Police Chief Mike Reese's comments that "inappropriate touching" by a former captain he demoted last year wasn't "sexual in nature" appear to be drawn from a Bureau of Human Resources report filed in late 2011 that reached the same conclusion.
A copy of the report (pdf) and dozens of pages of redacted transcripts of interviews with complainants and several witnesses—obtained by the Mercury through a public records request—reveal investigators clearly believed now-Lieutenant Todd Wyatt violated city harassment rules by touching three women on the leg, two of them his employees, in an "intimate" fashion. The report also raps Wyatt by noting his extensive training on the policy and says he "should have known" he was violating it.
But it also includes the same phrase Reese invoked when he was interviewed about Wyatt's case last month by the Oregonian's editorial board: "There was no evidence that Wyatt's touching was sexual in nature."
Reese seized on that to justify a decision, since revoked, to put Wyatt in charge of the detectives who investigate sex crimes. Reese told the daily he backtracked only because he loused up by not realizing one of the women Wyatt touched had previously been transferred there. Wyatt was demoted for a handful of other reasons, including an off-duty road-rage incident in which he pulled his gun and complaints he wasn't truthful during his investigation.
That line, however, is a very fine one—and the questioning could be in play in the distinction. Two of the women touched by Wyatt on their legs said they were bothered by it, though neither overtly told investigators they thought it was sexual touching. One woman said, according to the report, that it was "intimate, something a date might do or a best friend might do, but not an acquaintance or co-worker." The third woman, an employee, said she didn't think the touching was meant to be intimate or offensive, saying "I didn't think anything of it at the time, no."
The incident that drew the most attention came during a 2010 contract negotiating session between the police bureau management, led by Wyatt, and non-sworn members represented by AFSCME. A woman on the AFSCME bargaining team said Wyatt took the "back of his balled hand and touched me on my thigh, and said, well, how are you doing" during introductory greetings.
She said his hand "lingered, his hand just kind of lingered. Um, and I looked, I asked hi, did he just touch me below my waist?... And he said, well, yeah. And I got upset and I turned to one of the ladies that was sitting over from me, and I said, did you see this joker just touched me below my waist?"
She said Wyatt moved right afterward—and Wyatt and other witnesses remember, the next time the management team convened together in private during talks, that he was upset about the confrontation and told his colleagues about it.
The woman was asked by investigators if she thought the touch was "done in a sexual manner." But she didn't flat-out say "no." Her first reply was that "It was too familiar for someone that I didn't even know to be touching me like that." She wasn't pressed for a yes or no answer, though. She was asked instead if she had come to a conclusion about Wyatt's intentions.
"I came to a conclusion that he was weird," she replied.
The investigator, Barry Renna, asked if she could be more "specific" than that. But her reply was short and has been redacted by the city attorney's office.
The other woman who didn't like Wyatt's touching of her leg, one of his employees, had just been promoted and was on probation and didn't want to stir the pot by complaining. She said he rubbed the top of her thigh briefly and asked her if it was okay, then stopped. She said it happened one more time, in a role-playing exercise about touching—in which Wyatt insisted he was allowed to touch employees if they didn't object.
She did clearly say she "definitely" didn't think the touching was sexual. But she was also the witness who invoked the "date" or "best friend" language singled out in the report.
"When someone crosses a boundary like that, I always wonder if it's a control issue, they're establishing the, you know, they're of higher importance or higher authority than you."
She went on to say she didn't think Wyatt was ever "flirtatious" even. She insisted it was all about power.
Wyatt's demeanor at records clearly caused some raw feelings. Another woman who didn't accuse Wyatt of touching her said thought Wyatt was kind of a bully as a boss, even though he was also good at connecting with employees, and that he tried to intimidate women particularly in the division. The report found no evidence for that allegation.
The third woman who said she was touched, also an employee, said she was never bothered by it—that Wyatt mostly just touched people on the shoulder or leg during conversation. She said he was too short and skinny to be physically intimidating and that his stern mien was a cover for a soft center.
"I don't understand why anyone would be offended," she says.
Much of Wyatt's testimony was redacted. He said he "clearly" remembered the encounter he had during the bargaining session. But he says he didn't remember the other examples of touching—and he remembered exercises with his employees when he said touching wasn't necessarily wrong.
He spent a lot of time on the bargaining incident, attempting to defend his behavior and even implying, at one point, that the woman wasn't in her right mind for taking it the way she did—never mind that city policies on harassing are very clear that it's the victim's perception that matters most. He also refused to acknowledge that his touching crossed a line.
"I touched the knuckle of my finger to the kneebone with about as much force as a ladybug landing on his knee, and I think we can all agree that there are little to no senses in the skin that goes over the knuckle of my hand," he said. "And frankly, I still don't think it's inappropriate, unless an employee says that they didn't like it, and as soon as they say they don't like it, I would say that should never happen again."
He said he apologized and moved, and admitted telling everyone about it right away because it was so "mortifying and shocking to me." He argued there was no way anyone could misconstrue the contact, which came while, he says, their knees were inches apart at the table.
"I remember thinking how ridiculous that statement was," he says about the woman's immediate complaints he touched her below the waist, "'cause I thought, well, I just touched your knee with my knuckle bone."
Then he claimed members of that woman's unit in AFSCME—men, two of them—told him something he paraphrased to the effect of: "That's crazy, she's crazy, don't worry about the rest of us, we're not crazy like her. And I said, well, thank you very much, I will never stand near her ever again."
After he told his bargaining team about the incident, he said they made fun of him and took glee in his obvious discomfort.
"They clearly thought it was pretty funny. But I did not... I'll never forget it until the day I die."
Wyatt also suggested the complaints were retaliatory, according to his interview, because he put an employee on a work plan and fired temps and cut some other positions, all so he could keep a lid on overtime spending. And he said he couldn't see any reason at all why someone wouldn't complain—while letting it out that the division had a weird dynamic because, before, "previous male supervisors had had sexual relations with employees in that division... I was very careful in the way I interacted with employees."
Although, apparently not enough. The bureau asked human resources to look into the complaints after they turned up during an IA probe that came months after the incidents of touching, during the fallout from his road-rage charge.
Wyatt has filed a tort claim against the city over his demotion. And his union, the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association, has filed a grievance.
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