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Eugene Weekly : 07.20.06

Besmirched

Files show how EPD failed to stop Magaña.

BY ALAN PITTMAN

Are you a high-school dropout who used meth, cocaine and marijuana, sold drugs and was arrested for burglary, public urination and lying to police, and have a shady expunged juvenile record? Did you get rejected by another police department and score in the bottom 5 percent on the SAT? Then you, too, could qualify as a Eugene police officer.

Roger Magaña and Juan Lara had these disqualifications but were hired by the Eugene Police Department (EPD) anyway, to the department's lasting shame. Magaña was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to 94 years in prison for raping, sexually abusing, sodomizing, kidnapping and/or harassing a dozen women over seven years as a Eugene police officer. Lara was convicted of a much smaller sexual spree of harassment, coercion, public indecency and official misconduct and served two years in jail.

The city of Eugene has released five binders full of documents from the civil suits by victims of police sex abuse. The documents include the sworn depositions of 16 current and former officers and police chiefs and the EPD HR manager. The city heavily censored some of the pages.

The city of Eugene has denied that any of its personnel did anything wrong in hiring, supervising and disciplining the two officers. But Magaña is estimated to have had more than 40 alleged victims over six years, and questions remain concerning how such a massive crime spree could have happened under EPD officers' noses.

Det. Scott McKee recalls that as the Magaña/Lara criminal investigation grew shockingly bigger in 2003, he talked with then Chief Thad Buchanan about concerns that others were involved, complicit or turned a blind eye. "Jesus, do you think there's anybody else?"

After settling lawsuits with 14 of Magaña and Lara's victims for a total of $5 million, the city has begun releasing a mountain of court documents, including sworn depositions, that shed new light on that question. The documents reveal a pattern of questionable hiring and officers quickly dismissing complaints without formal investigation and without telling Internal Affairs (IA) or supervisors, and apparently pressuring victims to recant.

 

Hiring

Would Magaña and Lara be hired today as police officers, given their past resumes?

"I think he [Magaña] would" be hired, said EPD Human Resources Manager Helen Towle in her deposition.

Lara "probably would get hired again tomorrow," said former Eugene Police Chief Jim Hill in his deposition.

When Magaña was hired a decade ago, a background investigation revealed that Magaña had twice been arrested for burglary, but never charged. McKee, the lead criminal investigator for the Magaña and Lara cases, later found troubling evidence of a possible earlier crime when Magaña was about 17.

The record of that juvenile crime had been legally expunged and destroyed by request just before Magaña was hired. But after Magaña's conviction, McKee said he talked to a woman who said she had gone to high school with Magaña. She alleged that Magaña had been caught in a violent sexual assault of a young woman in the bushes outside a teen party.

McKee testified that he has not been able to confirm the incident. Two other party-goers said they didn't recall it, the woman now doesn't return his calls, he was unable to find any records and has only the first name of the alleged victim. "I'm at a dead end," he said.

HR Manager Towle said the EPD also investigated a "rumor" that surfaced after Magaña was hired in 1995 as a police trainee. Co-workers of Magaña in the city's Public Works Department alleged that Magaña was living beyond his means and could be selling drugs. A police sergeant went to public works and "the people confronted backed down," Towle said.

Lara's background investigation also revealed an arrest record. In 1994, he was caught peeing in a park with friends and lying to police about having beer in his car when he was 20 years old. Lara told EPD officials that he suspected the incident was why the Seattle Police Department rejected him for a job.

Lara also admitted a high school history of drug use and sales. He said he used cocaine or meth approximately 20 to 25 times and marijuana five times. He admitted that he sold cocaine at parties about 10 times. Lara also admitted to driving while drunk or high, teenage shoplifting and resigning a job under pressure, according to documents.

Lara dropped out of high school but later obtained a GED, meeting state minimum education requirements for officers. Plaintiffs' lawyers asked whether Towle was aware that Magaña had a 2.0 GPA at a community college and had scored in the bottom 5 percent on the SAT.

Towle said such low academics would not disqualify a candidate for an officer job.

Hill said he was impressed with Magaña's later "stellar" military record in the Marines. "He's kind of typical of some of the folks we see who did some goofy things in high school that they are not proud of," Hill said.

Officers described hiring the right people as a vital way for the department to prevent officer abuse in a town where police patrol by themselves without constant supervision. "We're supposed to have high moral character so that they can trust us to run around in the city," officer Mel Thompson said.

Mystery Woman

After Magaña was hired, fellow officers rejected complaints from his victims.

One previously unreported incident occurred in 1999 and involved a "mystery woman" from Florence who was a suspected heroin user and prostitute.

Officer Larry Crompton testified that the "very attractive" woman told him that she had a romantic relationship with Magaña. She said Magaña hurt her emotionally because she found he was just using her for information.

Crompton said the woman — he couldn't remember her name — told him that she had told others about the relationship and Magaña had found out she was talking. "She said the next thing that she knew she had two of his buddies, indicating two other police officers, who showed up at her door and told her to — I don't remember the exact words — but more or less to keep her mouth shut."

Asked if the two officers were threatening the woman to be silent, Crompton replied, "I don't think there's really too many ways to take that."

Crompton said he was concerned and confronted Magaña with the information. Magaña admitted he knew the woman but denied romantic involvement. He admitted that two officers had talked to her to tell her to stop spreading false rumors.

Magaña "put it all at rest" by explaining the woman was one of his police informants, Crompton said. He said he was "satisfied" with the explanation but thought Magaña behaved in a "tacky" manner with the woman. Crompton said he did not report the incident to Internal Affairs or his superiors because he thought it was his discretion to decide the complaint wasn't credible.

Officer Mel Thompson said he was Magaña's "pal" and one of the officers who talked to the mystery woman about spreading rumors. He said he could not remember her name nor the name of the other officer with him. He said the two officers confronted the woman during an arrest in an alley and gave her a "spiel" about wrongly harming an officer's reputation. Thompson denied threatening the woman and said she recanted the accusation. He said she admitted that she made it only because Magaña arrested her.

Thompson said he did not officially report the incident to IA or his superiors but said with the Rapid Deployment Unit, "it was a known within the team ... including the supervisor."

McKee said he didn't believe anyone in the department was involved or "complicit" in Magaña and Lara's crimes. But McKee said that, unlike the two officers, he would have officially reported the woman's accusation to supervisors. He described the confrontation between the two officers and the accusing woman as "not a pleasant exchange."

But McKee said he was too busy preparing for the Magaña trial to pursue the woman's identity, investigate other witnesses or look for corroborating documents. "The obvious follow-up related to the conduct, the subsequent conduct alleged involving the follow-up and kind of hush-hush communication and visit — I just overlooked that as an investigative lead, I guess."

Former Chief Hill said that during his 30 years in the department, it was always the policy that officers were to report even "flaky" accusations of serious misconduct to supervisors and IA. Officers did not have the discretion to simply dismiss such allegations as not credible, Hill said. "There would have to be a complete and timely investigation ... with documentation. Absolutely."

 

Similar Complaint Dismissed

In a similar incident, a suspected prostitute and heroin addict told officer Gerald Webber that another heroin user and suspected prostitute was having sex with Magaña to get out of arrest warrants.

Webber said he thought the other heroin user was lying about having sex with the officer. "There's no way."

Webber said he asked Magaña about the report. "He flatly denied it," Webber said. But he noted Magaña appeared "nervous" and "weird" about the accusation.

Webber said he also told his supervisor Lt. Jim Fields about the accusation against Magaña. He said he told Fields he believed the accusation was a "bogus" tactic to get police to avoid arresting her for fear of false accusations.

Webber said he proposed to Fields that officers target the accuser with a sting operation. "If [the woman] is going to accuse cops of misconduct, then fine. Let's go down there in uniform, proposition her, and then arrest her."

Webber said Fields rejected the idea because it could get officers in trouble.

Fields, also testifying under oath, has a markedly different description of the conversation.

He emphatically denied that Webber ever told him about a specific allegation of Magaña trading sex for dropping arrests. "Absolutely not."

"I asked him [Webber] point blank, is there an officer out there messing with prostitutes that shouldn't be on patrol? I want to know, and you have an obligation to tell me if there is. And he said he didn't know of anything like that."

After he retired in 2002, Fields said he heard Webber was claiming that he reported the Magaña accusation to him. He said he called McKee and told him, "if this is being said, I demand that somebody be put on a polygraph because that is a damn lie if somebody said they said that to me."

Fields said Webber did not mention Magaña. He said Webber told him that he thought prostitutes were so brazen that they would proposition uniformed officers in a sting. Fields said he told him not to do that because it would hurt uniformed officers' "credibility" if the public saw them doing business with prostitutes. Fields said he told IA and many other supervisors about the conversation and the claim that prostitutes were brazen enough to proposition uniformed officers.

Webber said Magaña later said that the woman "is saying the same thing about you" and agreed it was a tactic to avoid enforcement.

Webber said he later arrested the woman on a warrant and confronted her about the accusations as he drove her to the jail. He told her it was "pretty low" that she was "getting somebody in trouble that's out there doing his job every night," Webber said. "She completely recanted."

Later after Magaña was indicted, the woman emerged as one of the officer's most frequent victims, with dozens of accusations of forced sex. Webber said, "All of a sudden I thought, oh crap. Everything [the woman] said that night is true."

 

Other Complaints Rejected

One of the earliest allegations against Magaña came from within the department. A 17-year-old woman working as a police cadet alleged that Magaña touched her sexually against her will. The frightened cadet reported the incident to officer Jennifer Bills and a non-sworn EPD community service staffer named Richard Bremer.

McKee said Bills told him that she reported the incident to her supervisor at the time, Lt. Rick Siel. McKee said he would have formally investigated a similar complaint if he had been the supervisor, but it appears that Seal and Bills did not.

In 2001, a different woman complained that Magaña had stopped her and tried to romantically pick her up. EPD Sgt. Bill Harris ruled the complaint unfounded. But an auditor hired by the city noted evidence that Magaña lied about the incident. The auditor criticized the handling of the complaint.

Former Chief Hill testified that Harris was "somewhat lax," in his supervision of officers.

But Harris himself faulted Magaña for the incident in a later performance appraisal, noting his failure to run the woman for warrants or fill out a contact card. "He [Magaña] needs to ensure that he conducts personal stops in a manner that supports his reasons for the stop," Harris wrote.

In 2002 a woman whom officer Ryan Wolgamott was citing for marijuana possession, "just matter-of-factly stated that officer Magaña had raped her."

"I was like 'Great,' and I just kept writing" the citation, Wolgamott said. The officer said he considered what the woman said "garbage" because of her digressive speech, which appeared to indicate she was mentally ill or on drugs.

The woman also said she had reported the incident at City Hall but nothing was done, so Wolgamott assumed it might already have been investigated. He said he also assumed another officer standing next to him heard the statement, but that officer later denied it. Wolgamott did not report the accusation to IA or supervisors. "I didn't see a need for anything," he said.

The woman, who suffers from mental illness, later emerged as another of Magaña's most frequent victims.

Officer William Reimers, an EPD officer for seven years who now is an officer in Boise, said he also received a sex abuse complaint about Magaña but dismissed it. Reimers said a drug informant told him "she witnessed Magaña grab her friend's buttocks in a sexy manner."

Reimers said he trusted the woman to tell the truth for drug arrests but found the information about Magaña not credible and did not report it or investigate. "At that time it sounded like a drug-addicted prostitute upset with an officer," Reimers said. "It was my discretion as to whether I believed something was valid."

Officer Crompton also testified about another incident in which an employee at a downtown bar confronted Magaña, telling him to leave his wife or girlfriend alone. Magaña dismissed the incident as mistaken identity but later disappeared from his patrol with Crompton. Crompton said he found Magaña back at the bar where Magaña explained he had cleared the incident up. Crompton said he later ran into the accuser, who said it was a mistake.

Crompton did not report the accusation or the disappearance of Magaña, and McKee said he hadn't heard any criticism of Crompton in the department for failing to do that.

 

Almost Undiscovered

The complaint that eventually broke the Magaña scandal open was originally quickly dismissed by a supervisor.

Lt. Kathryn Flynn fielded the complaint when it first came in. Flynn said the woman accused Magaña of "egregious" misconduct including fondling her breasts and buttocks and saying he wanted to bend her over and "do" her.

Flynn said she interviewed the woman and found her not credible because: Magaña denied he even knew her; she appeared more concerned about being arrested than the sex assault; Flynn didn't see how they could have made out in a patrol car in a public area; Flynn mistakenly thought the woman was saying Magaña had returned to her apartment when Magaña was in fact at City Hall; and Flynn couldn't corroborate her account with police records.

Flynn admitted that in hindsight she "should have" gone to the woman's apartment to interview her and gather physical evidence such as a business card the woman said Magaña had given her.

Flynn said she closed her investigation within one and half hours of the complaint and left for three days off. She said she planed to send an email to IA when she got back about the complaint and expected that they would agree the complaint was unfounded on her recommendation.

But the woman called back the following day and spoke to a second supervisor, who handled the complaint much differently. That sergeant quickly brought it to the attention of his superiors and referred the case for criminal investigation.

McKee said he didn't investigate why Flynn didn't look in Magaña's police notebook in her investigation. The accuser had said Magaña had written her name and phone number there. "That was the quick way to figure it out. That was going to be pivotal information."

McKee said he also would not have left the serious complaint hanging while he took his days off. "I don't necessarily agree that that is something that can wait two days."

 

'Womanizer'

Magaña had a reputation among many officers as a "womanizer."

Officer Thompson said Magaña bragged about his exploits and abilities with women and told him he had been with "over 100" women in his life. Thompson said Magaña would frequently be checking out women, saying "look at her." He said he went to strip clubs with Magaña.

It was widely known in the department that Magaña was cheating on his wife, officer Crompton testified.

Crompton, a close personal acquaintance of Magaña, said he was "a dog" when it came to women. Magaña seemed to know many women, including those of "questionable character," he said. "I've never met a man who knew so many females by name."

Officer McKee said he once saw Magaña make a woman uncomfortable with how he looked at her while Magaña was policing the Eugene Celebration. Magaña was "looking her up and down and kind of having a smirk on his face."

As the investigation ballooned, McKee said he "was constantly amazed" at the scale of the abuse Magaña had perpetrated in Eugene. He said he's continuing to investigate new allegations against Magaña with a total of "upwards of 40" victims.

With many of these women alleging dozens or even scores of incidents of forced sex, Magaña would have represented his own crime wave. By comparison, in all of Eugene about 50 rapes and 220 sex offenses are reported each year.

McKee described one woman whose allegations emerged after the trial. The prostitute alleged she sold or was coerced into giving Magaña oral sex 50 times. Some of her story was backed up by EPD records, he said. "I thought he was capable of doing anything."

McKee said he suspected Magaña was paying the prostitute with money he stole from street contacts or acquired from criminal activity. He said Magaña appeared to be living beyond his means and he referred the financial question to the U.S. attorney for an IRS investigation, but they haven't pursued it.

Magaña wasn't the first EPD officer to be accused of sexual misconduct. The lawsuit documents refer to a variety of incidents including sustained allegations against: a school officer who dated, sexually harassed and furnished alcohol to a woman under 21 whom he used as an informant; an officer who exposed himself to a female tailor; and a sergeant who had sex with his girlfriend while on duty.

Last year a joint report by the Police Executive Research Forum and International City Manager Association called on the city to hire an outside investigator to conduct a thorough internal investigation of failures in hiring Magaña and Lara and in handling complaints against them. But City Manager Dennis Taylor and Police Chief Robert Lehner have so far failed to do so. Without investigation, they continue to maintain that no one in the department besides Magaña and Lara did anything wrong.