After $625,000 Settlement, Oregon Deputy Charged in Assault of Prisoner
Surveillance video from the county jail in Hillsboro shows what happened after the 45-year-old Molina was arrested on suspicion of riding a bicycle while intoxicated on March 30, 2018.
Alden can be seen directing Molina to stand against a wall for a booking photo. Molina salutes the deputy, and the two exchange more gestures. Then Alden — who is much larger than Molina — runs out from behind a desk, slams the detainee to the wall and pins him to the ground. Three more guards run to assist Alden, helping him hold Molina face-down on the floor as other staff can be seen entering the room with medical equipment.
Molina was taken to a hospital where he remained in intensive care for a fractured skull for five days. When finally released from the hospital two weeks later, he had incurred more than $135,000 in medical bills as a result of the assault.
In his incident report, Alden said he believed Molina was trying to instigate a fight by adjusting his pants, shifting his weight and saying, “What’s up?” which Alden characterized as a gang phrase.
Both the neighboring Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police investigated but neither agency obtained and reviewed Molina’s medical records.
On September 10, 2018, former Senior Deputy District Attorney Megan Johnson, who supervised the prosecutor’s misdemeanor unit, issued her decision. Though she hadn’t reviewed Molina’s medical records, either, she refused to prosecute Alden for misdemeanor second-degree official misconduct, claiming the video was “of minimal value because it captures only one view and has no audio feed.”
“Mr. Molina has stated he has no recollection of his arrest or anything that transpired at the jail,” Johnson wrote, adding that “witnesses on scene are inconsistent in what they saw and heard.”
Over a year and a half later, in the wake of the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett was alerted to a 2003 email in which Alden — who was not employed by the county when he sent it — had called himself a racist and used ethnic slurs against Mexicans.
On May 31, 2020, Alden was placed on administrative leave, and his racist email was reported by media. That renewed the interest of Bracken McKey — Johnson’s replacement in the District Attorney’s office — in Molina’s case.
“We got this one wrong,” McKey admitted, adding that there was “no excuse” for his office’s “initial decision not to prosecute and not getting all the information we needed to get.”
On June 10, 2020, video of the jail assault was released by Portland attorney Jason Kafoury, who was representing Molina in his 2019 suit for damages that the county was about to settle.
“It was a terrible injustice that law enforcement agencies and the DA swept this under the rug two years ago,” said Kafoury. “Clearly the police reform movement has changed society.”
Alden was indicted soon after on a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct. A second grand jury was then shown Molina’s medical records and the same surveillance video originally deemed to be “of minimal value.” They returned additional felony indictments against Alden, two for second-degree assault, and one each for unlawful use of a weapon and first-degree official misconduct.
With his bail set at $250,000, Alden was booked into the county jail, later transferring to the jail in Columbia County over safety concerns, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Sergeant Danny DiPietro. Alden remains on administrative leave pending trial.
Kafoury called it “historic to charge a police officer with criminal felony for excessive force while on duty.”
Alden’s attorney, Dan Thenell, said it was unfair that Alden is now being prosecuted after the district attorney initially chose not to prosecute and an internal affairs investigation found that he had not violated Sheriff’s Office policy.
“This is all about politics because of what happened in Minneapolis to George Floyd,” Thenell insisted, claiming that the office District Attorney Kevin Barton is vilifying Johnson to make the former prosecutor a “scapegoat.”
“They are trying to save face at the expense of a dedicated police officer of nearly 15 years,” Thenell added, noting that the grand jury didn’t hear from “the Washington County Sheriff’s Office employees who reviewed and agreed with Rian’s use of force.”
During their vote approving Molina’s settlement on June 23, 2020, county commissioners — who initially fought the suit and said Alden’s use of force was justified — condemned the deputy’s conduct that “needlessly injured” Molina.
“For that we’re truly sorry,” the commissioners wrote in a prepared statement.
Under the intense spotlight the case has shone on them, both the sheriff and county prosecutors are now expressing repentance and vowing reform. “I own this,” declared Sheriff Garrett. “I will not be pointing fingers at anybody else. Part of being responsible is taking steps to fix it.”
One of those steps is making internal changes to the Sheriff’s Department review process, he said. On November 17, 2020, the sheriff announced a $150,000 contract had been awarded to Polis Systems, Inc., a national police training and research firm that will review his department’s policies, practices and data relating to use of force.
McKey added that any future use of force allegations involving an officer or sheriff’s deputy will now be handled by the county’s major crimes team, consisting of two chief deputy district attorneys and one senior deputy district attorney. Prosecutors will also ensure that all medical records are obtained and that outside use-of-force experts are consulted.
Kafoury wants the Oregon Legislature to establish an independent state-wide unit to investigate cases of serious injury and death in custody. “It is important that all parties appreciate just how far short they have fallen up until now,” said Kafoury, “and how the case of Mr. Molina illuminates those failings.” See Albert Molina v. Washington County, Case No.19-cv-43454, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.)
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Related legal case
Albert Molina v. Washington County
|Cite||Case No.19-cv-43454, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.)|