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  • Contested arrest video released

    Recording of events that led to firing, lawsuit made public by Sheriff's Department
  • A video released to the media Tuesday by Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters shows a deputy shoving and wrestling a retired deputy to the ground during a March 31, 2009, traffic stop on Interstate 5 near Gold Hill.
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  • A video released to the media Tuesday by Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters shows a deputy shoving and wrestling a retired deputy to the ground during a March 31, 2009, traffic stop on Interstate 5 near Gold Hill.
    The deputy, Jacob Franklin, 38, was fired a week later because he "violated the constitutional rights of citizens," Winters said in a three-page letter also released Tuesday.
    Franklin said he was fired because he arrested Ron Oachs, a former sheriff's deputy and friend of his superior officers, and took his case to court. A federal jury on Oct. 25 found the Sheriff's Department had unlawfully retaliated against Franklin not by firing him, but by continuing its internal affairs investigation and completing the report after the deputy was fired. The jury awarded Franklin more than $200,000 in economic damages.
    Oachs, a retired 30-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, was stopped near exit 43 on Interstate 5 for what Franklin described in his lawsuit as "endangering an emergency vehicle."
    The approximately 30-minute video shot from Franklin's patrol car shows Franklin pulling Oachs over as he exits Interstate 5 near Gold Hill.
    As the larger, older Oachs gets out of his white Dodge 4x4, Franklin can be heard shouting for Oachs to return to the vehicle.
    Oachs refuses and walks toward the rear of his truck. Franklin then orders Oachs to turn and face his vehicle. Oachs instead pulls a small packet of papers from the front of his bib overalls. Franklin grabs Oachs and wrestles him to the ground as the older man's glasses and papers go flying. At one point, Franklin knees Oachs in the groin.
    "He started pushing me up against the truck, and I resisted a little bit," Oachs says to Deputy Linda Crook, once the 6-foot-2-inch, 265-pound man is handcuffed and sitting in the back of the police car.
    Crook, who saw the two men scuffling and came to assist Franklin, is clearly surprised to see Oachs is the suspect under arrest. As the two talk, Crook can be heard telling Oachs that Franklin is a new deputy, and assuring Oachs things will be handled.
    "He's talking to the boss now," she says.
    The jury in Medford's U.S. District Court deliberated for about two hours before unanimously deciding to award Franklin $209,492 in economic damages, said Franklin's Portland attorney, Charles Merten.
    Winters did not return phone calls from the Mail Tribune for this story or a story on Franklin's jury award. Winters said in his letter to the media that Franklin's lawsuit originally contained nine separate legal claims and named five sheriff's employees as defendants. Only one of the claims made it to court, he said.
    "As the Sheriff of Jackson County I stand behind my decision to terminate Jacob Franklin's employment as a deputy," he wrote.
    Franklin said Tuesday he was the one who originally released the video. Franklin said he had a short but exemplary record with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department until the day he stopped Oachs.
    When Oachs left his pickup, approached Franklin and refused to comply with his orders, Franklin said he became concerned. When Oachs went to pull something out of the top pocket of his overalls, the two tussled.
    "Who acts like that at a traffic stop? Nothing good can come from (behavior) like that," Franklin said.
    Winters said he reviewed the video of Franklin's traffic stop of Oachs "a number of times." Oachs was out of his vehicle, should have been more compliant and was visibly irritated. But Franklin crossed the line with his actions, Winters said.
    When Oachs was searching for his license, Franklin "abruptly grabbed him without warning and attempted to forcibly take him to the ground," Winters said, adding, "I could hardly believe what I saw in the video."
    In the video, a bemused and bleeding Oachs can be heard asking for relief from the handcuffs, requesting someone call his wife, and questioning Franklin's behavior.
    "In 29 years I never treated anybody like that," Oachs told Crook. "It's like I got out of that truck with a f——ing gun."
    Franklin said he followed the department's training and Oregon law when he made the traffic stop, and when he ultimately arrested Oachs for assault, battery, resisting arrest and interfering with a police officer.
    But once Franklin's superior officers arrived on scene, the newly hired deputy was the one under suspicion, Franklin said. Unable to place Oachs in Jackson County Jail because of the conflict of interest, Franklin said he yielded to the urging of his captain and released Oachs with citations for his alleged violations, instead of taking him to jail in Josephine County.
    "I wasn't happy about it," Franklin said. "The guy just fought with me by the side of the road."
    Around the 23-minute mark in the video, Oachs is released from handcuffs and is outside the vehicle. Crook is tending to cuts and scrapes on his hands, and Oachs is drinking a beverage. Oachs then gets in his truck and drives off.
    According to court documents, Winters said Franklin showed a pattern of violating state law in his traffic stops and overaggressive behavior during his arrests. Earlier that year, Franklin had made a traffic stop on state Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, illegally ordering him to remain in his vehicle. The senator complained about Franklin to Winters, who said he instructed his deputy that "under Oregon law, motorists could get out of their vehicles during traffic stops, and absent unusual circumstances, law enforcement officials have no lawful authority to order motorists back inside their vehicles," Winters said in his court deposition.
    Franklin said the Oregon Court of Appeals in 1982 ruled an officer has the right to order a motorist back into a vehicle. If he refuses, the motorist can be charged with failure to obey a lawful order, he said.
    "That's what the sheriff is not telling you," Franklin said. "The sheriff is setting up people in this county and putting officers at risk."
    Winters said in court documents Oachs threatened to sue Jackson County, and that he believed Oachs would prevail in court. So he "elected to have county counsel settle Oachs' claim expeditiously and in order to avoid a lawsuit and the added taxpayer expense associated therewith."
    Oachs was paid $30,000 in a July 2009 settlement.
    Franklin said it was the police video, along with witness testimony and other evidence, that persuaded the jury to rule in his favor.
    The internal affairs investigation contained retaliatory information that was added after Franklin was terminated, and in violation of court orders that the document be sealed, said Franklin's attorney, Charles Merten.
    Franklin, who lives outside of Ashland, has a wife and four sons. He stands by his actions, but has been unable to find work as a police officer because the allegations in the internal affairs investigation continue to shadow him, he said.
    Winters stands by the termination.
    "I work hard to support each and every member of my team, but deputies must know that I will neither tolerate abuses of their authority, nor violations of the constitutional rights they are sworn to uphold," he said in the letter.
    Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.
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