A lawsuit against a former Umatilla police officer is likely to move forward, but the scope could be significantly narrowed.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Hallman heard arguments Friday on whether a roughly $26 million lawsuit against former Umatilla Det Sgt. Bill Wright, his commanders and the Umatilla Police Department should be dismissed.
At the end of the hearing, Hallman said he would issue a ruling within the next 60 days, but indicated that he was inclined to let part of the lawsuit against Wright move forward while dismissing other parts of the case.
The lawsuit alleges that Wright failed to investigate the 2018 sexual assault of a minor — named Jane Doe in the suit to protect her identity — by Michael Wayne Lyon, who was 34 at the time and traveled from out of state to carry out the attack.
The FBI arrested Lyon in 2020 and he was convicted of child sex abuse. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in March.
According to the lawsuit, Doe and her family provided Lyon’s first name and a physical description to Wright in 2018, as well as video from the assault that Lyon had sent to Doe’s brother as part of a threat.
“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 (where the assault happened).”
Hallman opened the hearing by listing his issues with each sides’ arguments and asking them to convince him otherwise.
The defense argued that equal protection claims didn’t apply to Wright because Doe’s lawyers couldn’t prove that he had treated other groups of people differently. Hallman said the U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that equal protection cases didn’t need to meet that standard, and he seemed unmoved by defense attorney Andrew Campbell’s argument that the ruling only applied to employment rather than enforcement.
Hallman’s skepticism cut both ways. He told Doe’s attorneys that the complaint didn’t have any evidence that Wright’s superiors named in the lawsuit – Police Chief Darla Huxel and Lt. Keith Kennedy – showed discriminatory intent themselves. Nor was he convinced that the city of Umatilla had a policy that influenced the handling of Doe’s case.
In seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, lawyers for Wright and the other defendants argued the complaint failed to prove Doe had met the legal requirements for damages in the case, or that Wright’s actions put Doe in real danger. They also argued that all of the police officers in the case have qualified immunity because there are no cases in Oregon establishing similar constitutional rights for Doe.
“There is no constitutional right to police enforcement or police protection,” Campbell told the court.
Hallman seemed to side more with the defense’s arguments that qualified immunity might apply to some of Doe’s negligence claims.
Regardless of Hallman’s upcoming ruling, the lawsuit has already had effects on the Umatilla Police Department. Wright left his job earlier this year, and the East Oregonian reported that Huxel has announced she will retire at the end of this year, ending a 27-year career in the department.