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Beleaguered Oregon Sheriff Steps Down

Flamboyant and controversial Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto, head of Oregon’s largest county jail, has retired in the face of an overwhelming vote to strip him of his badge.

Giusto, a lightning rod for criticism, has been under constant fire for the better part of two years. A 2006 investigation by the Multnomah County District Attorney found systemic problems in the jail and heaped most of the blame on Sheriff Giusto [See: PLN, Jan. 2008, p.12].

A 2007 Department of Justice corruption probe cleared Giusto of breaking the law, but laid the foundation for the largest and most expensive investigation into an Oregon law enforcement officer’s ethics by the Board on Public Safety Standards and Training (BPSST).

Over a year after commencing its investigation, on May 13, 2008, a BPSST Police Policy Committee – comprised of sheriffs, police chiefs and officers from across Oregon – voted overwhelmingly to strip Giusto of his badge, ending his “colorful” 24-year law enforcement career on a very sour note.

The Committee’s unprecedented action was based upon a finding that Giusto had lied nearly 20 years ago when he told his Oregon State Police supervisors that he wasn’t having an affair with the wife of then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt, while working on the governor’s security detail. He also knew, while serving as Governor Goldschmidt’s driver, that the governor had repeatedly sexually abused a young teenage girl, and later paid her hush-money to keep the abuse a secret. Giusto, then an Oregon State Police Lieutenant, did nothing to stop the abuse.

Giusto lied in at least one sworn statement, in violation of moral fitness standards required of all Oregon police officers. “I’m certain there was gross misconduct by Lieutenant Giusto at the time and certainly lapses in judgment throughout his career,” said Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon.

The committee’s decision carried significant weight; the full Board has never overruled a committee recommendation. After learning of the unexpected decision on a Tuesday, Giusto told his staff that he was taking the rest of the week off to reflect on his future. The following week he announced plans to step down on July 1, 2008.

Prior to Giusto’s announcement, sheriff’s office commanders had been asked to issue a vote of no confidence in Giusto at their June meeting. Many corrections deputies were also pushing to take a vote of no confidence or spearhead recall efforts. Giusto was further facing a separate inquiry by a state ethics commission. Just days after his retirement announcement, on June 12, 2008, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission found that Giusto had violated state law in September 2006, when he drove a county-owned SUV on a weekend get-away to Seattle with his girlfriend and her daughter.

Sergeant Phil Anderchuk, president of the jail guards’ union, said he hoped Giusto’s departure would end the turmoil. “We can take a collective sigh of relief as an agency,” said Anderchuk. But taxpayers won’t be joining in that relief, as they will have to spend between $350,000 and $400,000 for a special election to fill the remainder of Giusto’s term, according to county officials. “We have to ramp up the whole elections operation for one position,” explained County Chairman Ted Wheeler. “But rules are rules and we have to follow them.”

Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey was upset about the cost. “I think this could have been better timed by the sheriff in order to save taxpayer money,” she said. “After all, he has known he would resign for some time now.” Then again, protecting and serving the taxpayers does not appear to be high on Giusto’s list of priorities. Giusto has since been replaced as Multnomah County Sheriff by Bob Skipper.

Sources: The Oregonian, www.opb.org

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