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Beaverton police captains too slow to react to property missing from evidence room, documents say

The Oregonian,
BYLINE: Rebecca Woolington, The Oregonian

Beaverton, OR

Beaverton Police Chief Geoff Spalding determined two captains violated department standards when they failed to take timely action last year after learning that property was missing from the agency’s evidence room, according to documents released in May.

Officials later learned that about 40 pounds of medication from the department’s prescription drug drop-box, installed at City Hall two years ago for the public, was gone and never found.

An internal investigation of the captains outlines their delay in responding to the missing property. They failed to immediately launch a formal inquiry, ask how much medication was gone and properly notify the chain of command, the documents say.

From the time a captain was initially notified, it took nearly two months for an investigation to begin.

Spalding ordered two independent investigations: one of the captains, Dan Gill and Eric Oathes, and one to try to determine what happened to the medication. Following the inquiry, one of the captains was demoted to lieutenant last summer, according to a July 9 memorandum from Spalding to the captain. His name was redacted from the document.

Gill, a 22-year veteran of the department, is now a lieutenant. Oathes, who has worked more than 13 years in Beaverton, remains a captain.

Spalding wrote to the demoted captain, “Your failure to make timely and proper notification and your failure to take the appropriate steps to follow up on a very serious breach in our Property Division has the potential to impact our agency’s credibility and reputation with the public and criminal justice community.”

A written warning, containing the same sentence, was sent to the second captain, whose name also was redacted. Spalding wrote that the captain “failed to recognize the seriousness of the incident, failed to make appropriate notification to the Deputy Chief and the Chief in a timely manner and failed to follow up on the steps taken to locate the missing property.”

The Oregonian requested documents from the internal investigation in August but was denied. After The Oregonian appealed, the Washington County district attorney ordered release of the documents in April. The city then released the investigation and disciplinary records.

During a January 2012 audit of the evidence room, property staff found all property accounted for except four bags of medication, totaling 40 pounds, from the prescription drop-box. Residents can use it to dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications, among other items.

In April 2012, Spalding asked the Albany-based Oregon Accreditation Alliance, which works to improve the quality of law enforcement agencies, to try to uncover how the medication went missing. The investigation, conducted at no cost to the city, determined that “a series of missteps seems to have occurred that led to the probable destruction of the missing medications” along with other evidence designated to be destroyed in December 2011.

Spalding said, based on the investigation, that he does not believe the medication was stolen. All Beaverton police property and evidence has been accounted for in all audits since January 2012.

Meanwhile, Spalding asked Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger to conduct a second investigation into members of the agency’s command staff to determine who knew of the missing medication, when they learned the property was gone, and how they followed up. The city of Beaverton did not pay either Junginger or the city of Gresham for the investigation.

During an interview with Junginger, then-Capt. Gill said Property and Evidence Supervisor Kim Rendsland informed him about Feb. 20, 2012, that “controlled substances” were missing. Gill didn’t ask how many drugs were gone or what kind. Gill told Junginger he was extremely busy at the time.

Junginger said, as a chief, he would be concerned that Gill didn’t seek more information.

Gill told him, “I would have bet my next paycheck that that thing was sitting in a box just mislabeled.”

“And I a captain and just as a cop I should have known better... because I should have asked more,” Gill told Junginger.

Gill said he told Rendsland to scour the property room for the drugs and write a memo if they couldn’t be found. She said he did not tell her to write a memo.

Gill said he quickly told former Deputy Chief Terry Merritt, Lt. Jim Monger and Oathes that property was missing. He did not tell Monger what was missing.

The deputy chief, who has since retired, disputed during an interview with Junginger that Gill informed him of the missing property. Oathes, who was at the FBI National Academy at the time, said he didn’t remember Gill informing him of the issue while he was away.

In Oathes’ interview, he told Junginger he learned of the missing medication from Gill after returning from the FBI Academy around March 19. Oathes told Rendsland to search for the medication and then write a memo. Oathes did not ask how much was missing or give Rendsland a deadline.

Rendsland completed the memo April 5. Oathes received it a few days later, he said, and waited a couple of days before reading it and telling the deputy chief on April 13.

Junginger asked Oathes how seriously he took the missing medication.

“...Anytime there’s items missing from evidence it’s obviously serious,” Oathes said. “I looked at this as, if it’s a scale of 1-10, of being probably an 8...And the reason it’s not a 10 is because it’s not evidence. It’s property that’s been taken in for destruction.”

Gill and Oathes acknowledged they should have taken faster action.

“You wish you could turn the clock back and do it different,” Gill told Junginger. “I’m experienced enough to do a better job at this...and I let (the chief) down and I feel bad about that. I really do.”

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