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Civil Rights Case in Salem Demonstrates the Power of a 911 CallTim King Salem-News.com
A third very interesting day in court, and the defense rested its case; so ends the evidentiary period of the trial.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Wednesday was day three in the William Coleman vs. Oregon Department of Human Services et al (DHS) Civil Rights/Racial Discrimination trial. 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; and for Tuesday's proceedings click here.
To say it has been a long road for William Coleman would be a great understatement. After blowing the whistle over what he described as strong racial injustice while employed as a corrections officer at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Coleman resigned and was hired by the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) as a Mental Health Security Technician. In his new role, Coleman worked as a security guard in charge of state mental patients- many of whom are convicted of serious crimes.
The case centers around Coleman's firing by OSH Supervisor Cynthia Gregory for an incident that occurred at the historic Jason Lee Cemetery. Located on D Street in north Salem, the cemetery contains the graves of some of Salem's earliest settlers. William Coleman and another African-American security officer named Gregory Charles, were working a shift together in the afternoon, 24 November 2008. During their shift they drove their state security vehicle to the cemetery, a place Coleman had been trained to patrol during his shift, as it was a historic route used by escaped mental patients.
Corroborating the idea of the Lee Cemetery being an escape route, one current employee who testified Tuesday; OSH Mental Health Security Tech. Jess Lienemann, said they recently captured an escaped mental patient in the cemetery and were only able to successfully perform the capture because of his geographic understanding of the cemetery's layout.
OSH officials have stated consistently that Coleman and Charles were not authorized to patrol the cemetery, though several past and current OSH security officers testified this week that they too were trained to patrol the Lee Cemetery in their security patrol cars, on the clock. Along with an alleged homosexual sex act and "being disrespectful to a Salem Police officer", the 'unauthorized' cemetery visit has been listed as a reason for Coleman's firing.
Coleman and Charles say shortly after entering the cemetery in their vehicle that day, they watched a man ride through the area on a bmx bicycle who jumped or 'bunny hopped' over gravestones, then ultimately approached their vehicle from the rear and according to both security officers, began unzipping his jacket in a manner that made them fear he was reaching for a gun. Coleman took off his seat belt and exited his vehicle, confronting the man who had approached them near the front of his vehicle. He says it happened very quickly. An unarmed officer, Coleman describes using his radio in a manner that made it look like a gun and says he yelled, "We're security officers, get out of here," because he and Charles both feared for their lives.
Salem Police Officer Waymon Hubbard who testified Wednesday, said he read an alert on his police car laptop computer detailing a report from Joe Salazar, the man on the bicycle, who turned out to be the cemetery's volunteer gatekeeper. After the contact with the two Black security officers, Salazar had called 911 and reported to police that two black men were in the cemetery engaged in a sex act. This call to 911 led to a very negative police contact and the subsequent firing of both African-American state employees, Coleman and Charles. Both men are fathers, each became separated from their wives over the traumatic incident that happened that day. The police report, a public document, only references the alleged sex act. It also states, 'no crime' and that the investigation is closed. Yet the document according to Coleman, was picked up by police officers and distributed at Coleman's former place of employment, the Oregon State Prison.
He says it has created an incredibly difficult situation for a heterosexual man to endure. Coleman says the hardest part is knowing that the man who caused he and Charles so many problems with the accusation of a homosexual sex act is himself a felon, and is convicted of a sex crime against a child, and his convictions go on from there. The man is also has a highly documented history of brutal domestic violence toward his wife.
We learned today when Salem Police Officer Waymon Hubbard testified, that no background check or investigation of the 911 caller had been conducted, they just took his word. As referenced above, the man who placed the call is a child sex offender with a history of convictions for Witness Tampering and violent Domestic Abuse against his wife; acts which happened when small children were present.
The same man told the 911 dispatch operator that the car the African-American men occupied, had a "dealer license plate", rather than a plate with the state 'E' which clearly identified it as a government car.
During initial contact with Salem Police on the day in question, 24 November 2008; Coleman was assumed to be a dangerous man by arriving Salem Police Officer Waymon Hubbard, even though Coleman was employed as a state security officer and operating a state patrol vehicle.
There seems little doubt in retrospect, that the contact between Coleman and Hubbard was based on fallacious reasoning, and the result of an incomplete and faulty analysis.
While Coleman says he and Charles were discriminated against, the story includes an element of non-discrimination that is indisputable; in Salem, sex offenders have rights; even those with convictions for sex crimes against children, even one with a very recent conviction for violent Domestic Assault. They still have a right to bring police heat down on others by word and word alone, even state law enforcement officers. It may be that the color of the skin of the two OSH employees played into it; they both say it did.
In Salem a man with multiple severe felony convictions can make a phone call and tell police that two Black men are "having sex" in a cemetery that is privately owned but publicly accessible, and he will be taken seriously, even if the statement is false and fabricated by a violent felony convict. Hubbard believes he could have arrested both Coleman and Charles for criminal trespassing; which seems like an interesting notion for a place of rest with a public entrance.
Priorities seem curiously mixed with regard to the way things work in Salem. No matter what, residents reading this story should be advised that the Lee Cemetery is watched over by a man who is a sex offender with a record of extreme violence toward females- who has committed and been convicted of a sex crime involving a child.
It is noteworthy that Hubbard, in addition to being an officer and bomb tech, is also with Salem Police Domestic Violence Citizen Response. Salazar's most recent Domestic Violence conviction happened late last year. Coleman believes that Salazar's sentence for his most recent Assault conviction involving his wife, was dramatically reduced to ensure Salazar would be available to testify for the state.
I first understood that Oregon was actually going to use this criminal as their witness last December, so on 15 December 2010, I wrote to the media contact person at the Oregon Dept. of Justice, Tony Green, and inquired about the use of a criminal witness in this way.
You may agree after reading the unedited email exchange below, that Oregon is clearly willing to increase the danger on the streets of Salem by slapping Salazar's wrist and not giving him a lengthy sentence, to save money and avoid responsibility to Mr. Coleman.
From: Salem-News Newsroom <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sometimes we get an unexpected blast of honesty in this life, and Tony's single line email above struck me like a cool breeze of truth. I do not know how the average Oregonian could approve of this being the reality of law enforcement in this state, particularly toward a person like Salazar whose level of violence has been nothing less than shocking.
More on Salazar
Joe Salazar Jr. of Salem, Oregon, is a criminal recently convicted again of violently assaulting his wife. His record shows he is a lifetime wife beater. From there it gets worse. As the reports indicate, this is a man who has maintained a vicious cycle of abuse toward females.
We already knew that he had a serious record. This man who officials took so seriously was a tool in a bitter game. It is hard to see how any other scenario would account for the sequence of events that occurred. The debasing testimony of convict Joe Salazar, used to devastate the lives of two black men, never made sense. The report below tells a story of a man who has been, according to witness testimony and related convictions, a marauding woman beater who frequently threatens children.
In addition to the domestic abuse cited above, we knew he had served time in prison for sex crimes with a minor; we just didn't know why on earth Salem Police and the Statesman Journal chose to use this man's non credible statements about "two black men having sex in a car" to fry the reputation of William Coleman and Charles Gregory, whose lives were turned upside down by Salazar's accusations. For a long time Coleman says, everywhere he went, people began whispering amongst themselves when he approached.
Waymon Hubbard Testimony
Salem Police Officer Waymon Hubbard says Coleman was argumentative and unreasonable on 24 November 2008. He admitted not giving Coleman a business card and also having responded to Coleman's request for his name by saying, "Read it on my uniform". Coleman says Hubbard then began moving around trying to prevent him from reading the name.
Coleman compared Hubbard's actions to the Reno 911 television show in a deposition prior to the trial, and DOJ attorney Sarah Foreman asked Coleman as he testified Wednesday, if he had made that comparison. He affirmed that he had, and the question was quickly disregarded.
Hubbard says Coleman "was disrespectful" yet admits that he told Coleman twice to "shut up"; terminology almost any adult would respond to negatively. Hubbard said, "Sometimes I tell people to shut the 'f' up", adding: "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't". The officer, who also serves in the Oregon National Guard, says Coleman's demeanor was difficult. He described Coleman as argumentative and made the statement, "It was the worst interview in seven years of interviewing citizens".
He also disclosed that he had been cooperating with the DOJ for some time, but only in preparation for the case.
Coleman says that when he asked Hubbard for a business card, that Hubbard replied, "I don't give business cards to suspects". Hubbard could not recall whether he did or did not make that statement. He says he did tell Coleman that he was investigating the sex allegation, but that Coleman didn't hear him because he was on a "tangent" and not listening to Hubbard, who began the encounter by telling Coleman to "get back inside his vehicle".
Hubbard emphasized that he takes officer safety very seriously.
Attempt to Involve Past 'Investigation'
A state police detective named Greg Withers also was called to testify. That lasted about one minute when it finally took place. During a brief questioning period allowed by the judge, Withers told the jury that he contacted defendant Cynthia Gregory about two weeks prior to the incident in the cemetery, to advise her of an investigation about Coleman relating to his employment at the prison. This information caused Gregory to place Coleman on a day shift.
The state Dept. of Justice (DOJ) attorneys Sarah Foreman and Ken Crowley have spent a good amount of the last three days trying to tell the jury about an 'investigation' that William Coleman was subjected to, which related to his time working as a guard at the state prison. After filing his federal Whistleblower claim over what he experienced as a prison guard, after leaving his job at the prison, Coleman was indicted for having been a 'tobacco smuggler'. He says it was purely an act of retaliation and rather than taking a plea bargain, Coleman took his case to a jury and was found Not Guilty of all charges by a unanimous jury of his peers.
Even though it is now crystal clear that he is completely innocent of those charges, which may have been made in retaliation for his Whistleblowing, the two attorneys have been set on convincing Judge Tom Hart to allow the information about "the investigation" to come forward. It was made clear by mid-morning that the state would not get its real wish. Still, the matter of the 'investigation' was brought up and the attempt on Foreman and Crowley's part, was to demonstrate that Gregory had this 'investigation' on her mind when she decided to terminate Coleman from his position.
It has also been a strong contention of the state, Gregory, and her superiors and co-workers, that she had the right to terminate Coleman's employment because he was subject to the Oregon Trial Services law which allows employees to be dismissed in their initial months without union representation.
The state's case seemed to wither when the attorneys knew for certain that the investigation matter would not be allowed to have the impact they had apparently hoped for.
Cynthia Gregory took the stand again Wednesday. At one point a large aerial type of map was produced by DOJ attorney Sarah Foreman. Gregory was questioned about several relevant points on the map relating to OSH and while Gregory could not remember the name of at least one certain street, she clarified the different locations the attorney asked her about with confidence.
Then when they were done, the judge asked if either had realized during the entire demonstration to the jury, that the map had been held upside down with north pointed to the floor?
Nine Thousand Dollar Shrink for the State
The last witness to testify in the trial was Dr. David Heck and it might be fair to say that the state did not get a heck of a deal for its (our) money, certainly not if Coleman wins. It all comes down to this: Coleman had to visit Dr. Heck, a Corvallis psychiatrist, the same day that a recent important court date was scheduled. Coleman tried in vain to simply move the doctor's examination ordered by the DOJ to a different date on the calendar, but the DOJ's Crowley refused, Judge Tom Hart went along with it, and Coleman had to go to a psych evaluation the same court day he had spent months preparing for.
It cost the DOJ (Oregon taxpayers) roughly nine thousand dollars for the doctor to take the stand and say that after all he has been through, William Coleman does not suffer from stress. Then he said Coleman did suffer from stress, and then again he said Coleman did not suffer from stress. It was confusing testimony.
Our esteemed writer Dr. Phil Leveque is one of the nation's leading experts on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and while he no longer practices as a physician, he still is a Doctor of Pharmacology and a Forensic Toxicologist. Dr. Leveque has met and diagnosed William Coleman and says it is exceedingly clear that he suffers severely from stress and that the stress has impacted his health.
Since the cemetery incident and the beginning of years of touch and go part time jobs, William developed congestive heart disease. Dr. Heck was also sure that this problem was not caused by stress. However, again contradicting an earlier statement, he said, "The law suit itself was very stressful to him (Coleman) - particularly when reading statements and documents that were not true." the doctor also talked about how Coleman develops chest pain when reading certain documents that are false or untrue.
The defense rested its case and so ends the evidentiary period of the trial. The jury will receive instructions Thursday and then the attorneys will offer their final arguments, and the jury will begin deliberation.
Previous Installments in this series:
Articles for March 9, 2011 | Articles for March 10, 2011 | Articles for March 11, 2011