Friday, March 31, 2006

Phoenix (OR) Police Dept. Closes as Chief Faces Indictment

Man, for a smallish county tucked away in Southern Oregon, Jackson County makes its fair share of news. In just the last couple weeks, the area has seen: a lawsuit originating in Ashland that could blow the doors off the NSA wiretapping affair; a disoriented and partially drug-addled family rescued off a logging road after two weeks, Congressmen from multiple states gathered in Medford to highlight the charged academic battle over burned-forest logging; and now this from the small town of Phoenix:
Visitors to the Phoenix Police Department were greeted with a locked door Thursday for reasons neither the mayor nor the Jackson County sheriff would explain.

The closure came a day after Phoenix Police Chief Bob Kershaw, 64, resigned following a sheriff’s investigation alleging he altered a police report to absolve his son — a Phoenix community service officer — of possible criminal charges related to a January party at Kershaw’s home where marijuana was present.

The apparent closing of the police department followed a Wednesday evening executive session called by the Phoenix City Council in which possible disciplinary action against Kershaw was discussed.
Before you hop in your car to head down to Phoenix so you can exceed the speed limit and smoke grass while driving around without a seatbelt, know that county sheriffs pledged to pick up the slack for the 4,500 people in Phoenix proper, as they often do. City Hall workers forced to answer the phone and handle the likely influx of "what do you mean, the police station is closed??" calls were probably less sanguine.

I missed the story as it broke locally on Wednesday, but the Oregonian picked it up as a blurb yesterday morning that caught my eye, and gives more details about what Kershaw allegedly did:
A Phoenix officer went to the home to help police from nearby Talent search for a missing juvenile believed to be at the party, Winters said.

Winters said the police chief initially tried to lead the investigation, but reluctantly turned the case over to the sheriff's department on Feb. 8.

But, Winters said, his deputies found that the reports they got were not the ones made by the initial investigating officers and that portions implicating his son and a witness statement were deleted.

The charges against the police chief are forgery, hindering prosecution, official misconduct, tampering with physical evidence and tampering with public records.
Those are generally not charges you want your police chief coming up on, but it's hard to say the city should be surprised; trouble has followed Kershaw around. He was fired from his job as sergeant for the Keizer police force in 1993, then sued the city and in the subsequent settlement got his termination status changed to "resigned."

The Mail Tribune documents other incidents of lawbreaking in 1999 and 2003 by officers under Kershaw's command; how much blame he should receive for those incidents beyond normal supervisory responsibility is unclear, but for a department with only 10 sworn cops on staff to have four of them in trouble over six years seems a little out of control. And you have to wonder if Phoenix had a good grasp of Kershaw's history, given that they hired him after the previous chief resigned in a mismanagement scandal. Can't win for losing, I guess. Now the only thing that would complete this story and truly make it Oregonian--since it seems to accompany nearly every oddball story in this state--would be if the chief were discovered to be a meth tweaker. So stay tuned for that...