Dan Staton's six-year reign as the county's top cop will be over this summer, amid a cloud of controversy. The 57-year-old Multnomah County sheriff announced Friday in an email that he'll be "retiring" in August, midway through his second elected term. Staton announced former Portland Police Chief Mike Reese will join the office later this month, and will lead it after Staton leaves.
It's been a rough 2016 for Staton, as scandal after scandal unfolded behind the scenes and in the press, painting the sheriff as a tone-deaf, vindictive asshole. Staton didn't just burn bridges with county government, his command staff, and employee unions—he bombed them and poisoned the water behind him.
"I have been thinking about all the employees here at the sheriff's office and everything that has transpired over the past months," Staton wrote in his retirement announcement on Friday. "I can no longer subject any of you to the challenges I am facing."
He's talking about the tort claims filed against him by high-ranking staff alleging retaliation and a terrible work environment (among other issues), threats of violence against staff, an Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal probe, vows that he'd sue "anyone who turns their back" on him, a no-confidence vote from the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff's Association, claims he attempted to bribe and threaten a union leader to thwart that no-confidence vote, repeated calls for his resignation from the union representing non-sworn county employees (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME), and a souped-up Dodge Charger he bought with taxpayer money. That was just the first chunk of 2016.
"What we've seen over the last three or four months is reflective of a pattern that I've been seeing and my members have been seeing for close to six years that seems to be escalating," said AFSCME Local 88 president and sheriff's office employee Jason Heilbrun last Wednesday, amplifying earlier calls for Staton to resign two days before he finally did.
"These issues have been a recurring distraction for the men and women of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office," County Chair Deborah Kafoury said on Friday, shortly after Staton's announcement. "This is not the time to rehash any issues about the sheriff. I am looking forward, not back."
That doesn't mean we can't take a look back, though.
The January tort claim filed by a 28-year department veteran, Chief Deputy Linda Yankee, gave a rough glimpse of life under Staton and showed why county government leaders disliked him so much. Things began to turn sour under the sheriff, Yankee claimed, in the fall of 2014, when he made frat-boyish comments about folks like District Attorney Rod Underhill ("Rod was ejaculating all over the table"), County Commissioner Diane McKeel ("She wet herself"), Kafoury's chief of staff (a "blonde bimbo"), a deputy district attorney (comments about her weight), Assistant County Attorney Carlo Calandriello (the "bald fucker"), Judge Nan Waller (jokes about a facial mole), and others. The tort claim also says Staton "frequently touched" Yankee "inappropriately" instead of a customary handshake he'd perform with men, and that he regularly insulted, undermined, and discredited her at work. The county quickly settled with Yankee for $300,000.
The Oregon DOJ probe—looking into allegations that Staton collected information on county Charter Review Committee members who were contemplating making his job appointed rather than elected, allegations in Yankee's tort claim, alleged violent threats, and whether he attempted to bribe a union leader—ultimately cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing, though it made clear it "did not conduct any investigation into questions that were purely civil or administrative, nor concerning matters of labor or employment law. We offer no opinion as to the sheriff's conduct in those areas."
Among the final proverbial straws for Staton was news last month, first reported by Willamette Week, that he purchased a new $33,000 2015 Dodge Charger for himself last summer with taxpayer money, less than a year after the county bought him a 2014 Dodge Charger.
Staton said last Friday that he will leave on August 16. Reese will be hired as undersheriff on June 20, when they "will begin the process of acclimating him to the sheriff's office operations" before he officially becomes interim sheriff when Staton's out. An election in November will determine who gets to serve out the remainder of Staton's term, which expires in 2018, according to county spokesperson Dave Austin.
Reese was previously a deputy sheriff in Multnomah County from 1989 to 1994. He was transferred to the Portland Police Bureau as part of the city's annexation of East Portland.
Reese retired from the Portland Police Bureau in January 2015 after four years as police chief—one of the longest tenures atop the bureau in recent history. As chief, he oversaw the initial implementation of the United States Department of Justice reforms that focus on de-escalation practices and changes to the bureau's use-of-force policy.
The 2015 switch from Reese to current Chief Larry O'Dea was "the first smooth transition between chiefs in two decades," Mayor Charlie Hales said at the time. Reese was appointed by former Mayor Sam Adams and didn't always get along with Hales.
In January of this year, the future interim sheriff became the interim executive director of the Citizens Crime Commission, a nonprofit affiliated with the Portland Business Alliance's Charitable Trust, with a mission "to engage business leaders in mobilizing citizens to reduce crime, improve civility, and strengthen communities throughout Portland and the state of Oregon."
Reese joins the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office in less than three weeks.