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No rule, no foul

Revelations that Jackson County sheriff's deputies dismissed traffic tickets for family and acquaintances have prompted changes in the department's internal policies regarding how citations are handled.

An Oregon Department of Justice investigation this spring found dismissal of tickets had been a common practice by deputies, who would ask court staff to pull them before they were processed.

While most of the ticket dismissals appeared to be benign corrections, there were "at least a few incidents in which the dismissal of citations should not have taken place," Senior Assistant Attorney General Bumjoon Park wrote in a May 28 letter to Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert and Sheriff Corey Falls.

Special Agent Jodi Shimanek's investigation found one instance in which a deputy dismissed a ticket after finding out the alleged violator was his wife's hairdresser, and another ticket that was dismissed after a deputy realized the person was the wife of an Oregon State Police trooper, the letter says. 

The DOJ's investigation began after Falls was told by two deputies that former Lt. Marty Clark had improperly dismissed a number of traffic tickets under the previous administration. Clark, who had been placed on administrative leave in January, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by DOJ investigators. His position was eliminated under a restructuring of the department. 

Ultimately, prosecutors found that the ticket dismissals didn't rise to the level of official misconduct because there weren't any regulations prohibiting them, DOJ spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said.

"There (were) no sheriff's office policies that say you cannot dismiss a traffic ticket as a deputy sheriff," she says.

Clark was found to have dismissed two tickets that were issued by other deputies, the letter says. One of the tickets involved his mother-in-law, who had been cited for parking in a handicapped spot with an expired permit. The other ticket reportedly involved an equipment violation citation that Clark dismissed after the violator had fixed the problem.

"While these examples are concerning ... there are no statutes, administrative rules or Jackson County Sheriff's Office policies prohibiting deputies from dismissing tickets for these reasons," Park's letter says.

Investigators found 315 electronic tickets had been dismissed by deputies since 2009, nine of them by Clark, the letter says.

"Most of these cancelled e-tickets appear to have been voided by the issuing officer due to a scrivener's error after which a corrected citation was issued," it says. 

Heckert says there isn't an Oregon Revised Statute that specifically deals with traffic tickets or their dismissal, leaving it up to law enforcement agencies to draft their own policies.

The DOJ wasn't able to obtain handwritten tickets during the time frame targeted by investigators; Falls says the citations were likely destroyed as part of the department's regular document-purging processes.

"There's not much need to keep them around after they've been adjudicated," he says. Falls says tickets are issued by deputies in both the department's patrol and traffic divisions, but that more of them are issued by traffic deputies than patrol deputies.

Falls says he was aware of the gaps in department policy regarding ticket dismissals when he took office in January, and reached out to Medford police Chief Tim George for an example of a ticket dismissal policy.

"Our policies and procedures are through Lexipol," Falls says, referring to a California-based company that drafts state-specific policies for law enforcement agencies, including both the sheriff's department and the Medford Police Department.

The current revision of the MPD policy manual says that "employees of this department do not have the authority to dismiss a citation once it has been issued," and defers requests for dismissal to the courts. Falls says his deputies will be operating under a similar policy.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

An Oregon Department of Justice investigation found Jackson County sheriff's deputies had dismissed traffic tickets for family and friends -- and there was no state statute or department policy that prohibited it. Mail Tribune photo illustration