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A Denial of Civil Rights- Oregon's Collaboration in Racism Whistleblower RetaliationTim King Salem-News.com
Striking a match between the corruption of yesterday- and today.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Framed for a homosexual act that he didn't commit, subjected to dangerous racial harassment, and the consequent violation of his personal safety; William Coleman took the framed case against him to court and won with a unanimous verdict: 'not guilty on all counts'.
He had to endure years of court, his name was trashed by public safety officials; he was run out of one state law enforcement job over racism, and fired from another for an accusation that was proven to be completely false and totally devastating.
As citizens, we are led to believe that there are mechanisms in place to defend us from acts of extreme discrimination. But Oregon officials are in a club of their own, you could say.
Like any state, Oregon has many tax funded government agencies in place to ensure that laws are followed and that residents are granted legal rights and due process. There are also other agencies that a person can turn to when their civil rights are violated.
If you read the mission statements of the agencies related to the case of William Coleman, a former Oregon corrections officer who worked at the state penitentiary in Salem, you would be surprised over the conflict between the way these agencies operate, in reality, versus their stated intent.
Charged with maintaining Oregon's state prisoners, the Department of Corrections (DOC) is the first on the list of those that utterly failed to prevent or even react to credible reports of racial harassment, and in one case, a violent threat of bodily harm that did materialize, resulting in one prisoner shanking another. It isn't that the DOC simply failed to react; in reality, along with the help of several other agencies in Oregon, they worked very hard to bury evidence and replace truth with fabrication.
When Coleman spoke out, he was silenced.
When his voice rose to a point that he seriously threatened the system of corruption, they retaliated against him almost in unison; and Coleman was arrested on a 15 count indictment for smuggling cigarettes into the prison.
The obvious intent was to discredit him, but it didn't work, because Coleman had been taking notes, observing illegal activity and reporting it to his supervisors with no results, but recording everything that happened and filing it away for a later date, that has now arrived.
Coleman took the fictitious charges to a jury of his peers and won his case hands down. Even though Oregon is pretending to ignore all of the real criminal allegations that surfaced as a result of Coleman's investigation, they have, nonetheless, now been exposed.
This series of Internet articles and the upcoming book about Coleman's incredible journey, will further expose in greater detail, the patterns of corruption and Oregon's amazing record of tripping over itself in the process of committing those actions, leaving a very strong evidentiary trail.
In truth, as much as it hurts to acknowledge it, justice for a black man in Oregon is sadly, a rare thing. There is a jaded, ugly history of racism here that is as old as Oregon's statehood. The Ku Klux Klan was huge in different areas and signs of that still exist. I have seen a young black college student falsely convicted of Manslaughter have to be represented by a Seattle attorney because Oregon's 'system' is so intact that taking on racial cases on behalf of black clients, places an attorney in potential jeopardy.
The Bureau of Labor and Industries
According to their mission statement, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) is responsible to:
"protect the rights of workers and citizens to equal, non-discriminatory treatment through the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws that apply to workplaces, housing and public accommodations;"
Civil Rights Division The Civil Rights Division (CRD) enforces laws granting individuals equal access to jobs, career schools, promotions, and a work environment free from discrimination and harassment. These laws ensure that workers' jobs are protected when they report worksite safety violations, use family leave or the worker's compensation system. Civil rights laws also provide protection for those seeking housing or using public facilities such as retail establishments, or transportation.
It seems pretty clear. This is the agency an Oregon resident can turn to when facing racial discrimination...right? wrong. It sure didn't happen in this case.
William Coleman filed claims with BOLI over the racial discrimination he experienced while serving as a guard at the Oregon State Penitentiary, then he filed a second claim after falsely being accused of engaging in a sexual act with another African American male while working as a security guard at the state hospital.
In the first case, BOLI essentially told Coleman that they found no evidence of racism. This is after more than twenty reports that Coleman made in this regard. They include racial scrawlings in a People magazine, the playing of a Nazi movie for prisoners, and the near fatal stabbing of an African American inmate.
But BOLI told Coleman that, "One incident is not enough".
"I told them that was unbelievable," Coleman said.
The woman from BOLI Coleman was dealing with, later wrote as part of the investigation, "I tried explaining to Coleman that one incident alone was not enough and he didn't seem to understand".
It begs the question, what was there to be understood beyond a denial of Civil Rights?
The second time Coleman filed a BOLI complaint he had an even more unpleasant situation to report; one that seriously devastated his life on a personal level, and also the life and marriage of a second man. The case against Coleman was totally fabricated and easily considered obscene. The source was a convicted pedophile drug addict who had served time.
Apparently resentful after being confronted for suspicious behavior in a cemetery by Coleman and his partner, the man fled and called 911 reporting that one black man was giving another black man oral sex in the cemetery.
Salem Police arrived and the responding officer, Coleman says, basically treated them like criminals. The officer did not take a statement from Coleman and completely excluded him from the investigation. Coleman says each time he tried to talk or explain what happened, the Salem officer, Waymon Hubbard, silenced him by stating, "shut up" repeatedly.
"You can't go around acting like the police", Hubbard said; reinforcing the actual event that had occurred, rather than the one of "oral sex", concocted by a sex offender. Remember, it took several days for Coleman to learn that he had been the subject of such a wild sexual allegation.
Coleman was fired that day. His partner, Gregory Charles, was placed on administrative leave and fired three months later.
The only thing they were told that day was that they had patrolled an unauthorized area. There was no reference to the alleged "sex act", it wasn't so much as mentioned.
Both men were married. Both men are fathers. Both were law enforcement officers for the state with no criminal records of any kind. And yet Salem Police took the word of a convicted child molester and used them to soil the reputations of these two men. The Salem Police officer said to Coleman, "I know what happened here", but would not elaborate beyond that. He never asked either of the two state officers if a sex act had taken place.
Coleman said, "He took one look at us and he knew that it couldn't be true; I imagine that went through his mind."
In the event that an officer suspects a crime of this nature, the first thing they do is determine if there is a victim. This Salem officer did not do that.
"That's what I would do, if I was a police officer responding to a crime of this nature," Coleman said. "He had an apparent agenda that went beyond simply trying to resolve a possible crime."
The Salem officer took the incident report to the state prison where both Coleman and Charles had worked, showing it to the people Coleman battled over racism. Coleman says the only way the officer would have known about his past employment at the prison, is because he was provided this information by Coleman's supervisor at the Oregon State Hospital.
This act would strike most people as particularly vengeful, but BOLI investigator Chris Lynch, who was assigned Coleman's case against the State Hospital, didn't see it that way.
However he jumped into the case involving John Minnis with both feet. Minnis, the former Director of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) and a former senator, was under suspicion for providing alcohol to an adult female subordinate and making unwelcome sexual advances against her.
DPSST trains all law enforcement officers in Oregon, including corrections.
This is a case where Minnis was, oddly enough, not prosecuted by the Oregon Dept. of Justice, but BOLI's Chris Lynch took it on and fought for the woman victim, who so far has not been publicly named. Minnis is accused of taking the woman, who is an alcoholic, on trips, where he inappropriately touched her. At least two times she alleges, she woke up with only her underwear on, lying on Minnis' bed. She also was provided pay raises that nearly doubled her income, which she accepted. BOLI investigator Chris Lynch determined that this case is worth pursuing and has merit, stating that the woman basically suffered from an alcoholic disability.
According to a Statesman Journal article about Minnis and the DPSST:
Coleman says the case tells him, that anyone can drink alcohol on a business trip, on the job, end up in a sexual situation, and BOLI will take their claim, because they believe the victim has the disability of alcoholism.
An alcoholic's 'disability' is serious stuff for Lynch and the BOLI, but deadly stabbings, organized racism, drug dealing and high level government corruption don't make the grade.
Coleman's case, where his name was absolutely smeared all over the state of Oregon, in ways that damaged his hope of having gainful and fair employment in the future, was not something Lynch or BOLI could help with. Coleman recalls Lynch saying there was "Insufficient evidence" in the case and that Coleman's only option was to take it to court.
Coleman says according to documents, Lynch never conducted a full investigation. "The only person he talked to according to the investigation, is Charles Gregory."
Then in a phone call with Coleman, more or less out of the blue, Lynch began talking about the past allegations of contraband smuggling at the Oregon State Prison. Coleman explained that it was all a matter of retaliation for his racism allegations. Lynch didn't ask for details, as Coleman recalls, happy to move on from the conversation.
In the end BOLI simply denied Coleman's claims. Lynch refused to help with the false, marriage-ending accusations of homosexual sex in a park that anyone with slightly clear thinking would never believe. Another BOLI employee had provided Coleman the same basic game plan when he approached them over the racial harassment at the prison.
Coleman says in the first case, "The woman over the DOC BOLI complaint, she was no better, maybe worse. Their only agenda was to protect the DOC. Then my being an African American male didn't help. The fact that I adopted a white child and was especially offended by this meant nothing."
The excuse used in the second event to not give credence to Coleman's claim, was that Coleman was under investigation for what turned out to be, bogus charges. Personally, I never knew that the possible existence of a minor crime, negated the investigation of a real one. That is what happened in this case.
Time Limits and the Impact on Legal Justice
The state of Oregon's ability to practice corruption, is strongly aided by time limitations. An example is the DOC's one year 'Trial Service' program, wherein a person can only go back one year for a BOLI complaint.
If an employee witnesses harassment related to discrimination, they are technically supposed to make a report at the time of the event, but Coleman says there is strong pressure to not report these incidents because doing so places a person's job at risk.
He says this is especially true, when you are under your first year of employment, in the Trial Service program, or probationary period.
He recalls statements from superiors that made him feel vulnerable like, "Hey Coleman, aren't you ten days away from going to the academy?" This statement related to Coleman's complaint over the prison's decision to play a movie about Hitler called "The Downfall" that cause major racial tension inside the prison.
He believes without a doubt, that statements like the one about the academy, were little more than requests for him to not make waves.
"If a person reports a harassment type of incident, an investigation is supposed to be launched. After that investigation is complete, if it is deemed that the information is insufficient, you are sent a 'right to sue letter'. You have 90 days to file a lawsuit or you lose your right to sue," Coleman explains how taking these matters up with officials while trying to navigate the first year of employment, risks placing a person in a hostile work environment. It is also very easy for the DOC to terminate a person during Trial Service.
The BOLI rule limiting employees to a single year to file complaints does not allow enough time because of retaliatory incidents that may occur within that year. As Coleman learned, the DOC, BOLI and other agencies worked together to keep him down, in their own best interests.
"That is the way it is," Coleman said.
"Their biggest objective was simply to save the state money, and to preserve the 'system' that allows the cultivation and continuance of corruption."
BOLI law basically sets a stage where Trial Services employee can't be protected from complaining over racism. Coleman says an employee should be able to go back two years instead of just one year to file a complaint. That would be what an agency interested in fairness over corruption, would likely favor.
The SAIF Corporation
The agency that insures Oregon workers, naturally, would not be excited to learn about a serious pattern of racism in Oregon prisons.
William Coleman dealt with SAIF, the Safety Accident Insurance Fund, for a stress claim related to his experience with racism as a prison guard in 2007, and he filed a separate stress claim again in late 2008, after he suffered the ridiculous unfounded allegations of sex with another security guard, and was fired. It is important to note that the other security guard, Gregory Charles, was eventually reinstated, though Coleman was not. Certainly that rehiring was the final conclusive proof that the allegations were absolutely false.
"There are a lot of questions that have to be answered," Coleman said. "I want to know, how in a single incident, involving two individuals, they justify firing one person for good- while reinstating the other?"
He continued, "They claim that we were fired for being in an unauthorized area. An investigation showed that security officers always had been trained to patrol that area. Gregory Charles could not be fired for that reason, that I was fired for, because he was protected by the union. Three months later, 'Charles was fired for having sex in a vehicle with Officer Coleman'". Charles was told he was fired, because, "he was observed having sex in a state vehicle." It was never anything more than an unfounded allegation made in revenge by a convict.
The mistake they made, was firing Coleman for a specific reason. The Oregon State Hospital can dismiss an employee during their Trial Service period if the employee doesn't meet a variety of expectations. But they gave a reason in this case that was proven to be bogus; a sex act between two men that never happened.
What is the reason Coleman wasn't rehired? There are employees at the state hospital with felony convictions. He has no criminal record whatsoever.
According to their goals as an organization, SAIF states:
5) The financial stability of the Industrial Accident Fund is our most important responsibility. We have to ensure that we have adequate reserves and surplus for injured workers long after all of us are gone.
6) We operate with integrity in everything we do. We are accountable, open, and transparent. The people of Oregon deserve nothing less.
The most curious thing about the state hospital cemetery accusation of homosexual sex, beyond that fact that it was an entirely one-sided Salem Police investigation, is probably the simple notation at the bottom of the report. It states, "No crime" and that was the real determination. But Coleman and Charles suffered over it and both continue to. Neither of their lives will ever be the same.
In this case you have two individuals in a single incident. Both were fired; the official reason in Charles' case completely changed in mid-stride, from patrolling an unauthorized area, to having sex in a park, and in the end he was reinstated and yet Coleman was not.
Denied by an insurance company Doctor
During the process, a Kaiser Permanente doctor stated that he was unclear about whether Coleman's stress was caused by pending charges and the criminal investigation, or his claims of discrimination.
He did not believe the stress was caused by the pattern of racism and harassment that Coleman had experienced. This is a doctor, Coleman says, who assured him that he was unbiased and also "understood" the nature of the serious problems Coleman experienced in the Oregon Dept. of Corrections. Like so many people in Coleman's case, the doctor was "on his side" and supportive, right up until the moment of truth. The doctor's recommendation on the case and the findings he discussed verbally with Coleman, all very reassuring until then, manifested in an official statement connecting Coleman's stress, to the criminal investigation against him, not the years of solid credible reports of racial harassment. It seems obvious that this doctor too was nothing more than a component in the same cycle of corruption with a goal of maintaining racist politics in Oregon.
In regard to being falsely being framed for an act of homosexuality and extramarital activity by a convict, Coleman says the damage to his life can hardly be explained.
In the hospital case, they said there was not sufficient evidence. It seems clear that the officials at SAIF were looking at Coleman strictly as a "suspect" in a criminal investigation. That was true, but he ultimately beat the charges with a unanimous verdict. Is it ethical for an agency to ignore serious charges of racism even if he had been guilty?
Are rape victims' cases dismissed if they are caught shoplifting?
Don't we prosecute people on the merits of their individual cases?
Oregon agencies criminally collaborated to set William Coleman up for a big fall. They are guilty of this on several levels. All of the actions committed in unison by Oregon state agencies to violate the Civil Rights of William Coleman are criminal.
After William was found not guilty, and everyone knew that the state's case against him had been shot down, he went to SAIF once again to file a appeal.
He found it interesting to finally meet Director Pamela Daniels for the first time. "She was always the name that would show up near the words, 'Claim denied'," he said.
The investigation by the SAIF staff, had nothing to do with the allegations of his smuggling cigarettes cigarettes into the state prison, yet they took that into consideration with regard to his claim, he believes, without a doubt.
In Coleman's opinion, the false allegations against him were used as an excuse to dismiss his legitimate claims of stress based on a violation of his Civil Rights, connected to racism in Oregon's prison system, and the false accusation of homosexual activity in a cemetery.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has an obvious message, stated in its own title. Their incredible reaction to Coleman's saga? A conflict of interest.
The Salem NAACP's President Greg Peterson, told Coleman during the months he was seeking justice, approaching the trial that found him innocent of all state accusations, that he didn't believe Coleman was "telling him everything".
The agency that represents the very notion of Civil Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, told Coleman his case was too unique and didn't represent the bigger picture.
Bear in mind that part of his saga involves the prison leaving a black inmate on the floor who had shanked four black inmates and that he warned Coleman he was going to shank a fifth, with "permission" - and then did so.
The punishment continues.
William Coleman hasn't been reinstated by the State Hospital; three inmates are displaced as a result of Coleman's case, for offering testimony that defeated the state's 'cigarette smuggling' accusations-that he faced 40 years in prison over, while also shedding light on Oregon's strong adherence to a policy of racial discrimination and harassment.
It is an old problem, and the Oregon officials tied up in this series of efforts to thwart accountability over racism in the Oregon State Prison, in many cases, are longtime employees. This is interesting. Many of the people who tried to take down Coleman with contrived evidence, were in place in the late 1980's when Oregon's prisons were so rampant with corruption, that an out of state prison director was hired by then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt, to "clean up the corruption in Oregon's prisons".
Michael Francke, who had cleaned up New Mexico's prisons after deadly riots in the early 1980's, arrived in Oregon in 1988. He went to work, gaining evidence on various officials from the Dept. of Corrections and the Dept. of Justice. He lasted about one year, and was Murdered; stabbed to death. First his car was discovered with the drivers door open. Hours later, his body was found on the porch of the state prison headquarters. A drug addict's testimony was used to convict a man widely considered to be innocent.
The reality is that over twenty years ago, Goldschmidt had what it took to at least admit that there was a problem in the Oregon Dept. of Corrections. When Francke died, all of his accumulated investigative work; a laptop and computer files with information on Oregon DOC corruption, mysteriously disappeared also. The following twenty years have been a free ride for many. All of Francke's work died with him. This alone should be the clearest signal of all that his Murder was an inside job.
We have advised Oregon Attorney General John Kroger's office of the serious nature of this case. At this point we have been informed that because Mr. Coleman has pending litigation against the state, they can not comment on the story. Once again, it seems like we should be talking about separate issues; one involving liability and the other regarding criminality, in essence totally unrelated.
Coleman like Francke, is a determined individual. He has a stronger moral code than most men I have ever known, and in consideration of his unanimous not guilty verdict against a case we now conclusively know was based on false testimony, only possible because of so many state agencies working together, I see him in a light with men who once fought lions in Rome, and occasionally won.
Previous Installments in this series:
Great resources on the Michael Francke Murder:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.
Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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