NEWS

Gervais council dismisses police chief

Gervais Police chief Mark Chase Photo courtesy of the Woodburn Independent

The Gervais City Council fired Police Chief Mark Chase during a special meeting held on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The council voted 4-1 in favor of dismissal with City Councilor Baltazar Gonzalez voting against.

Chase had been placed on leave last fall pending an investigation into a complaint or complaints levied against him. The leave caught Gervais residents by surprise, many of whom did not know about it for weeks or even months after the action. There was considerable social-media support expressed in recent months for the chief.

The Gervais council held an executive session prior to the open meeting to discuss the issue.

“We are here today to consider discipline or discharge of Chief Chase, following an investigation of complaints received regarding the chief,” Gervais Mayor Annie Gilland led off the Tuesday afternoon meeting. “Under the city handbook, these complaints required an investigation.”

Gilland said the city went through due process to conduct the investigation, retaining an independent investigator unaffiliated with the city.

“The investigator reviewed a number of documents and interviewed witnesses, including attempting to interview Chief Chase,” the mayor continued.

Chase reportedly agreed to be interviewed but had a change of heart after the interview began and declined to continue without assurance of immunity, according to Gilland. She said the investigator tried again to conduct an interview, and Chase declined again.

The investigator continued the investigation and shared his findings with the chief. Personnel issues with public officials, such as the findings of this investigation, are not shared with the public unless the subject of the investigation waives that given right to privacy.

“After the executive summary was provided to Chief Chase, he was provided an opportunity to present a defense in executive session or in a public meeting,” Gilland said.

Chase declined the public meeting and met with the city council on Feb. 1 and denied the complaints, ultimately prompting the council to meet and consider discipline or discharge. Chase was allotted 5 minutes during Tuesday’s meeting to present to the council.

Chase said that from the time he was placed on leave, Oct. 11, through Dec. 20, 2023, he had heard nothing from the city of Gervais about the investigation.

“I heard through the grapevine at about that time that John Morgan had been forced to resign,” Chase said, referring to the Gervais pro tem city manager at the time. “You (Gilland) and Councilor (John) Harvey coming into his office and asking for his resignation.”

Chase said he waited for weeks to learn who he was supposed to be dealing with regarding the issue. He said he subsequently reached out to interim City Manager Roger Brown who informed Chase of the investigator who was trying to reach out to the chief.

“It had been since Oct. 11 to Dec. 20 that nobody had reached out to me,” Chase said. “They had my email; they had my phone number – nobody had reached out to me. They said (the investigator) was going to conclude the investigation.”

Chase said he made an appointment for Dec. 29. He denied Gilland’s claim that he ask for immunity; he requested his Garrity rights, which protect public employs from self-incrimination. He said the council provided him with an option that did not ensure true Garrity rights, so he was advised by his counsel to stop the interview process.

Chase said he waited for weeks before receiving a letter from the city council, apprising him of a Jan. 23 executive session to discuss the investigation. That was postponed until Feb. 1. At that session, Chase said he provided the council with “the following facts:”

The investigation was a sham, and the city was going to close the investigation without discussion with the chief; Chase and his legal counsel offered to be interviewed; some complaints levied had previously been investigated and cleared; the city declined to interview key witnesses in the new allegations; some citations that emerged in the complaints were taken out of context.

“I’d just like to say to you and to the community listening that it’s been an honor and pleasure to serve this community,” Chase said. “And I think my integrity and my ethics have always been intact.

“I have not given into political pressure from you or from another councilor to dismiss charges to people or to write tickets to people,” he continued. “I feel that your influence on me in that regard has put me in jeopardy. And I’ve seen the city recorder be forced out due to a hostile work environment. I’ve see (former City Manager) Susie Marston leave because of the pressure and difficulty that she had with the person that you appointed as the new city recorder…I’ve seen the city attorneys fired. What I’m seeing is a pattern that comes to me as well.”

After 14 years on the job, Marston left the city of Gervais last May to accept a finance position in Monmouth.

Chase said all the people affected by the pressure-cooker atmosphere around city hall were honest, hard-working people who “ran the city well.” He added that his personal salary had not been paid properly over the past three months.

Chase acknowledged that he is not perfect, but he’s grateful and humbled by the support he’s received from city staff, police officers and the community at large. He was critical of the council for weighing heavily on the narrow scope of the accusers of the complaints and not looking at the broader scope of it.

Chase was promoted to chief on June 4, 2019, after serving almost three years as an officer and lieutenant with the Gervais Police Department. At that time he had served in various capacities of law enforcement for more than 36 years, including time with the Dallas, Salem, Junction City and Gervais police forces.

In July of 2022, Chase was honored as the D.A.R.E. Law Enforcement Executive of the Year.

(This story is courtesy of the Woodburn Independent. More from them can be found at woodburnindependent.com.)