In May, Rachael Winterling made a quick weekend trip from Corvallis, where she was a student at Oregon State University, to her mother’s West Linn home. That’s when she learned news that’s been at the front of the 23-year-old’s mind for months.
A controversial Portland cop—Winterling’s former stepmother—had improperly monitored her via a confidential law enforcement database. Winterling wasn’t just suspicious, her mother explained, she was correct.
The confirmation came from the Portland Police Bureau’s Internal Affairs unit, which had found East Precinct Officer Scherise Hobbs had used police resources to keep tabs on Winterling “without a valid criminal justice purpose” in April 2015.
The finding capped years of acrimony between the two, and proved to Winterling that long-held suspicions about her former stepmother’s behavior weren’t mere paranoia.
It also also may be a crime—likely second degree official misconduct, Oregon State Police spokesperson Bill Fugate tells the Mercury.
“I was right, and I was right the whole time,” Winterling says. “That was really validating because I’ve suffered so much. So much. All that pain wasn’t for nothing.”
At least not in theory. The findings should have been the last straw for Hobbs, who has an exceedingly checkered past at the police bureau. Instead, she’s still gainfully employed.
Now, roughly 215 days since Internal Affairs ruled that Hobbs violated bureau policy, Winterling is still on edge, waiting for some sort of closure.
Despite the finding of wrongdoing, the Portland Police Bureau has not punished Hobbs in any way for the violation—no firing, no suspension, no letter of reprimand, no slap on the wrist. And by not issuing any discipline, the bureau can also shield its records related to the investigation from public disclosure. When no discipline is given, records of “personnel discipline actions” are exempt from Oregon’s public records laws.
The city denied both the Winterling family’s request for documents in June and the Mercury’s request for records this month because Hobbs hasn’t been punished. The bureau will not explain why a discipline decision hasn’t been made.
The lack of any punishment is concerning, considering what Hobbs has done in the past. In 2002, the officer was suspended “for having sex with another Portland cop while one of the two was on duty and using police mobile computer emails to facilitate the relationship,” the Oregonian reported in 2010. She was busted doing the same thing—using PPB resources to set up sexual encounters with another cop, while on duty—three years later.
In 2005, a PPB disciplinary board “recommended terminating Hobbs,” the O reported, “citing her continued misuse of work time and equipment. The board said it was concerned by the similarity between the misconduct in 2002 and 2005, her ‘evasiveness and inability to answer questions directly’ and her ‘rationalization and minimization’ of her conduct.”
But Hobbs’ commander, Mike Crebs, went to bat for her. Then-Chief Rosie Sizer issued only a 7.5-week unpaid suspension, and even that didn’t stick. After a protracted battle between the Portland Police Association and the city, the Portland City Council voted unanimously in 2010 to restore “nearly $2,000 and more than 100 hours of vacation pay as part of a negotiated settlement” of the union grievance, according to the Oregonian.
In a letter to Hobbs in 2010, then-Chief Mike Reese said that she’d be fired for any more violations, “no matter how small, where your personal relationships cloud your judgment and result in you misusing work time and/or bureau equipment.”
Improperly tracking Winterling using the Law Enforcement Data System (LEDS) database would appear to be just that. But Reese’s replacement, Larry O’Dea, didn’t fire Hobbs after the investigation into her conduct was completed this spring. Nor did O’Dea’s temporary replacement, Donna Henderson, or the current chief, Mike Marshman.
(Hobbs, then known as Scherise Bergstrom, was also mentioned in a 2004 Willamette Week story for her Taser use: her “taser exploits have given rise to the nickname ‘Lady Lighting’ within the bureau,” the paper reported.)
According to Winterling, she and Hobbs have never gotten along, starting when the cop began dating Winterling’s father in 2007, when Winterling was 14. Hobbs was immediately crass and threatening to her, Winterling says.
Hobbs soon accused Winterling and her mother of a 2007 break-in at her West Linn townhouse—in which an apparent burglar cut up her mattress, underwear, and some of her dresses “all at heart level,” a police report said.
Winterling and her mom were grilled by West Linn cops, who checked fingerprints and alibis. They were soon cleared as suspects, and the case was suspended “due to lack of further investigative leads.” Winterling believes she was essentially framed by Hobbs. She says she has been diagnosed with PTSD from her encounters with the officer, and changed high schools, moved out of state, and temporarily moved to emergency housing in college out of fear.
There hasn’t been direct communication between the two in years, though Winterling says Hobbs sent her an odd email posing as her father, and occasionally interacts with her on Twitter.
In 2014, around the time a lawyer for Winterling sent Hobbs a cease-and-desist letter to stop any attempt to contact her, Winterling says she went to the DMV to find out if her personal information had been accessed. Winterling says the DMV told her it had been, six times over the past year, from the LEDS database, which cops from around the state use to instantly pull up information on driver’s licenses and car registrations (showing where people live), criminal histories, and more.
Winterling says she asked the state police’s LEDS Audit Unit team to look into who accessed her information in early 2014. After not hearing back, she asked again in December 2015. That’s when, documents say, the audit was finally conducted, though Winterling believes the audit spanned just one year, and that Hobbs likely looked her up for years. The LEDS audit team automatically forwarded the information to the PPB’s Internal Affairs unit on December 18, 2015.
On April 21, the bureau sent Winterling a letter at her mother’s house: “Officer Scherise Hobbs accessed information about you through LEDS on April 20, 2015 without a valid criminal justice purpose,” it said. Hobbs tracked Winterling even after the officer’s relationship with Winterling’s father ended.
“Portland Police Bureau policy clearly states ‘systems are not for public disclosure, nor should they be accessed for personal reasons,’” the letter said, quoting Lt. Peter Mahuna. “Officer Scherise Hobbs violated this directive when she had your information accessed for personal reasons.”
Like all members of the city’s rank-and-file police union, Hobbs stands to receive a 9 percent raise for her service in coming years.