Umatilla police officer no longer works for city after negligence lawsuit

By Antonio Sierra (OPB)
April 7, 2023 2:07 a.m.

Lawsuit alleges “the police did nothing” after victim provided evidence of sexual assault

A year after a federal jury convicted a man of raping a Umatilla teenager and a month after the victim sued the Umatilla Police Department for negligence, a key officer involved with the case has left the police department.

The East Oregonian reported Wednesday that Sgt. Bill Wright, the detective the lawsuit alleges failed to investigate the sexual assault, left the department. It was not immediately clear whether the city of Umatilla fired Wright or he resigned. Neither Umatilla Police Chief Darla Huxel, nor city manager Dave Stockdale returned requests for comment.


Even with Wright gone from the department, the victim and their attorneys plan on pressing forward with the multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

The criminal case

The victim and Michael Wayne Lyon first met online in 2017.

As first reported by The Oregonian, Lyon was posing as a 15-year-old boy but was actually 34. The victim, referred to only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, was 13.

According to a 2020 FBI affidavit, Lyon suggested they meet in person after six months and admitted he was actually an adult. Doe told Lyon she didn’t want to speak to him anymore, but Lyon threatened her and her family with violence.

“LYON told (Doe) that he would hurt (Doe’s) younger siblings if she did not continue to talk to him, and also sent (Doe) a picture of her house,” the affidavit states. “(Doe) described the picture as being real and not appearing to be copied from a google street-image. LYON also threatened to burn down (Doe’s) house.”

While continuing to issue threats, the affidavit states that Lyon traveled from out of state to Umatilla in 2018 and coerced Doe to get into a car with him. He took her to a motel in nearby Hermiston where he sexually assaulted her repeatedly. Lyon recorded part of the assault and sent the video to Doe’s brother. The FBI later used the video as evidence.

Lyon continued to harass and threaten Doe through 2019 and into 2020, when the FBI got involved. Doe told authorities that Lyon had tried to initiate friendships with other teenagers she knew, and over the course of the investigation, investigators learned he had obtained nude photos from another teenager in Florida.

The FBI arrested Lyon in Pennsylvania in late 2020 and a jury convicted him of “using a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct.” He was sentenced to 25 years in prison last month.


The FBI was not the first law enforcement agency to hear about the assault, however. Doe’s family contacted the Umatilla Police Department before the FBI. And in a lawsuit filed the same day as Lyon’s sentencing, Doe is alleging the police department’s botched investigation caused further damage.

The lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, Doe and her family first went to Umatilla police in 2018, shortly after Lyon sent Doe’s brother the video of the assault. They met with Wright and provided him with Lyon’s first name, a physical description, the fact that he traveled from out of state, and the name and location of the hotel where he assaulted her.

When they returned a few days later to share the video with police, the lawsuit states that Wright met them with skepticism and requested they return with “a photo and a full name.”

“It was clear from Det. Sgt. Wright’s statements to the thirteen-year-old rape victim and her mother that he did not believe her, stating ‘young girls make stuff up like this all the time,’ despite having a video of the incident,” Doe’s attorney states in the complaint.

Doe spent the next two years trying to find more information about Lyon she could present to police while he continued to threaten her.

“The police did nothing,” the lawsuit states. “Det. Sgt. Wright and his superiors did not send the video in for forensic analysis, send the phone in to pull the data from all the conversations, attempt to obtain a subpoena or warrant for social media activity, or check the security footage from the hotel themselves; they had the hotel clerk do that.”

When Doe obtained Lyon’s full name and his photo and returned to the police department, the lawsuit says Wright was still skeptical, telling her that he still didn’t know if she was lying and that Lyon could file a lawsuit if he was arrested on false pretenses.

After that meeting, Doe’s family turned to the FBI and by the end of 2020, Lyon was arrested.

The lawsuit states that Doe was harmed by Wright’s inaction. She stopped attending school in 2018 because she no longer felt safe as she was “forced to investigate her own rapist.” The complaint also criticizes the department and the city as a whole.

“Det. Sgt. Wright refused to make any attempt at investigating the rape of a child because of bias he holds against young women,” the lawsuit states. “His superiors failed to conduct any oversight or intervene in Det. Sgt. Wright’s conduct over a several year period. The City failed to ensure proper equal rights and minor sexual assault training for the police department and continue to ignore the lack of training and oversight in the UPD.”

In an interview, Doe’s attorney, Terry Scannell, said he took no joy in Wright’s departure from the Umatilla Police Department. Policing is a hard job, he said, but it doesn’t change the facts of the case or absolve the city government of its responsibility.

The city, in addition to Wright, Huxel and Lt. Keith Kennedy, has until May 19 to file a response to the lawsuit.