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Gay rights groups object to sergeant's letter

Leaders of gay rights, faith and social justice organizations are calling on Jackson County leaders to publicly repudiate a letter written by a sheriff's patrol sergeant calling homosexuality an abomination.

In a letter to the editor published Nov. 3 in the Mail Tribune, Dace Cochran, a Jackson County sheriff's patrol sergeant, quoted a biblical passage saying it is an abomination for men to lie with men. He said homosexual relationships are "un-Biblical."

In a 2013 letter to the editor, Cochran also used the biblical passage and said same-sex marriages are "wrong no matter how you spin them."

On Friday, leaders from Southern Oregon Pride, Lotus Rising Project, Rogue Valley LGBT Elders, the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ and Oregon Action called on Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters and Jackson County commissioners to repudiate Cochran's statements.

They also called on county leaders to publicly affirm that the sheriff's department and the county value and will provide equal protection to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age or any other factor.

The sheriff's office on Tuesday issued a statement saying, "Dace Cochran sent the letter during his own private time. He was not operating under any authority of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. Like everyone else, he has a right to freedom of speech. His opinions are his opinions, and his alone. They are not shared by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office."

Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick said Cochran is an employee of the sheriff's department and is under the supervision of Winters, not the county commissioners.

Skundrick said he personally does not agree with the statements Cochran made in the letters to the editor.

"I don't agree with his statement, but there's not much we can do. He was not speaking for the county," Skundrick said.

Skundrick provided a copy of the county's non-discrimination and non-harassment policy for employees. It states Jackson County will not tolerate discrimination or harassment.

The policy states employees have the right to work in a professional atmosphere that prohibits discriminatory practices.

"Conduct prohibited by these policies is unacceptable in the workplace and in any work-related setting outside the workplace, such as during business trips, business meetings and business-related social events," the policy states.

It continues, "It is the responsibility of the various supervisors, department directors and elected officials to ensure that harassment and discrimination does not take place and to immediately correct the problem should it be discovered in their respective work units or departments."

Cochran, who in previous years wrote a column for the Mail Tribune called "Cop's Corner," said he wrote the letters to the editor on his own time and they express his personal views.

"I didn't say the people are an abomination. The act is an abomination," he said of homosexuality.

Cochran said his personal views are not his work views.

"As far as my work goes, anybody, regardless of sexual preferences, race, or anything else, gets treated fairly across the board," he said. "People still get treated with respect and get the rights they deserve."

Cochran said he is disappointed the various groups are making an issue of the letters and have brought them to his employer.

He said the appropriate response would be for the groups to counter with letters to the editor of their own, or to talk to him personally and engage in debate.

"They don't want to have an open dialogue. I'm willing to address their issues if they want to talk about it," Cochran said.

Caren Caldwell, associate minister of Medford Congregational United Church of Christ, said county leaders have a responsibility to say they do not agree with Cochran's letters.

"Any of our leaders, whether the sheriff or the commissioners, can be asked to state what our county's position is when an employee goes out on a limb and says something devastating to people in our community," Caldwell said.

She said Cochran's letters show he is biased against gay and lesbian people.

"He is a public employee. If he has certain beliefs that make it difficult to uphold the rights of people in the county, I think that is a problem," Caldwell said.

She said if any public employee, such as a teacher, carried such views into the workplace, that would be cause for concern.

"There would be great concern about the work that is done on our behalf," Caldwell said.

She said faith should never be a justification for hate and persecution.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com.