Sex abuse claim derailed COCC’s choice for president

Patrick Lanning named in tort claim notice

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin


Published Apr 26, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Apr 26, 2014 at 06:24AM

The man Central Oregon Community College intended to hire as its next president has been accused of sexual misconduct by a colleague at Chemeketa Community College.

According to a tort claim notice filed with Chemeketa on Feb. 24, an employee of Chemeketa is threatening to sue the college “for acts of sexual abuse, or sexual contact” conducted by Patrick Lanning while the claimant “was physically helpless.” Lanning, 48, is currently chief academic officer of instruction and student services for the Chemeketa Community College District and Yamhill Valley Campus president in McMinnville.

According to the tort claim notice, the action allegedly occurred “in the claimant’s hotel room at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel” during the evening hours of Feb. 6 or morning hours of Feb. 7. Lanning was at the hotel for the “2014 Annual Student Success & Retention Conference” where he was presenting on the challenges faced by impoverished students, according to a schedule from the event.

Lanning did not return repeated calls and emails for comment. According to the Oregon Judicial Information Network, Lanning has not been charged with any crime. Asked for any police records or reports naming Lanning from February 2014, Port of Portland media relations manager Steve Johnson wrote, “records otherwise responsive to your request are not subject to disclosure at this time, as these records pertain to an ongoing investigation.”

COCC was poised to appoint Lanning its next president on March 17, but that same day announced its decision to postpone the board’s vote. It was later revealed COCC’s decision was sparked by the discovery that Lanning had been placed on paid administrative leave in early February and was under investigation by Chemeketa. During his interview with COCC on March 3 in Bend, Lanning never revealed he was on leave or under investigation, nor did any Chemeketa employee interviewed by COCC mention the situation. COCC’s board voted to drop Lanning from consideration April 9. COCC spokesman Ron Paradis said the board was aware a tort claim notice may have been filed at that time.

A tort claim notice must be filed with a public entity before a claimant can sue for damages.

The Bulletin made a public records request on April 9 to Chemeketa for any and all tort claim notices filed in the past four months, yielding one tort claim notice with both the claimant’s and accused’s names redacted by Mark Comstock, Chemeketa’s counsel. Ron Bryant, COCC’s attorney, led an investigation to discover why Lanning was on leave and obtained a copy of a tort claim notice filed with Chemeketa on Feb. 24. Bryant did not supply The Bulletin with the tort claim notice he acquired but confirmed it accused Lanning of wrongdoing.

“Lanning is the person that is accused in the tort claim notice,” Bryant said.

Chemeketa Dean of Public Information, Marketing and Student Recruitment Greg Harris said the university could not comment on the tort claim notice as it is still investigating the matter. Harris said his college did not inform COCC of the investigation based on advice from legal counsel.

“Our intent was to take care of our employee who had an allegation against him, as we don’t know where the truth is,” Harris said.

Harris added that he does not know when Chemeketa will finish its investigation, though he does “doubt that it is imminent.”

Paradis does not know whether Lanning was ever directly asked if he was on leave. However, Paradis did say Lanning was asked if there was anything in his past that could be an embarrassment to the college, to which Lanning responded in the negative.

“I believe this all should have come up,” Paradis said of COCC’s interviews with Chemeketa employees and Lanning. “It’s like when you’re not expecting something negative you don’t necessarily ask about it, but we certainly felt like we asked if there was other information we needed to know about.”

Lanning was the school’s top pick following a national search that brought three candidates to campus in February and March. COCC interviewed two other candidates to succeed current president Jim Middleton — Dana Young, president of Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, and Sheila Ortego, interim president of the community campus at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz.

COCC will begin anew the search for a permanent leader this coming school year, mirroring the approach which COCC initiated last fall. As a result, the college probably will not have a new president until the summer of 2015. COCC’s Extended Learning Dean Shirley Metcalf was named by the board earlier this month as the college’s interim president, a role she will assume Sept. 15.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com