A Tale of a Few Sheriffs

Jesse Cornett

A tale of 4 Sheriffs In 1998 when I began my service as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff (part time, volunteer), the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office had a great reputation. It was a smaller agency (as it remains) compared to Portland Police, but they also ran the jail.

I remember the day when I was in the police academy and I got a speeding ticket. I think it was my first ever. I went hat in hand to the leadership of the Reserve unit explaining to them what happened. The response was quite unexpected, there was a chuckle and the response was "you're in good company - you and the Sheriff got one this week."

It turns out that then Sheriff Dan Noelle had also been ticketed via photo radar. When he was contacted by the media to ask what he was going to do -- now this is over a decade ago and I am paraphrasing, the Sheriff responded by simply saying that he was going to pay the ticket. That is personal responsibility that I think we should expect in our elected law enforcement leaders (and let's face it, electing a top cop in itself is common but odd) yet we've been missing in Multnomah County since 2003.

When Sheriff Noelle left office, Bernie Giusto was easily elected Sheriff but all to quickly became a laughingstock as Sheriff (though stories like this remind us despite blunders, he's still a good guy). After repeated misstep after misstep and investigation after investigation only when faced with losing his certification required to be Sheriff, he resigned. Before he left, he ceded much of the jail authority (which is roughly 70% of the Sheriff's Office budget) to the Board of Commissioners. Of course, in that time we even reelected Giusto despite his challenges though there was little opposition essentially giving voters little choice (except for the far too few of us who wrote in Paul van Orden).

Oddly, the County Charter allows the Commissioners and Sheriff to name their own replacement (they have to be named and approved by the Board in advance). Apparently the Charter doesn't require the potential replacement to be qualified, as Giusto named retired Sheriff Bob Skipper.

Skipper was by all reports a great sheriff in his day. But he lost his police certification because he wasn't an officer for over 5 years (he was in another position for nearly 15 years, actually). With ample training law enforcement officers sometime make mistakes. I think having standards are absolutely critical. However, I thought it was a good idea when the legislature hand crafted a law that Skipper be allowed to not go through basic police training all again should he be able take a short course and simply pass the tests proving he had the base knowledge of his most rookie officer. Despite it being open book he failed it, according to the Oregonian Skipper was only the third person in five years to fail the test. And then he failed it again.

To retain his position he has to finish police basic training within a year of being elected, this November. But because he fought and fought to find any other way, the clock has essentially run out. Oh, by the way, Skipper gets to name his own replacement also. As of last week, his designee, another sheriff's office retiree and current Undersheriff Tom Slyter, was not qualified though he was taking the test last week. But don't worry, in fine tradition, Skipper is fighting on to remain as Sheriff instead of riding off into the sunset to preserve (what remains of) the integrity of the office.

Though these cases are nothing alike, I think that recent former Marion County Sheriff Russ Isham provides a good model for how to act as an elected sheriff when you've really screwed up. Before we knew what was happening, we found out Isham was resigning. Only the did we learn it was about an affair that he attempted to cover up. Isham is challenged both personally and profession yet because of the way he departed, his office remains untarnished.

Next May, there will be an election for a full term as Sheriff and so far there's only one announced candidate, former Sheriff's Office Lt. Bruce McCain. You might remember good ole Bruce as the promoter in chief of Bernie when he was in a pinch. He served both as an internal lackey and and external lawyer. Maybe if he gets elected, he can have Derrick Foxworth named as his designee so the long awaited punchline will continue to elude us. Or Lon Mabon.

McCain had an op-ed published in the Oregonian this week where he blasts Skipper. Showing his true ethical colors, McCain neither disclosed that he was defeated for Sheriff by Skipper in the past nor that he was planning to run in the primary next year apparently against Skipper if needed.

Or, we can get a qualified candidate who has both the experience and mettle to take on such a public role. The County Commission faced a crisis in confidence in recent years. But that's gone with the current Board. Thank goodness. We need credibility in the sheriff's office also. We cannot do that with an unqualified sheriff. We cannot do that with a public official who spent his free time defending the likes of the Oregon Citizen's Alliance.

C'mon Multnomah County. We can do better. We must.

  • Jel-N (unverified)

    This was a great article and I agree 100%. I do wish that you had found another forum to post it on as most article contributors at BO seems seem so anti-law enforcement that I think even when valid points are made it fuels the fires of the an establishment that does not really like cops.

  • (Show?)

    So, wait -- I am former law enforcement and taking a stance that elected law enforcement leaders should be held to the same standard as rank and file. Quite a law and order perspective, me thinks, but you think it seems anti-police?

    In the study of criminal justice, students review the concept of bad apple versus bad barrel. Just because you have one bad apple -- even it is the chief apple, it doesn't mean the whole barrel will is bad.

    PS: my last post was about a hilarious and positive interaction I had with Portland Police.

  • Jel-N (unverified)

    I think you misunderstood. I absolutely agree with you and like your posts. But the majority of posts I read on law enforcement issues at BO (by people other than you ie: Bowman, Axman) are not very pro law-enforcement.

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    I think you misunderstood. I absolutely agree with you and like your posts. But the majority of posts I read on law enforcement issues at BO (by people other than you ie: Bowman, Axman) are not very pro law-enforcement.

    Hmmm...I don't recall ever having written a post here at Blue Oregon about law enforcement. Unless you count the death penalty and mandatory minimums as "law enforcement"...then I'm guilty. :)

    I don't disagree with anything that Jesse has written here, incidentally.

  • resveratrol 60 minutes (unverified)

    this article fuels the fires of the an establishment that does not really like cops.I absolutely agree with you and like your posts.

  • (Show?)

    Oh and just to be perfectly open, I did write about 10-2 jury decisions in Oregon..also not something I would consider "law enforcement".

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    And to be perfectly honest, while I personally have no problem with Oregon's 10-2 jury decisions, I have agreed to support her push for unanumous jury decisions. Of course in return she has agreed to support any moves to do away with mandatory no self-serve for fuel in Oregon.

    Great post Jesse!

  • Ross Day (unverified)


    Great post. Very interesting article.

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    Pardon me for sleeping on duty, but why is the Mult. Sheriff of concern to Oregon progressives? Is the incumbent a Repiglican and thus deserving of being expelled?

    I am a veteran of the Frank Ivancey (spelling?) days of the Portland Police Dept where they used to beat suspects in the basement with a rubber hose. Is the current Mult. Sheriff that sort of guy, or is this some sort of public employee union pissing match?

    Just Curious.

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    Can we just get rid of the Sheriff as an elected position and have the County Commissioners appoint one?

    And I will once again post proudly and publicly that I voted against Giusto in his last campaign. He won with something like 65% against token opposition, not a very good sign actually. But I wonder how many here also voted against him.

    I remain amazed at how long voters were forgiving of his multiple and various trespasses.

  • Joe Hill (unverified)

    I am curious how asking our law enforcement personnel to uphold the law equally is "anti law enforcement." To me that seems like a core progressive value. I am absolutely pro cop and I recognize them as fellow workers and friends. To ask them to live up to their own ideals, just as they surely ask me to live up to mine, is fair and reasonable, I think.

  • Amar (unverified)

    I do agree with the point, great article............

  • (Show?)

    Very informative Jesse, thanks.

  • Old Ducker (unverified)

    I have a question for the sherriff(s) here. Based on my understanding of your powers under the law the feds only have three law enforcement responsibilities granted to them by art.1 section 8 of the Const. They are: felonies committed on the high seas, treason, and counterfeiting. That's it. The sheriff could not keep the feds from pursuing those duties. But anything else and you, the feds, and the sheriff must refer to the 10th amendment, which states that all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, are reserved to the states or to the people. (Slightly paraphrased) So when the feds act outside their proscribed constitutional authority, it is the State's (sheriff's) job to disallow such behavior.

    Why don't sheriffs exercise their powers and observe their oath of office to "protect and serve?"

    thanks for any response

  • Demofan (unverified)

    Yeah Bernie's a great guy because he helped an OREGONIAN reporter with her leg. Never mind using his office for personal gain. The sort of thing rank and file cops get prosecuted for. He's a hale fellow well-met. What a rascal!

    And Carla Axtman never writes anything anti-law enforcement except to attack Oregon's sentencing laws, Oregon's jury laws, Oregon's capital punishment for serial killers, AG Kroger for defending those laws, and to bash the Astoria DA at every possible opportunity. But to the point, how is calling out Bernie anti-law enforcement?

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    And Carla Axtman never writes anything anti-law enforcement except to attack Oregon's sentencing laws, Oregon's jury laws, Oregon's capital punishment for serial killers, AG Kroger for defending those laws, and to bash the Astoria DA at every possible opportunity.

    LOL...I did that all in the matter of three posts, too! Clearly opportunity isn't presenting itself ENOUGH. :)

    I do look forward however to increasing the number of posts in which I scrutinize mandatory minimums, 10-2 jury decisions (just us and Louisiana...dubiously distinctive), DA Marquis or AG Kroger..as public officials---should I deem it appropriate.

    Looks like I've got a lot of writing left to do.

  • Rob Drake (unverified)

    Did you return the Portland Mercury's call yet Carla?

    Hasina Squires certainly did.

  • (Show?)

    Did you return the Portland Mercury's call yet Carla?

    I spoke with Matt Davis on the phone and we've corresponded through email, Rob.

    Are you incapable of actually staying on the thread topic? It's not as if the comments have been closed on the relevant posts.

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