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Falls: Disrespect helped lead to departure

Outgoing Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls said he felt supported by the community and sheriff's office employees, but was treated disrespectfully by county administrators.

After finishing two years of a four-year term, Falls will work his last day as sheriff Friday. He has accepted a position as director of police services and 21st century policing for the city of Gresham east of Portland.

During a Tuesday press conference, Falls said he is excited by the new position and is looking forward to moving closer to his daughter, who is in college.

But Falls also said he was treated in a demeaning way by Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan, Senior Deputy County Administrator Harvey Bragg and Jackson County Budget Committee members Craig Morris and Dick Rudisile.

"The relationships weren't there, and that's tough because you need positive relationships if you're going to continue to do your job in a professional manner," Falls said.

Falls said he was spoken to in a demeaning manner that left him feeling embarrassed and humiliated. After a while, he said he felt his voice wasn't being heard.

Falls said it was a difficult decision to speak out.

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said he did not want to discredit Falls' perceptions.

An elected official who also works closely with Jordan, Dyer said he hasn't ever felt like he was treated disrespectfully by the county administrator.

"I think Danny may not have kid gloves on all the time, and he can be blunt when he's getting his point across," Dyer said. "Maybe a little better bedside manner is something to work on. I've never felt demeaned by Danny. He can be terse. I can see why some people may perceive that as demeaning."

After the press conference, Jackson County commissioners issued a press release saying they are saddened by Falls' allegations and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

The press release stated Falls made a complaint regarding discrimination and harassment in December 2015. 

"Upon receipt of the complaint, the County promptly hired an outside investigator to investigate the allegations in the complaint," the press release said. "The investigation resulted in a preliminary report and conclusion that Sheriff Falls had not been discriminated against or harassed, and made some recommendations for moving forward. Prior to the completion and issuance of the investigatory report, Sheriff Falls withdrew his complaint and stated that the investigation into his allegations need not be completed."

In the press release, commissioners said the county takes all claims of discrimination and harassment seriously and has a policy to ensure that all of its employees and officers work in a discrimination- and harassment-free environment.

Falls did not say in his press conference that he had experienced racist behavior or comments from any county officials, only that he had been treated in a demeaning manner and had been subjected to "micro-aggressions."

Falls did say someone posted a racially charged social-media post about him. When he took his concerns to the county's human resources department, he said he was told the department would take no action about harassment or bullying of an elected official. Falls did not name the person who posted to social media.

Falls said he has experienced occasional racism throughout his life and was not surprised by the incident. He said he was surprised by what he called the repeated demeaning treatment from county officials.

"I haven't been talked to like I was a third-grader since I was in third grade," Falls said, adding that the treatment was particularly surprising because he long has been a professional in law enforcement and has never been spoken to in that way.

Despite what he called a bad experience with the county administration, Falls said sheriff's office staff members supported him as he made a variety of changes to professionalize and modernize the department.

"They haven't agreed with everything we've put out there, but they have moved forward with a very professional, open-minded attitude — and it's been awesome. Same with the community," Falls said.

Some community members have disagreed with his decisions, but Falls said their comments were never disrespectful or disparaging.

Falls said he is deeply concerned that former Sheriff Mike Winters, whom he defeated, is one of the applicants for the interim sheriff position. Falls said selecting Winters would set the county back.

"We had to hit the reset button when I started," Falls said.

The Board of Commissioners will begin deliberating on Falls' replacement in January and select a person to finish his term.

Falls said he hasn't recommended a replacement, but favors someone from within the organization who would continue moving the department forward.

Sheriff's office employees are among the six people who applied by a Dec. 23 deadline.

Falls said after he implemented changes to the sheriff's office, it began attracting applicants from surrounding cities who had heard about the forward-thinking moves.

Falls said he is sorry that some of those new hires may feel cheated and frustrated by his early departure.

He also apologized to the larger community for not finishing out his term.

"I need to say publicly I'm sorry it didn't work out," Falls said.

Some local organizations have called on commissioners to appoint a community panel to review the interim sheriff applicants and make a recommendation.

Falls said if commissioners do convene a panel, he hopes members include professionals such as a police chief and someone from the Jackson County District Attorney's Office. He would also like to see citizen members who represent all sections of the community.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls talks Tuesday about the future of the position with his pending departure. Mail Tribune / Larry Stauth Jr.