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Oregon State Hospital and Staff Member Face Racism Charges Over Employee TerminationTim King Salem-News.com
William Coleman is suing OSH and a hospital supervisor under the Federal Civil Rights Act.
(SALEM, Ore.) - The state of Oregon's defense against racism charges in a Salem court this week hinges on the testimony of a local man with a history of brutal domestic assaults against his wife, sex abuse against a child, and multiple convictions for Witness Tampering.
Joe Salazar isn't exactly a poster boy for witness credibility, but his word is being taken very seriously by the Oregon Dept. of Justice (DOJ) as they attempt to defend the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) in the wrongful dismissal case of William Coleman, whose ongoing struggle against racism in Oregon as a whistleblower has been published in numerous Salem-News.com articles.
Testifying for the state, Salazar alleges that he observed Coleman and another African-American OSH guard engaging in a sexual act at the cemetery the day Coleman was fired. While Coleman and Charles Gregory were and are still clearly being judged for the act, the Salem Police report on the matter indicated 'no crime' and 'investigation closed'.
Coleman and Gregory, both married men with children; say they didn't learn of the allegation of homosexual sex for weeks, until Coleman received a copy of the police report. Coleman, who was in his 'Trial Services' period, was terminated that day. Charles Gregory was suspended with pay, then fired some time later, and then eventually rehired by OSH, where he continues to work today.
The state contends that Coleman was dismissed because Trial Service means trial period for an employee and they had every right to dismiss an employee who was not performing the role of their job adequately. However, OSH rehired Charles Gregory, who, unlike Coleman, was represented by his union.
State prosecutors also contend that Coleman was "disrespectful" to the Salem Police officer who responded to the cemetery over Salazar's report. Coleman says disrespectful doesn't start to describe the treatment the Salem officer provided him.
Salem Police advised the felonious gatekeeper Salazar to lock the state officers in the cemetery and imprison them against their will, which he did; unlocking it only when Salem Police Officer Waymon Hubbard arrived on the scene and instructed him to do so, by all accounts.
Background involving DOC
Those familiar with Coleman's history know that he is the former prison guard from the Oregon State Penitentiary who filed a federal Whistleblower claim for Racism and Hate Crimes at the prison, only to immediately be charged with 15 serious counts of having smuggled tobacco into the prison while working as a corrections officer.
Coleman said it was a set up and he took the case to jury trial, while facing a 40-year prison sentence if convicted, and walked away with a unanimous Not Guilty verdict from a jury of his peers.
There are two significant parts to William Coleman's saga; the first is certainly the prison and court story referenced in the paragraph above and detailed in the story links below. The second part of his story is the focus of the court proceedings that began Monday. It centers around his termination from the security guard job Coleman began after resigning from his role as a corrections officer with the Oregon Dept. of Corrections (DOC).
William Coleman is suing OSH and a hospital supervisor named Cynthia Gregory, under Section 1983 of the Federal Civil Rights Act.
Section 1983 specifically provides that: A person states a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if he alleges that the defendant deprived him of a constitutional right while acting “under color” of state law.
In his opening statement, William Coleman's attorney Kevin Lafkey told the jury that 90% of the facts are already verified on his client's behalf. He says the state violated William Coleman's Civil Rights that qualify for equal protection under U.S.C. Section 1983, and that Mr. Coleman sustained damages on several levels when he was terminated 24 November 2008 after the incident in the historic Jason Lee Cemetery adjacent to the state hospital.
Lafkey says Coleman's right to Due Process was violated, and that his client is entitled to be paid for economic damages, non-economic damages and emotional distress.
That all hinges on whether or not the jury believes Coleman's dismissal was connected to racism.
Coleman had been hired by OSH as a Mental Health Security Technician (MHST) and had only been on the job about a month when he was terminated. That day he was patrolling the cemetery in a state security vehicle with Charles Gregory, also an MHST, when they observed a man on a child's bicycle 'bunny hopping' over the gravestones in the historic cemetery. Coleman says they stopped the car and watched the man, hoping he would see them and leave. Instead, this man with a serious violent criminal past approached the two officers and began unzipping his hooded sweatshirt.
Salazar; whose appearance reflects his hard life, complete with tattoos across the back of his neck; said he wore a 'collegiate' sweatshirt and 'shak shorts' and admits having dressed, "like a kid". At any rate, both Coleman and Gregory say they thought the man was pulling a gun, so Coleman exited his vehicle and feigned having a firearm, which he was not provided in this role, and screamed at the man to leave, which he says Salazar quickly did.
Salazar described a different scenario; he says Coleman screamed "We're Salem Police on an investigation and if you don't want to be part of this investigation get the f*ck out of here". Salazar added, "Yeah and as I was leaving I flipped him the bird", adding that he was angry over the encounter with the two security officers.
Coleman says neither men ever said they were Salem Police; and that no conversation resembling the one Salazar describes, took place. But Salem Police Officer Waymon Hubbard took Salazar seriously, as is the Oregon DOJ's defense team this week. Coleman says he was only told that day that he was being fired for patrolling an unauthorized area.
When asked why he believes Salazar alleged "homosexual sex" in a previous interview several weeks ago, Coleman referred to the man's convictions for sex with a child. Coleman believes that Salazar's demeanor probably involves relating most things he encounters to sex. However, Judge Tom Hart refused to allow that aspect of Salzar's background to be divulged to the jury and threatened to call a mistrial when Lafkey brought Salazar's record as a sex offender into question.
Coleman's supervisors fired him officially for the unauthorized patrol. One former OSH security tech. named David Jarding, testified Monday that he was trained to patrol the cemetery once during every eight hour shift. Jarding did not complete his Trial Services period either, however he did receive some assistance from the local union, which Coleman did not receive.
One former security supervisor, Richard Dean; dropped a bit of a bombshell on the jury when he revealed that he was caught having a sexual affair with a subordinate but that he was not fired, and did not have his pay reduced. Richard Dean was transferred to Portland to work at a state hospital facility for a period of time. Today he is back in Salem. His wife also works for OSH in Salem.
Coleman's former supervisor, Joe McCarty, said Coleman was easy going and that they had no problems until the day of the situation in the cemetery. McCarty said there was no clear direction about what was and was not authorized. There is also the contention from the state that Coleman and other officers were to 'familiarize' themselves with the cemetery but not patrol it.
I will be covering the trial each day this week, and publishing a new report each day detailing the trial.
Previous Installments in this series:
Articles for March 7, 2011 | Articles for March 8, 2011 | Articles for March 9, 2011