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Demonstrators Call Oregon State Hospital's Employment Practices Racist, UnacceptableTim King Salem-News.com
This story was originally published in September, 2010.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Slander is defined by Webster's Dictionary as "...a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report." That was one point made at a protest Wednesday at Oregon State Hospital.
William Coleman, one of two African-American security guards falsely accused of having sex in a patrol car, might be able to define the impact of slander better than most people alive. A former prison guard, he left Oregon Corrections after blowing the whistle on racism and hate crime and getting nowhere.
After leaving his job at the Oregon State Prison, Coleman was hired as a security guard at the Oregon State Hospital, famous for its role in the movie 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.
Coleman says his reports of racism, corruption and preventable violence at the prison, had fallen on deaf ears.
And the problems he experienced at the prison seemed to follow him. Within his first 30 days of employment at the state hospital, Coleman and a security officer, Charles Gregory, both married fathers who are very clearly heterosexual, found themselves in a bizarre situation; framed by an area sex offender and drug convict; accused of having sex in a state patrol car.
William Coleman was fired that day from his position as a state security officer.
The state's reasons for the firing have changed over time. Coleman says while it is sickening to be accused of something you did not do, and terribly damaging to his character and that of the other officer, who is also African-American, he believes they were simply the victims of racial prejudice against blacks.
The fallout from this experience has involved endless damage to Coleman's character. He explains what happened that day.
"The crazy accusation is that me and my partner Charles Gregory, were patrolling the graveyard, and we saw this suspicious character, he was bunny hopping over the gravestones. So we decided to park, and that hopefully he would stop doing what he was doing. He had a weapon in his coat, we believed, I scared him away, he called 911 and said 'two black men were having sex in the cemetery', and we were fired for that."
Coleman says the Salem Police officer arriving on the scene, Waymon Hubbard, was disrespectful and never even told the two security officers what they were supposedly accused of.
"I was treated like a convict, I was treated with no respect at all," Coleman said.
To make matters more insulting, Coleman wouldn't even know for almost two weeks, what the accusation against them was.
All he and Charles Gregory were told, was that they had "patrolled an unauthorized area" when they entered the cemetery.
Coleman says most security officers at the state hospital were trained to patrol the adjacent cemetery, a location historically used as an escape route by mental patients who bolt from the Oregon State Hospital. Since this incident, several other officers have confirmed what Coleman said; that they were also trained to patrol the cemetery.
During the protest, Coleman, the very officer who trained Coleman and other officers to patrol the cemetery, Jess Lienemann, headed our direction after seeing the TV camera covering the protest outside the state hospital. They were escorting a mental patient, but flipped a 180 when they saw William Coleman.
"That's Jess right there, that is the guy that was training me. That's him right there," Coleman said.
"That's what they do, they run, they know definitely who it is, what they do is run, like cowards, see how fast they run in the building? You see what's going on right?"
Coleman: "They ran inside because the truth is the truth"
Fired for something he didn't do, Coleman reapplied for his position, just in case the state wanted to play fair. Playing into the moment is a huge sign on the side of the agency, "Now Hiring".
Coleman had reapplied for his security guard position, but never heard anything back.
"Absolutely, they still refused to hire me, I did nothing wrong."
"So you gave them a chance to bring you back and make everything right. Did they ever contact you?" I asked.
"They never contacted me one time," Coleman responded.
He continued, "You know I would love to have someone come out and talk to me, because what they did was wrong, I would love to have them come out and explain how what they did was right in their eyes, I believe what they did to me was a malicious act, I want them to come out, and face me, and talk to me, and explain why they did what they did."
Coleman did end up talking to one security guard; apparently few here don't know about the allegations of the two black security guard having sex in the cemetery. This guard, after learning what Coleman had dealt with, seemed to do little but agree.
Coleman's most recent discovery is that there are security staff who have been caught having sex in a state security vehicle. Married people, who were not fired even though they were caught. In another case there is an allegation of sexual contact between employees that was investigated, according to testimony gathered by an insurance company investigator. Stay tuned, it will only become more interesting.
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