Family sues COCC in Kaylee Sawyer murder

Sawyer

When Kaylee Sawyer’s father spoke at her killer’s sentencing in January, he promised he wouldn’t let his daughter’s name be forgotten.

In Salem on Friday, Jamie Sawyer, along with leaders from Central Oregon, will address legislators in support of a proposed bill — called Kaylee’s Law — intended to “depolice” campus security forces. The bill would clarify the policing limits of college security officers and includes restrictions that would make uniforms and vehicles look less like those of traditional law enforcement personnel.

“These changes just make sense,” Jamie Sawyer said. “Why aren’t they already doing them?”

The clear inspiration for Kaylee’s Law is Central Oregon Community College, where she was a student who lived on campus.

In summer 2016, Kaylee Anne Sawyer, 23, was approached by a COCC security guard, who was wearing a COCC security uniform resembling an official police outfit, and driving a campus security SUV with plexiglass separating the front and back seats and auto-locking doors. He offered her a ride.

Kaylee Sawyer was held in the back of his vehicle, unable to escape, and driven to a secluded parking lot, where she was raped and killed after struggling with the man, 32-year-old Edwin Enoc Lara. Her body was found in a ravine between Sisters and Redmond.

“He was in a position of trust, and to my knowledge, the only reason that Kaylee got in that car was because he was in that position of trust,” said Jamie Sawyer, who is president of D&S Hydraulics in Bend. “The points we’ve made in Kaylee’s Law would have made it impossible for this individual to commit these heinous acts.”

Jamie Sawyer is joined in supporting Kaylee’s Law by Bend-area law enforcement officials who said COCC hasn’t done enough to keep to promises to tone down its campus security. Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said this endangers the community and denies crime victims their constitutional rights.

Six months ago, Jamie Sawyer and his wife, ­Crystal, reached out to the Oregon Attorney General’s office for help putting together a group to study standardizing campus security in Oregon.

The group included Porter, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, several legislators from both parties, including Bend Republican Sen. Tim Knopp, and representatives of student groups and higher education.

The proposed law they created would require campus security uniforms to look less like official police attire, and configure their vehicles to not send the message that these officers can arrest people or take reports. It would also require a criminal background check for campus safety staff and establish that campus cops do not have “stop and frisk” authority.

The oldest community college in Oregon, COCC enrolls more than 16,000 students spread across 300 acres. COCC campus security is responsible for protecting students and enforcing campus policy, according to its website.

Bend Police officials have been frustrated with COCC’s approach to security since at least 2015, when a hidden camera was discovered on campus.

Porter said the report of that incident, and other crime reports taken by COCC officers, never made it to his department, at least not right away.

“The problem is, their website says, call us if you witness a crime,” Porter said. “When they show up, they’re dressed like a police officer, they’re in a vehicle like a police officer, and they take a report like a police officer. Then that criminal report goes nowhere. It goes into a file and stays there.”

Between 2015 and 2018, there were 63 known incidents at COCC that were reported to campus police but not Bend Police, according to Bend Police’s crime analyst, who provided information to the Bulletin. This includes assaults and stalking in the residence halls, and this fall, a string of four car break-ins in the “I” parking lot.

Often in the reports Bend Police does receive, important information has been redacted, including the victim’s name and the name of the responding security officer.

In Oregon, campus security guards have the same authority as average citizens, according to Eriks Gabliks, director of the state office that certifies police officers — the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.

“They have no more authority than you do,” Gabliks said. “The only difference is they work for the community college.”

The one exception is the security force at Western Oregon University, which the Legislature granted the authority to arrest based on probable cause, and to stop and frisk individuals.

Three of Oregon’s seven public universities also have their own police departments — Oregon Health & Sciences University, Portland State University and the University of Oregon. Gabliks noted these institutions have security guards in addition to police departments.

Gabliks was another member of the group that helped devise Kaylee’s Law. He called the meetings “spirited” and Jamie Sawyer a forceful presence.

“He’s very passionate about not letting what happened to his daughter happen to another person in Oregon,” Gabliks said.

Porter and Hummel said they’ve been told by COCC officials that the scope of their policing authority is unclear.

“I respectfully disagree with them on this, but if they think the law is unclear the Legislature should clarify it for them,” Hummel said.

COCC spokesman Ron ­Paradis said the school is limited with what it can say, due to a pending federal lawsuit filed by Sawyer’s family against the school. But he said the school believes its practices are legal.

“In recent public statements relating to draft legislation concerning complex campus security issues, DA Hummel has unfortunately chosen to speculate upon claims and issues that are currently framed in pending litigation involving the college,” Paradis wrote in an email. “That said, the college wishes to be clear that it strongly disputes Mr. Hummel’s characterizations of its Campus Public Safety operations, including any suggestion that the college has ever been in violation of the law.”

Porter said COCC has made steps in the right direction but that the school has further to go.

The school has temporarily suspended the use of handcuffs by officers and the use of citizen’s arrest powers. It’s established a Public Safety Board to determine the scope of its public safety authority and soon will forward recommendations, including formalizing those temporary measures.

Kaylee Sawyer’s mother, Juli Walden VanCleave, will also attend the hearing Friday in support of the proposed legislation, according to Walden VanCleave’s mother, Sharon Walden.

“It’s been hard on everyone. It’s still hard every day,” Walden said. “We’re certainly still grieving.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, 
gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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