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Civil Rights Under the Gavel of JusticeTim King Salem-News.com
Part two in our continuing coverage of William Coleman's case against Oregon for Racial Discrimination.
(SALEM, Ore.) - The first day of William Coleman's Civil Rights/Racial Discrimination trial against Oregon Department of Human Services et al (DHS) saw the testimony of many witnesses and day two was no exception. All of the story links relating to Coleman and his Civil Rights case are listed below, but for a recap of Monday's events click here.
The case centers around Coleman's 24 November 2008 firing from the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) where he worked as a security guard. He has alternately been accused of taking part in a homosexual sex act with another African-American security guard, patrolling an unauthorized area, and "being disrespectful to a police officer". Coleman's attorney Kevin Lafkey says it is clear that his client is a victim of discrimination.
Representing the defendants, Oregon Deputy District Attorney Sarah Foreman said Coleman's firing was legal because his job was terminated under Oregon's 'Trial Services' law which allows the state to dismiss any employee during their initial months of employment if they fail to perform at an acceptable level.
The matter becomes more complex because the African-American security officer with Coleman; Gregory Charles, was not in the trial service period and still was fired after initially being suspended with pay and sent home. Then, after an investigation by OSH Human Services, a decision was made to reinstate Charles Gregory, eight months later. Coleman says he understands the trial services aspect, but believes the state stepped past that rule when they cited reasons for Gregory's dismissal that were later retracted.
The primary witness to the events of 24 November event that led to the termination of both OSH 'Mental Health Security Technicians' William Coleman and Charles Gregory, is a Salem man named Joe Salazar who has a violent criminal history involving convictions for multiple physical attacks on his wife, a sex crime involving a child, and multiple counts of witness tampering.
Jason Lee Cemetery 24 November 2008
Coleman and Gregory say they were shocked by what happened on the day in question. After entering the cemetery and positioning their car close to the state hospital, they describe observing a man with a "criminal appearance" on a boy's BMX bicycle who was jumping or 'bunny hopping' cemetery gravestones.
The man approached their car twice and the second time, according to Charles Gregory, he unzipped his jacket and made a motion that made Gregory believe the man was pulling a gun. He says on that note Coleman exited the car and had words with the man, who rode away on his bike.
Coleman and Gregory remained in the cemetery for several minutes discussing what had happened, and soon Salem Police arrived on scene. The police apparently didn't run a background check on Salazar to learn who they were dealing with, when he reported two African-American men "having sex" in a car at the cemetery. Salazar also said Coleman claimed to be a "Salem Police officer", which Coleman said never happened.
Still, Salem Police Officer Waymon Hubbard took the word of the felon over the word of two Black state officers.
Another Salem Police officer involved in Salazar's most recent Domestic Violence arrest; during which Salazar seriously beat his wife in the presence of their grandchildren, raised his eyebrows when describing Salazar to me and said, "That is one really bad guy". That most recent arrest of Salazar took place in 2010.
Salazar is responsible for locking and unlocking the historic Jason Lee Cemetery on 'D' Street and has been for years. In spite of his record of being a child sex offender, he is in charge of a facility that frequently has children and is privately owned but with public access, regulated of course by Salazar. In November 2008 he lived across the street from the cemetery.
He testified Monday that he became "suspicious" when he saw the state car with the two African-American officers because it paused at the entrance and moved slowly. Apparently viewing his role as volunteer gatekeeper as one of strong authority, he decided to ride the kid's bike over to the officers. Salazar called Salem Police after being confronted by Coleman.
The first witness Tuesday was Cynthia Gregory, who is being sued by Coleman as an individual along with Oregon DHS. Today she works as a human resources manager for the Dept. of Consumer and Business Services. On 24 November 2008 she was in human resources at Oregon State Hospital.
Gregory says she followed procedure in the "dismissal" of William Coleman. (It's a term she says she prefers using over "terminated" for psychological reasons.) However the case of William Coleman did not appear to receive that same level of compassion from Ms. Gregory.
Regarding the investigation behind Coleman's firing, Lafkey said to Ms. Gregory, "You have given three answers". Gregory admitted giving 3 answers. Lafkey asked for an honest one. There had never been an investigation into William Coleman's firing.
But both Gregory and Cheryl Miller, a senior human resources manager who has been with DHS since 2007, contend that under state law, Gregory had the right to terminate Coleman's trial service as an Oregon "Appointing Authority", and she says the act requires no investigation.
She says there were more reasons for Coleman to be fired. Gregory alleges Coleman is dishonest and untruthful about how he came to be at the cemetery, which is off grounds and not part of the OSH campus. Lafkey asked Gregory if she had heard William Coleman state that his cemetery visit was authorized, and if that should have prompted an investigation. She said she did not investigate the matter or discuss Coleman's statement with co-workers to verify whether or not he was telling the truth.
Monday saw numerous witnesses who hold or held the same position Coleman had at OSH, testify that they had also visited the Lee Cemetery while on the clock as OSH security guards. There is a history of escaped patients entering the Lee Cemetery which is adjacent to hospital grounds. The number grew Tuesday.
Cynthia Gregory told the jury that there had not been any recent escapes or 'Unauthorized Leaves' which the OSH staff refers to as 'UL's.
However another witness testified later in the day about a recent escape and the value of guards knowing the geographic layout of Lee Cemetery. Jess Lienemann, a current OSH mental health security tech. who worked with Coleman and is the first to have shown him the cemetery while on duty, says the facility has about 650 forensic patients. He talked about past escapes; one where patients ran through the cemetery after fleeing the state hospital.
Lienemann said, "We understood the geographic layout of the area and we were quickly able to capture them."
The statement gave weight to Coleman's ongoing contention that he was trained by Lienemann to visit the cemetery while on duty.
Stating that Coleman and Charles were not authorized to visit the cemetery, Gregory explained that after being walked back to the human services office at OSH, Coleman and Charles were separated for individual questioning, but she also confirmed that the accounts were never compared.
Gregory also confirmed that Lienemann and the other Caucasian OSH security guards who patrolled the Lee Cemetery were not disciplined for having done so.
At this point a DOJ defense attorney objected and the jury was asked to vacate the courtroom. Apparently flustered by developments taking place, he stated to the judge, "We're trying to get a case here". It was an awkward moment and I'm still not sure exactly what the DOJ's point or request was. Judge Hart quickly moved past it and the jury reconvened.
Another supervisor who testified Tuesday named Karen Garcia, revealed something we have written about before in articles about William Coleman. If her statement is true, Coleman's position at OSH was endangered before the cemetery incident, because he was spotted by an Oregon State Police detective who was involved in an investigation of Coleman for smuggling tobacco when he worked in his previous job as an Oregon corrections officer at the state penitentiary in Salem.
Coleman says the investigation and subsequent case against him was a response to his filing a federal Whistleblower claim over racial discrimination. The indictment against him was issued a little later the same afternoon by a Marion County prosecutor, and Coleman's accusations of racial discrimination were immediately watered down by the criminal case against him.
It is an investigation and case that cost Coleman dearly, but one he took to court and fought and won; earning a unanimous Not Guilty verdict from a jury on 15 felony counts that could have landed him in prison for 40 years. In lieu of fighting the case, Coleman could have pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and not faced prison at all, but he said it was not possible to admit to something he had not done.
The 'investigation' against Coleman for the case the state would lose against him prevented his receiving assistance during the ordeal from agencies like the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), the State Accident Insurance Fund (SAIF) and other agencies. His stress claims were explained by state doctors in a curious way; they said Coleman wasn't suffering stress from racism, but because of the "criminal investigation against him".
It seems that Not Guilty verdict has failed to bring Coleman the relief one might expect, and the information from Garcia brings a whole different aspect of the story into play; that is Coleman's role before OSH, as a Whistleblower prison guard who tried in vain to resolve serious issues resulting from what he describes, as an acceptance of white supremacist racism at Oregon State Prison; and its ties to illegal enterprise that are all under the auspices of prison management and staff- the same stuff they tried to convict him of and far more.
It is worth noting that the state's case against Coleman really went down in flames; and also that Oregon's DOJ relied on highly questionable witnesses against Coleman who were either affiliated with or members of, a white supremacist gang. They were of a similar character level to the current star state witness, Joe Salazar; with his history of violent crime, witness tampering, and a conviction for a child sex crime. His public defender even refused to call his two main witnesses after they had been subpoenaed and transported to Oregon to testify on his behalf and were feet away from the courtroom.
Loud Voices and the 'F' word
Other witnesses who testified were Cheryl Miller, a senior human resources manager who has been with DHS since 2007 and Jennifer Rogers, a human resource analyst with Oregon's Central Recruitment agency who worked in human resources at OSH until March 2009. Along with Karen Garcia, they testified that they all agreed with Gregory to terminate William Coleman's trial service, with Cheryl Miller as the senior employee in the mix.
They also stated that when Coleman was questioned at OSH human resources, he interrupted, raised his voice and used the 'f' word toward Gregory.
One defense attorney with the DOJ actually told the court that Coleman had "confessed" to the crimes he was found Not Guilty of by a unanimous jury in the same courthouse, attempting to suggest that this man who fought against all odds to prove his innocence of serious charges, a father who put everything at risk, confessed?
That one is the biggest stretch in the trial so far, and I add my personal view in this event because of my high level of familiarity with the case.
In spite of the state's effort to portray William Coleman as a loud, dangerous man, these comments were also made about Coleman:
Karen Garcia: "Very pleasant" "He was very friendly"
Jennifer Rogers: "Good Candidate for hiring" "Sincere" "Humble" "Personable"
Other witnesses Tuesday were Randy Davis, a state hospital mental health tech. and also a union steward for SEIU 1392, who talked about union representation and its relationship to both cases. The last witness called was Charles Gregory. During extensive questioning, Charles calmly told the story of what happened at the cemetery on the afternoon of 24 November 2008. His version of the events matches Coleman's although, they witnessed the incident from different perspectives.
The judge on the case is the Honorable Tom Hart who has tried several recent heavy cases in Salem including a high profile child abuse trial case and the bank bomb explosion that led to the deaths of two police officers in Woodburn. His personality seems to range somewhere between major league referee and a Marine drill instructor. Judge Hart was the sole occupant of a courthouse elevator yesterday that for some reason, I hesitated entering. He said, "Come in I don't bite"- I did, and he didn't.
Proceedings will be back underway at 9:00 a.m. in courtroom 2a and our coverage will continue.
Previous Installments in this series:
Articles for March 8, 2011 | Articles for March 9, 2011 | Articles for March 10, 2011