Oregon Juvenile Facility Warden Indicted; Youth Authority Director Resigns
by Mark Wilson
From 2000 to 2007, Darrin Humphreys served as warden of the RiverBend Youth Detention Center, a 50-bed Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) facility in LaGrande, Oregon.
Supervisors were so impressed with his performance that they promoted him to head the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, the state’s largest juvenile prison, even though he scored eighth out of nine applicants who were interviewed for the position. “This is a guy who was producing results,” OYA Director Robert Jester declared at the time.
Just weeks later, however, the results weren’t looking so good for Humphreys and his supervisors. In April 2007, the Oregon State Police began investigating Humphreys after a relative of a RiverBend employee complained to another state agency. Humphreys was placed on administrative leave and later resigned on June 8, 2007. Two other RiverBend employees also quit, and two were fired.
Internal documents and police reports revealed Humphreys as a warden who stole property, used prisoners to remodel his home, tried to take kickbacks from a contractor, claimed over $12,000 in unearned mileage reimbursements, and attempted to fire potential whistleblowers and threaten possible witnesses.
Publicly, the OYA Director claimed to be offended. “What we’re dealing with is a rogue manager who was particularly sophisticated, sociopathic,” said Jester. “The fact that he is alleged to have stolen property – the multiple things he has done is abhorrent.” Yet a subsequent report painted a different picture of Jester’s private thoughts. One month after placing Humphreys on administrative leave, Jester and Brian Florip, Humphreys’ immediate supervisor, met with Humphreys. He then admitted to them that he’d stolen roofing materials, but “they both gave him a hug and told him what he had done was stupid but it wasn’t the end of the world,” an internal report stated.
The theft of roofing materials was just the tip of the iceberg, however, according to the OYA report.
Cell Phone Abuse
Humphreys set up a state cell phone account, in violation of agency policy, which gave him more minutes than most agency managers, according to the OYA investigative report. His supervisors didn’t notice even when he routinely exceeded his limit, which cost the taxpayers more money. Had OYA officials investigated they would have discovered that most of Humphreys’ 3,100 cell phone calls were personal.
Use of Prisoner Labor
A 2004 scandal involving board members of the Baker-Morrow Education Service District who used prisoner work crews for personal projects was never investigated by the OYA. Humphreys used youth work crews and staff to re-roof and build kitchen cabinets in his home.
Stolen Roofing Supplies and Lumber
Humphreys’ home improvement projects were completed with lumber and roofing supplies he had stolen from RiverBend. Initially he lied to detectives about taking the building materials, but later changed his story. “Mr. Humphreys called me back and told me that he had not been honest with me and that it was eating him up,” wrote a detective. “He explained that he did take OYA roofing materials off OYA RiverBend property and roofed his own personal residence with the materials. Humphreys said he intended to replace the materials but never did.”
Kickbacks and Fraud
In June 2005, Humphreys contracted with a friend to build a sign for RiverBend. He directed staff to cut a check for $4,999.99 – one penny under the amount requiring competitive bids. Supervisors didn’t notice the unusual contract amount. A witness told investigators that Humphreys bragged that his friend was going to pay him $2,000 for the contract. Ultimately, RiverBend prisoners and staff, not the contractor, built the sign, according to the OYA report.
Phony Mileage Reimbursement
Between July 2005 and January 2007, Humphreys collected over $18,000 in mileage reimbursements – far exceeding anyone else in the agency. He often claimed mileage even when he used a state car, according to an internal review. Nearly $12,400 of Humphreys’ travel reimbursements and per diem payments were based on false claims, investigators estimated. OYA’s former business manager reported that Jester ignored his suggestion to investigate Humphreys’ mileage claims.
A “large number” of RiverBend employees told investigators that Humphreys used bullying and intimidation to keep them from reporting abuses, according to the report. “This included telling staff that he had a brother in prison for murder and that his brother had friends on the outside who would take care of people that were a problem for Mr. Humphreys,” investigators stated. Even while on administrative leave and under state police investigation, Humphreys attempted to intimidate possible witnesses.
All Eyes on OYA
An initial draft of the OYA report was submitted to Jester and OYA Deputy Director Phil Lemman. Two members of the review team accused Lemman of editing out anything embarrassing to upper management. Lemman denied the allegation, claiming he edited the drafts only for clarity. “It was never meant to shield or protect anyone from accountability,” he said.
“Why is it that the Legislature is the last one to know about these types of incidents in state government?” asked State Representative and former Oregon State Police Detective Andy Olsen, upon first learning of the Humphreys case through an e-mail sent by Jester’s deputy, which warned legislators of an article that would run two days later in The Oregonian.
Tim Nesbitt, deputy chief of staff to Governor Ted Kulongoski, admitted that the problems at RiverBend had drawn the Governor’s attention, but he believed the actions taken by Jester were unnecessary. Few people shared this belief.
On May 14, 2008, The Oregonian reported that little had changed one year after the internal OYA investigation, while agency officials pointed to a long list of recommended – yet unimplemented – policy changes.
“I think it’s a really nice policy review,” said Joe Schaeffer, a union representative for OYA employees. “But what happened were not failures of policy. What happened were failures of management.”
Outside Audit Faults Supervisors
Two days after the newspaper story ran, Jester ordered an outside review of the RiverBend scandal by the Department of Corrections (DOC), a decision which would ultimately end his career. The DOC report echoed the OYA findings that management had missed or intentionally ignored a series of warning signs of problems at RiverBend.
The DOC found that several former OYA employees had warned Jester about problems with Humphreys, but he minimized them or didn’t follow through. Former agency officials told investigators that Jester and his top deputies tacitly approved of some of Humphreys’ conduct. Union officials criticized Jester’s management, arguing that the Humphreys scandal demonstrated an agency-wide culture of protecting well-connected upper management officials.
In June 2008, a grand jury indicted Humphreys on 26 counts of theft, witness tampering, official misconduct and other offenses. The charges are still pending.
On July 7, 2008, Humphreys’ immediate supervisor, OYA Assistant Director Brian Florip, resigned after being confronted about an alleged inappropriate romantic relationship with a subordinate. While not directly tied to the Humphreys case, Florip’s departure resulted from an investigation into Humphreys and Florip that revealed the inappropriate relationship, according to Jester.
“Mr. Florip made a serious error in judgment such that I could not support him continuing in his current position with OYA,” said Jester. “He was informed he was going to be removed from service today and resigned prior to that removal taking effect.”
Governor Reviews DOC Report, Jester Quits
On July 29, 2008, the Governor received the DOC’s report. “The report raised some concerns about managerial oversight as well as cultural issues and challenges in the agency,” admitted Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kulongoski. She said the Governor had immediately summoned Jester to discuss the report’s findings.
“They came to a mutual conclusion that it was time for new leadership in the agency,” said Taylor. Jester’s resignation ended his 36-year career in Oregon Youth Corrections, where he had worked his way up from a guard to the director’s position.
“It has become increasingly clear to me that my presence as director of the Oregon Youth Authority will be an ongoing distraction and impediment to this agency moving forward and accomplishing its mission,” acknowledged Jester. “I feel very good about my contributions. I don’t feel I’m leaving under a cloud. … My head is high.”State Rep. Linda Flores, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, has since called for an outside investigation into misconduct at the OYA. “I appreciate the work OYA has done to clean up any wrongdoing,” she said, “but clearly there needs to be more oversight.” Clearly, she’s correct.
Sources: The Oregonian, www.salem-news.com, Statesman Journal
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