keep her safe. We had a

moral, ethical, and legal obligation to make an arrest yesterday, and we failed. We

failed the public. We failed the victim. We failed in keeping our oath. And, we were

following orders to do so.

We assert that the following policies were violated:

Police Operations Manual

1101.1 - Code of Ethics

1101.1.5.a - Conformance to laws, violation of ORS 133.055

1101.1.8 - Competency, failure to meet basic law enforcement standards

1101.1.9 - Unsatisfactory performance

1101.1.17 - Judgment

320.2 - Domestic violence, protection of the victim

320.4.j - Officers will take appropriate enforcement action when there is probable cause

to believe an offense has occurred

320.4.1 - Standards for an arrest

Administrative Policy Manual

15.4 - Employee safety

The EPEA requests that a complaint be filed against EPD Command who made the

decisions regarding yesterday’s incident.

The EPEA also requests an external review be conducted to determine if nationally

recognized best practices were followed regarding tactics and police response to

barricaded subjects.

The EPEA additionally requests that the District Attorney’s Office review this incident to

determine if there was non-conformance to laws.

Sincerely,

Eugene Police Employees’ Association Executive Board

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