Lakeview Police Department is once again without a permanent police chief, following a letter rescinding acceptance of the job offer eight days after the candidate hired to fill the role was supposed to start.
Wyn Lohner, who retired in May after serving for over a decade as the Baker City Chief of Police, was the lone applicant of a chief of police vacancy in Lakeview following the resignation of Will Behan in June. Lohner was offered the position after a visit to Lakeview and interview, but residents including several current and former law enforcement and corrections officers raised concerns at Lakeview Town Council meetings about ongoing litigation against Lohner accusing him of systemic retaliatory harassment of a Baker City reporter.
The 2015 lawsuit, Brian Addison v. City of Baker City, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon seeking punitive damages for defamation, and remains under consideration in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It accuses Lohner of multiple retaliatory actions against Addison after an editorial was published by Addison in the Baker City Record-Courier stating that use of drug-sniffing dogs by Baker City Police at a 2008 high school basketball tournament was a breach of the Fourth Amendment’s ban on illegal search and seizure.
Lakeview Mayor Ray Turner noted during a public council meeting in August that the lawsuit had not come up in the course of interviewing Lohner and were unaware of the litigation when the job offer was made, but that should anything come of it they would be looking elsewhere. Lakeview Town Manager Roberta Vanderwall confirmed at the same August meeting that Lohner had been offered the job, but hadn’t yet accepted. Lohner formally accepted the position in September, and was slated to begin service as of Monday, Oct. 1, but did not meet that deadline.
On Tuesday Lohner issued a letter to Vanderwall formally resigning from the position only a week after he was slated to start.
“Throughout my career in public safety management I have had to battle the political current that always flows behind the scenes,” said Lohner in his resignation letter. “The worst of this is when the ‘Good Ole’ Boys’ are pushing their agenda, typically through bullying tactics. This was prevalent in Baker City and is one of the reasons I left when I did. My hope was that Lakeview would be different and that I could do the work you hired me to do without the constant distractions coming from behind the scenes. Obviously this is not the case. I simply cannot accomplish the goals you and I both have in Lakeview when a group of Lakeview citizens are constantly on the attack.”
Lohner indicated in his letter that he felt God was leading him to Lakeview to better the community, but that the backlash against his hire has reminded him of “just how much evil is in this world.” Lohner stated that following conversations with friends, family and a police chaplain he came to conclusion to withdraw acceptance of the Lakeview position.
“In law enforcement we deal daily with the evil forces administered through criminally minded people,” stated Lohner. “What I didn’t envision in Lakeview was having to battle evil forces controlled by a group of misguided citizens, who’s hateful, one sided approach has left the community in turmoil. This group has continually only presented one side of pending litigation from my tenure in Baker City.”
The resignation leaves the department once again without leadership, one that has seen a veritable revolving door of police chiefs over the past year. Travis Grindle was appointed police chief in March, 2016, but reportedly resigned in February. Ray Rau, the current police chief in Nyssa where Vanderwall previously served as town manager, split time between both Lakeview and Nyssa as an interim chief until April when Will Behan was hired. Behan resigned in June to pursue other employment opportunities, forcing the Town of Lakeview to partner with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office until Lohner could start.
Lakeview has budgeted funds for four active officers and a police chief, yet with Lohner’s resignation the department will reportedly be down to just one active officer by the end of October, forcing a short-term contract with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Part of this is due to Lakeview having one of the lowest salary positions for officers in the state, making it difficult to recruit and retain officers.
Town Council had considered a solution through a monthly $10 safety fee to fund increases for Lakeview Police Department and 9-1-1 Dispatch salaries. Many citizens bemoaned the fee, in part due to misinformation spread online incorrectly stating that it was a water surcharge to fund police rather than be put towards the community’s much-maligned water system. Town Council eventually removed the safety fee proposal.
“The only opportunity I see now for Lakeview is to assemble a positive minded, diverse group of community stakeholders to evaluate where the city goes next with policing services,” added Lohner. “Do you settle for contracting, or try to rebuild the department? If these stakeholders can determine that, get community buy-in and potentially select your chief of the future, it will be the community fighting this group as opposed to just you and the applicant.”