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Whistleblower attacks OSP office

A senior Oregon State Police trooper is suing the head of the agency’s Office of Professional Standards and two supervisors, contending they failed to hold officers accountable for alleged misconduct, including one sergeant investigated for extensively using a racial slur on the job.

Thomas Harrison’s federal and state whistleblower lawsuits paint a picture of a "caustic” culture in the state police Central Point patrol office in southern Oregon.

Supervisors there wouldn’t address inappropriate and illegal behavior “to avoid exposure and accountability” or deliberately withheld officers’ misconduct from the local district attorney’s office, his suits contend.

Harrison alleges that Capt. Jeff Hershman, who runs the Professional Standards office, and Lt. Tyler Lee and Sgt. Jeff Proulx, both supervisors of troopers in Jackson County, have authorized or allowed state police to “harass, embarrass, annoy and intimidate individuals who dare to challenge the ‘Thin Blue Line’ and expose corruption and law violations” in the agency.

The suits come on the heels of a similar lawsuit filed last month by another senior state trooper, who alleges his supervisor at the Klamath Falls Area Command Office retaliated against him for taking medical leave for a job injury and that a sergeant there consistently used “offensive terms, name calling, disparaging comments, bully tactics and hypocrisy to define his leadership style.”

Harrison says he’s been subjected to retaliation for his efforts to expose or question inappropriate conduct among troopers or supervisors.

Among his accusations: Unfair promotions based on nepotism, re-promotions after demotions for ethical lapses, a sergeant’s alleged unprovoked assault of a young man, and a canine trooper’s alleged intimidation of a young motorist ordered to pull his pants down on the side of a freeway to prove he wasn’t hiding drugs in his groin, his suits say.

He also noted a satirical “award’ for a senior trooper posted in the Central Point office that celebrated his work as a “well-rounded ass kicking commando” for racking up 16 use-of-force incidents against suspects terrifying females children and elderly people.

Harrison’s state suit also names the agency as a defendant.

Supervisor demoted for racial slur

Among the alleged misconduct were complaints that Harrison’s immediate boss, now-retired Sgt. Jeffrey A. Allison, repeatedly used the “n-word,” as a supervisor in the Central Command office. Jeff Allison is married to Central Point police chief Kris Allison.

In October 2016, Jeff Allison was under an internal investigation for the allegations but was allowed to serve as an “acting lieutenant” in charge of the Central Point patrol office, Harrison contends in his suits.

Harrison complained and the next day, Dec. 10, 2016, Allison was placed on paid leave while the investigation continued, his suits say. Allison eventually was demoted to senior trooper and transferred to the Grants Pass patrol office, before retiring June 30.

Harrison complained that state police didn’t terminate Jeff Allison.

“Twenty-five troopers heard Allison use the n-bomb and OSP holds a retirement party for the guy and doesn’t fire him,” Harrison said in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive. “You can’t cover up things like this. If you hide that, you put everybody’s credibility on the line.”

The state police investigation found Allison had exhibited unprofessional, offensive speech but didn’t exhibit racial biases against others. Investigators said his language violated the state police rules of conduct. A demotion is the agency’s most severe discipline before termination.

Harrison also contends in the suit that state police didn’t disclose the true nature of its investigation into Allison — either to the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office that had subpoenaed Allison to testify in a drug case in March 2017 or to plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit involving one of Allison’s officers.

The District Attorney’s Office should have been notified and considered not calling Allison to testify in future cases, Harrison argues in the suits.

Oregon State Police Capt. Tim Fox said he couldn’t discuss a personnel matter but defended the agency’s investigation of Allison and said the department in 2017 created a diversity team that meets monthly and instituted implicit bias training for all troopers.

“There’s no thin blue line that exists within the state police,” Fox said. “We took this one seriously. We interviewed his co-workers. If there’s an issue, we want to know about it and we’ll investigate.”

Allison did not return requests for comment.

‘I just wanted my agency to do the right thing’

Harrison, who has nearly 25 years with state police, said he’s taking legal action because his efforts to work through the appropriate channels within the department failed.

“I just wanted my agency to do the right thing,” Harrison said.

Because he’s highlighted improprieties, Harrison said he’s become the subject of numerous “nuisance level” investigations that none of his coworkers have faced for similar actions.

He said his immediate supervisors haven’t talked to him for at least a year except when he’s under investigation.

Fox said he couldn’t comment on the suits.

“However, we want to emphasize that the Department of State Police takes all allegations of retaliation seriously,” he said. “We are committed as an organization and individuals to treating everyone in an equitable manner and with professionalism and respect, and to fostering an organizational culture of diversity and inclusion.”

Sgt. Mark Banks, president of the Oregon State Police Officers Association that represents both sergeants and troopers, said state police need to do better.

“We don’t do a good job of policing ourselves because we let relationships within the organization affect investigations. We need to find a way to have outside eyes on things,’’ Banks said. “The only people who don’t see a problem with the clique are the people inside the clique.”

Email Oregonian/OregonLive reporter Maxine Bernstein at mbernstein@oregonian.com. Follow her on Twitter @maxoregonian

Oregonian photoOregon State Police Senior Trooper Thomas Harrison, who has nearly 25 years with state police, said he’s taking legal action because his efforts to work through the appropriate channels in the agency have failed. “I just wanted my agency to do the right thing,’’ he said.