Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has opened an administrative investigation into Sheriff Dan Staton.
The investigation will look into possible workplace violations, such as interfering with protected union activity, threats of force or violence and creating a hostile work environment, Kafoury’s office said.
Several members of the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff’s Association alleged in a letter sent to Kafoury on Monday that Staton has threatened retaliation and intimidates his employees.
"When employees of the sheriff's office are worried about this, then that is of huge concern,” Kafoury said in a statement.
Kafoury’s decision to investigate Staton comes on the same day Multnomah County’s largest public employee union called for the sheriff to step down. On Monday, the patrol deputies union also issued a “no-confidence” vote against the sheriff.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 88, which represents about 3,500 county employees, said in a statement that Staton is cultivating a culture of “vindictiveness, disrespect and retaliation against anyone who disagrees with him.”
The union also said Staton engages in “boorish treatment of other elected officials, women, people of color, judges and others in law enforcement.”
A spokesman for Staton said he hadn’t yet talked with the sheriff about the union’s demand and didn’t immediately have a comment. Staton has consistently said he’s done nothing wrong and doesn't plan to resign until next year.
There are only a handful of ways an elected official can be removed from office. They include adjudicated incompetence, a recall election, not living in the county, death and being convicted of a felony, a crime related to the official’s job or the unlawful destruction of public records.
Kafoury had asked the Oregon Department of Justice to review the allegations against Staton. Last week, the agency released its findings and announced it would not pursue a criminal investigation into Staton.
Another possibility would be for the county to seek revocation of Staton's professional credentials.
Linsay Hale, professional standards director at Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, said all law enforcement officers in the state — even elected ones — are required to be certified.
“If a sheriff were to be decertified as a police officer and continue to hold the office as sheriff our only recourse would be a civil penalty,” Hale said.
Kafoury’s office said Staton has canceled all future meeting with her, even though the county is in the midst of budget negotiations.
“It’s unprecedented that an agency head, department head or elected official who runs a department would cancel any regular meeting with the chair, especially during a time like this when we're dealing with the budget,” said David Austin, a spokesman for Kafoury.
AFSCME Local 88 union president Jason Heilbrun said the recent string of stories reported in the media reflects things union members have been experiencing for some time.
“There’s a toxic and dysfunctional relationship at all levels of the command structure in the sheriff’s office,” he said.
Greg Vining, a detective in the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office and vice president of the deputy sheriff’s association, urged Staton to resign.
“I would hope the sheriff hears enough people asking him to step down and that he would seriously consider that,” Vining said.
He said the mood in the sheriff’s office is probably most uncomfortable for the command staff, who aren’t protected by the union.
“We’re all held to a pretty high standard and it’s uncomfortable when our leader doesn’t adhere to those same standards,” Vining said.