PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Washington County paid $175,000 last month to a former Sheriff’s Office deputy who alleged years of sexual harassment by a patrol corporal, who is no longer employed by the agency.
The settlement resulted from a civil complaint filed in federal court against Washington County and Tyler Whitely, the former Washington County Sheriff’s Office corporal. County leaders approved the payment on Jan. 17, during a period of the county board meeting where items are typically approved without discussion.
The money came from the county’s risk management fund.
The allegations against Whitely are detailed in federal court records and in an Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) arbitration report that came in response to the incidents.
Pamplin Media Group is keeping the identity of the woman anonymous due to the sensitive nature of incidents involving sexual harassment or sexual assault.
The victim, a former patrol deputy, said Whitely frequently subjected her to inappropriate remarks, including comments about liking her yoga pants and telling her intimate sexual details about his own marriage.
But the victim said she was prepared to suffer the conduct, which reportedly began as far back as 2019, rather than report it — until a 2021 incident proved to be the final straw.
In January 2021, the complaint alleges that Whitely told the deputy while the two were on patrol about a dream he had where they woke up in bed together in a Las Vegas hotel room.
The complaint and the ERB arbitrator’s factual findings both state that Whitely concluded this conversation by telling the deputy, “I would tell (you) the other stuff but it’s just like way too dirty for work.”
The deputy described in follow-up interviews with investigators how she felt “really disrespected and it just really bothered me … it made me feel really devalued.”
ERB arbitrator Judy Henry also states that the deputy sent an Instagram message to Whitely after she’d completed her shift, describing how the comments about his dream were “inappropriate and unprofessional.”
Whitely responded, “Sorry, I meant no offense and the dream was more awkward and comical than anything else. I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable and I apologize completely.”
The deputy did not respond to the message and blocked Whitely from her Instagram account, the ERB report notes.
The deputy also described in interviews with investigators how she felt that Whitely’s behavior was escalating and that it felt “like he’s grooming me.”
In Whitely’s initial interview about this incident, he said he recalled relaying the dream about waking up in bed with the deputy, though he denied saying that the rest was “too dirty for work,” the arbitrator states.
However, the report then states Whitely and his union representative asked for a follow-up interview that occurred on Feb. 23, 2021. In it, he admitted to making that comment.
Explaining why he said this, Whitely told the interviewer, “The comment I made, in my mind, was to say, ‘Hey, there was nothing else to the dream. If there was, I wouldn’t talk about it at work with you.’”
He further explained that if there was a sexual component to the dream, it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about it at work.
When pressed about why he felt it necessary to describe the dream to the deputy at all, Whitely said he didn’t see any necessity to it and described it as “an excited utterance, like my brain just recalled it and I just blurted it out.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office investigated the complaints against Whitely after the deputy lodged a formal complaint a few weeks after the January 2021 incident. The Sheriff’s Office demoted him from corporal back to patrol deputy in June of that year.
Whitely then filed a grievance against the county, saying the agency lacked just cause to demote him and that its discipline was excessive in this case. The arbitrator disagreed with these assertions and the grievance was closed.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office says Whitely no longer works for the agency. According to records in Oregon’s Criminal Justice Information Records Inquiry System, he resigned from the Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 3.
Washington County said Whitely submitted his resignation “during an ongoing personnel investigation unrelated to (this) matter.”
Whitely’s accuser later resigned from the Sheriff’s Office as part of the settlement agreement.
Other instances of harassment
The complaint also lists Washington County as a defendant in the lawsuit, stating the county failed to act on harassment complaints properly and promptly, and fostered a culture of acceptance of this behavior through its inaction.
“WCSO historically had shown a pattern of tolerating sexual harassment and downplaying complaints made by female employees,” the complaint states.
The victim described previous incidents of harassment by male Washington County Sheriff’s Office employees.
One account describes a 2011 incident of alleged sexual assault, where the employee described having her buttocks grabbed by a male deputy while she was working in a civilian position at the jail.
The Sheriff’s Office says it investigated this incident and the agency “took immediate and corrective action,” placing the male deputy, Robert Bingham, on a two-day suspension, and he was “provided with clear expectations of his conduct moving forward.”
The victim’s complaint said the agency’s response was inadequate, as Bingham “continued to work during the ensuing internal investigation and WCSO did not immediately intervene or prevent Bingham from continuing to work in the same building as (the accuser) and other female employees,” the complaint states.
The complaint refers to the deputy’s punishment as “minor discipline and a forced apology.”
A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office acknowledged that information about the 2011 case is limited because records of older personnel investigations used to be purged regularly before the passage of Oregon House Bill 3145, which now mandates reporting such disciplinary action to the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST).
As such, Bingham’s name does not appear in a DPSST records database that details disciplinary action against law enforcement officers, though that’s likely because this resource only became active in 2020. Bingham’s records may have already been shredded as part of the county’s routine records purges.
In 2013, another deputy, Adam Slater, sent the victim and other women working for the Sheriff’s Office pictures of his genitalia.
The arbitrator’s report states, “This was apparently a common enough occurrence that Slater has a reputation for it among WCSO’s female employees and was reviled for it.”
The victim said that when she reported this to a now-retired female superior, she was told: “she must have done something to encourage his harassing behavior.”
It does not appear that this superior relayed the allegations to higher management officials, and no investigation was launched at the time.
The former employee said this experience made her less willing to report sexual harassment in the workplace.
However, in 2016, she was interviewed about this incident after Slater again was accused of sexually harassing female coworkers. Slater was fired from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a result.
Allegations of neglect
The lawsuit called out the county’s failure to investigate in 2013, stating that “negligence on behalf of WCSO’s management allowed (Slater) to continue his behavior for three more years before any action was taken.”
The Sheriff’s Office said Slater wasn’t investigated because the allegations were not raised to agency leadership until 2016.
“Upon receiving the information, WCSO initiated an investigation,” a statement by the agency said. “The investigation substantiated the allegations, and Mr. Slater was terminated.”
Aside from these other incidents, the victim states that when she made the complaints against Whitely to management, he was placed on administrative leave and, when he returned, Whitely was briefly placed in the same patrol district as his accuser, despite the two having been kept apart following the complaint.
The Sheriff’s Office says the placement was an error that was quickly rectified.
“On Mr. Whitely’s first workday following his suspension, they were inadvertently assigned to the same district for several hours, and it was immediately corrected,” the agency said.
In her civil complaint, the former deputy pointed to these and other instances to state that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has a history of bungling its handling of investigations and not properly addressing employees’ concerns about an unsafe workplace.
“She felt WCSO’s ‘investigations’ took too long and lacked any sense of empathy or compassion, and that it would be less traumatic to endure Whitely’s behavior rather than go through months of interrogations in interviews … that seemed more focused on proving Whitely’s innocence than gathering the facts of the situation,” the complaint states. “This sentiment is shared by many of WCSO’s female employees.”
The Sheriff’s Office says that it takes all allegations of sexual harassment and assault seriously and has a zero-tolerance policy for such conduct.
“WCSO maintains zero tolerance for workplace harassment, meaning such conduct is not allowed and allegations are thoroughly investigated,” the agency said in a statement. “If WCSO sustains (a complaint of) harassing behavior, we treat it as a serious policy violation and take appropriate action.”
The Sheriff’s Office also says it regularly trains employees and management staff on proper harassment policies and procedures.
“WCSO leads periodic harassment-free workplace training and discussions conducted by agency leaders, county staff, and outside contracted experts,” the agency said.
It disagreed with the assertions that the organization lacks support systems for employees who report harassment.
“WCSO’s support to a staff member who reports harassing conduct includes a range of supportive, wellness resources, a commitment to conduct a thorough investigation, and treating harassing conduct as a serious policy violation, taking appropriate action when the conduct occurs,” the Sheriff’s Office stated.
The statement also noted that the agency has recently placed a greater emphasis on “providing updates to those who report harassing conduct to inform them of the investigation’s timeline.”