Secrecy about police disciplinary records makes it incredibly difficult for the public to know if they should be proud of their police agency or worry about it.
One of the only tools the public has to peek into what might be going on in Oregon is to follow the money. When a public agency spends money, it can’t hide it. We decided to test this for two local law enforcement agencies. We asked for the records for the last five years from Deschutes County and the city of Bend about payments they have made or their insurance company made to compensate members of the public for actions taken by the police. We were primarily interested in issues of officer misconduct or use of force.
The records we received don’t disclose any big secrets that The Bulletin had not reported on in some way before. As we have reported, the city of Bend’s insurance company paid the family of Michael Jacques $800,000 after he was shot and killed by Bend Police officer Scott Schaier in 2016. Schaier is running for county sheriff. It’s important to note that the investigation did not find Schaier or other members of the Bend department did anything wrong.
The county supplied us with a more comprehensive list than the city, including minor payments for fender benders and even one for $20.99 because an inmate’s cellphone was put through the laundry. The biggest payment was related to the death of Edwin Mays in the county jail in 2014. He died of a methamphetamine overdose. Surveillance footage showed deputies mocked him and ignored him. His estate was paid $1,025,000.
It’s encouraging that the records didn’t disclose incidents we were not aware of. But it is also discouraging that one of the only tools that the public has in Oregon is an indirect, incomplete window into police misconduct.