Jason Lobaugh
  • Jason Lobaugh
The citizen panel tasked with weighing appeals in cop misconduct cases ruled against the Portland Police Bureau in a domestic violence case last night—unanimously deciding that police commanders erred by failing to punish a controversial cop accused of menacing his ex-wife and her husband at their home during a custody dispute.

With a clarion 5-0 vote, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) harshly criticized the bureau for a tepid ruling that found the accusations against Officer Jason Lobaugh merely "unproven." The CRC's vote—citing the bureau's policy on professional conduct—amounts to a formal request that Police Chief Mike Reese change that "unproven" finding to "sustained."

The policy they cited reads, in part: "Members, whether on duty or off duty, shall be governed by the reasonable rules of good conduct and behavior, and shall not commit any act tending to bring reproach or discredit upon the Bureau or the City."

Lobaugh's ex-wife, Laurie Grant, complained to the bureau in November 2012 after three tense confrontations with her ex-husband over a six-day span—all of which brought out police officers from the city of North Plains. Lobaugh was off-duty during all three incidents.

"This is not acceptable behavior you would expect from an officer," Grant said at the hearing before breaking down in tears. "My physical and emotional safety has been threatened."

In the first confrontation, on November 3, 2012, Grant says Lobaugh had shown up to pick up their son on a day when he wasn't scheduled to, under their court-approved "parental plan." Grant called the cops after they argued on her front porch and Lobaugh, as even he admits, called her a "head case" and yelled into her house at her husband.

Five days later, cops came out again after Lobaugh tried to pick up their son a day early but was told not to. In that confrontation, Lobaugh admitted, he called Grant's husband a "little bitch." Then, the next day, during a scheduled drop-off of their son at a Fred Meyer, cops showed up to help facilitate, and Lobaugh again, Grant says, went after her husband. Lobaugh admits saying "look who came out to play." Grant says he told her husband, "looks like you and I are going to get know each other."

Jeff Bissonnette, the vice chair of the CRC, summed up what most of the panel was thinking as it weighed the bureau's ruling and whether it reasonably reflected the facts of the case as laid out.

"I'd say showing up on a front porch outside your custody agreement, when you're explicitly told not to, and it's not in doubt, when you call into the house and call someone a derogatory name, which is also not in dispute, and then, also say—undisputed—'look who came out to play,' to me that doesn't just 'tend to.' It does bring discredit and reproach upon the bureau and the city."

The discussion put the commander of the detectives division, where Lobaugh had been working when it came time to make the ruling (Lobaugh's since been demoted), in an awkward spot.

The commander, George Burke, said he weighed the handful of points between Grant and Lobaugh that were in dispute—whether the custody arrangement was as flexible as Lobaugh told investigators it was. He also seized on the fact that North Plains cops never arrested or sought charges for Lobaugh. And he tried to argue that cops are allowed to have emotions and won't always live up to the highest aspirations of policy because they're real people, too.

"I also understand that people are people," he said. "When emotion takes over, those expectations aren't necessarily at the highest of levels... Because of the vagueness in the directive, as it refers to professional behavior, I could not get to a point where I could go either direction, as far as exonerate or sustained. Which is why I came to an unproven."

Later, when pressed on whether saying "little bitch" to someone would run afoul of policy if a cop said it while off-duty, and after admitting he saw Lobaugh's actions as "bad judgment," Burke cited another part of the bureau's policy on professional conduct:

"It says 'constantly strive to attain,'" he said. "It doesn't say 'constantly will attain.' It's great to have the expectation about '24 hours a day,' but it's not a realistic expectation.... How deep do we get into somebody's personal life?"

Lobaugh, however, has a had a very checkered personal life. As Willamette Week reported last month, this domestic violence accusation is among several Lobaugh has faced over the years and is still facing. Lobaugh, overall, has had several stains on his record, over his profligate use of force and for inflammatory comments. (Portland Police Association Daryl Turner has been quoted supporting Lobaugh in all this, it's worth noting; Turner, after his quoted comments upset people, claimed he was misquoted...)

If Reese agrees to reverse the decision, that record of trouble would only grow. The last time the CRC voted to challenge a police bureau finding on discipline, in a rudeness case against an elderly African American man accused of being a pimp during a jaywalking stop, Reese refused. The CRC could have sent that dispute to the city council, but Reese prevailed after one of the members who initially agreed with challenging the bureau changed her vote.

Reese may not be able to play the odds this time, in light of a 5-0 decision, and risk a council hearing. It will be weeks before his stance is made public.

In the meantime, it's also worth noting that this case reached the CRC only because the city's Independent Police Review Division exerted its powers. After the bureau's internal affairs investigation cleared Lobaugh, assistant IPR director Rachel Mortimer "controverted" that ruling and sent the case to a Police Review Board for further debate. Then, when the review board still sided with the bureau, she sent the case to the CRC on appeal.

Mortimer was asked during the hearing if her opinion had changed. She answered curtly: "No."

She said Lobaugh, by showing up to Grant's home even after being told to keep away, and then by cursing at her husband, "clearly violated" the bureau's directive. The word "shall," she says, means "there's not wiggle room there."

She also touched on something else at play in the case: power dynamics.

"Most people can identify that someone you know as a police officer showing up and having this kind of behavior is different than someone who is not a police officer who does not have the kind of power that police officers have," she said. "There's a reason why officers are asked to behave at a higher leve, both off-duty and on-duty.

"That piece of it needs to be taken into account as well."