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Multnomah County will open an internal investigation into Sheriff Dan Staton to determine if he's violated workplace rules — a setback for the sheriff just days after he'd been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.  The inquiry, announced Tuesday...

Sheriff Dan Staton faces county investigation amid pressure to resign

Multnomah County will open an internal investigation into Sheriff Dan Staton to determine if he's violated workplace rules — a setback for the sheriff just days after he'd been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.  The inquiry, announced Tuesday...

Sheriff Dan Staton faces county investigation amid pressure to resign

Multnomah County will open an internal investigation into Sheriff Dan Staton to determine if he's violated workplace rules — a setback for the sheriff just days after he'd been cleared of criminal wrongdoing. 

The inquiry, announced Tuesday by County Chair Deborah Kafoury, will focus on allegations that Staton, 57, uses his position to intimidate his employees and subject them to retaliation. Possible violations, the county said, include unprofessional conduct, creating a hostile work environment, interfering with protected union activity, and threats of force or violence. 

Kafoury's decision answers a request from the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriffs' Association, which represents patrol deputies. The union Monday issued a vote of no confidence against Staton and sent Kafoury a complaint demanding an administrative investigation.

Her announcement also comes amid rising pressure on Staton to resign. Hours before, another county union — the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 88 — issued its own statement calling for Staton to quit.

"As the chief executive for the county, it's my job to look into any allegations that involve threats to or retaliation against any employees," Kafoury said in a statement. "When employees of the sheriff's office are worried about this, then that is of huge concern." 

Staton did not respond to messages seeking comment on the investigation or the latest call for him to step down. But in an interview Monday, he said "I don't believe I've done anything wrong" and that he wouldn't resign.

Last month, even before the Oregon Department of Justice decided not to file criminal charges against Staton over similar allegations, leaders of the patrol deputies union had asked Staton to step down. The union represents 111 employees who patrol unincorporated Multnomah County and other communities.

On Tuesday, Local 88, which represents 190 civilian employees in the sheriff's office, said the state investigation didn't address Staton's "failure of leadership."

"It is common knowledge across the county that Sheriff Staton has practiced vindictiveness, disrespect and retaliation against anyone who disagrees with him," Local 88 President Jason Heilbrun said in a statement. "It has played out in his brash and boorish treatment of other elected officials, women, people of color, judges and others in law enforcement." 

"Dan Staton must step down," Heilbrun also said, "so that the reputation of the agency, including all the hardworking employees who protect the public, can begin to be repaired."

Staton became the subject of a state criminal inquiry in February, soon after Chief Deputy Linda Yankee threatened to sue on claims of a hostile work environment. 

Kafoury and District Attorney Rod Underhill asked Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to investigate Staton based on Yankee's claims. 

Kafoury and Underhill also raised allegations that Staton had made threatening statements and improperly checked the backgrounds of citizen members of the county Charter Review Committee. The panel is weighing a proposal to make the sheriff's job appointed instead of elected. 

Yankee's case settled days later, with Staton agreeing to pay $300,000 from his office budget. Two more legal claims followed.

The patrol deputies union also accused Staton of trying to discourage their no confidence vote, writing in a complaint that Staton dangled a promotion in front of the union's president, Deputy Matt Ferguson, and talked of suing "anyone who turns their back on me." 

Staton denied that account in an interview Monday.

Pressure on Staton has even come from onetime allies. Former Sheriff Bob Skipper, who chose Staton as his successor in 2009, told the Portland Tribune he met with Staton twice in recent weeks and encouraged him to step down, the newspaper reported Tuesday. 

The patrol deputies union, in its complaint, said its members also met with Skipper and that Skipper had told Staton to resign. 

Corrections deputies, whose 431 employees make up the bulk of the sheriff's office 800-person staff, have not aligned with the patrol deputies' position. 

On Monday, Sgt. Cathy Gorton, president of the corrections deputies union, said members were "moving on" from the controversy. 

The county's human resources department will handle the new Staton investigation, county spokesman David Austin said. No timeline has been set. 

"It will be thorough and precise," Austin said. 

—    Emily E. Smith

esmith@oregonian.com 
503-294-4032; @emilyesmith

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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