Gervais fires police chief, fueling ongoing feud and attempt to recall city officials

The Gervais City Council voted 4-1 in February 2024 to fire its police chief, Mark Chase.
Former Gervais Police Chief Mark Chase

Lt. Tim West of the Gervais Police Department said he’d never had a loaded firearm pointed at his face. Until 2022.

“I didn’t think it would be by my chief,” West reportedly told a colleague.

West’s blistering allegation appeared in a 101-page investigative report on former Gervais Police Chief Mark Chase that the city commissioned in October. The document led to Chase’s firing last month and sparked an ongoing feud between his defenders and elected officials in the quiet city of 2,700 people about 15 miles northeast of Salem.

The independent investigator, southern Oregon attorney David Groff, also reported that Chase had favored some officers over others, made inappropriate sexual comments during a pat down and a training exercise, accused an officer of going easy on migrant workers because she was, in his words, “Hispanic too,” and allegedly told an officer that if he ever shoots a suspect to “put five more in him so he’s gone.”

About a dozen people – including some who don’t live in Gervais – have fiercely defended Chase, criticizing the investigation as one-sided and accusing city officials of firing the chief without due process.

Last month, some group members started collecting signatures to recall the mayor and the four city councilors who voted Feb. 20 to fire Chase.

For his part, Chase – who earned $104,504 annually – said he’s been unjustly targeted. And he’s not entirely unfamiliar with the feeling. Junction City leaders fired Chase from his role as police chief in 2016.

“Being a chief is a tough job – I’m not the best in the world, I’m not the worst, I’m somewhere in between,” said Chase, 58. “But I feel this investigation and the direction of this started off with some unethical and willful intent to come to a conclusion and not be a fact-finding mission.”


The gun incident “freaked everyone out,” especially West, according to the report.

In mid-2022, West was training a new hire in a garage when Chase came to observe. Typically during a training, participants would remove any weapons and undergo a pat down to make sure nothing was missed.

After some time, West approached the police chief to demonstrate how to disarm a person. That’s when Chase pulled out his loaded gun and pointed it at West’s face, the report states.

Chase never shared his version of what happened in the garage for the report. His Portland attorney, Christine Mascal, advised him to end his interview with the investigator after about an hour, when Groff told him it was voluntary. Chase acknowledged to The Oregonian/OregonLive that it did occur, but he also blamed West for failing to check him for weapons first.

“I take full responsibility – it was bad,” said Chase. “But Lt. West should have been fired too.”

West declined to speak with The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Complaints from three people, one current and two former Gervais police department employees, prompted the investigation into the chief’s management of the tiny police force — then just seven employees, including the chief. Groff interviewed six witnesses, including one current and four former employees. Every witness’s name except Chase’s is redacted from the report.

Among the other allegations in the report:

  • In 2021, after a police officer in Corvallis fatally shot a person, Chase and an unidentified employee reviewed body camera footage of the killing. According to the report, Chase turned to him and said, “If you ever get involved in a shooting, when he hits the ground I want you to put five more in him so he’s gone.”
  • During a handcuffing exercise, Chase reportedly told a female officer, “Oh, you can search me anytime.”
  • While on a call to the home of a man “known to always be drunk,” Chase encouraged a female officer accompanying him to frisk the man, even though department policy was for a male officer to pat down a male suspect whenever possible. The female officer told the investigator she didn’t feel she could disobey the chief, but as she patted down the man, Chase made inappropriate comments, including telling the man “I bet you are enjoying this; this is the most action that you’ve gotten in a long time.” This prompted the man to say “all kinds of nasty things” to the female officer. Back in the patrol car, Chase allegedly told the officer he made the comments that made her uncomfortable on purpose, “to see how you would handle that situation.”
  • He reportedly declined to let a female officer work alone at night for her safety, even though male colleagues worked alone at night.
  • Chase was said to have once fired his Taser in the department’s locker room and it “barely missed” another person, leaving a hole in the wall. “The mark is still there and everyone knows what the mark is from,” an unidentified woman told the investigator. “She said they have even talked about framing the hole.”
  • In 2023, he walked into a Gervais High School classroom where 80% of the students were Latino and told them to “put your hands up.”
  • At least one interview subject said Chase would target employees on his “bad side.” After one employee fell on ice in the office parking lot, Chase reportedly showed video of the fall to others at work and laughed.

“Chase is like a boulder coming down a hill and everybody is trying to dodge him because he’s a bully and he’ll push you around,” according to one person’s account noted in the report.

In an interview last week with The Oregonian/OregonLive, Chase said most of the incidents outlined in the report never happened or the complainants described them inaccurately. He also said the investigator should have interviewed every current employee of the police department, not just former employees and those who filed the complaints against him.

Chase, who lives in Salem, said the past three years in Gervais have been “extremely contentious,” and that he is the eighth city employee or elected official to leave, be recalled or be fired since last April – a detail Gervais’ city manager, Roger Brown, declined to confirm.

“Every business in every city has turnover,” he said.

Chase said he is still considering whether to sue Gervais over his firing. He does not want to find another job as police chief though, he said.

“People don’t understand the tough job we have,” he said.


The Gervais City Council’s Feb. 20 vote marked the second time an Oregon city has fired Chase as its police chief.

The Dallas Police Department hired Chase as an officer in 1987. Twelve years later, he transferred about 15 miles away to the Salem Police Department and was promoted to sergeant in 2000. Junction City hired him as police chief in 2009.

In July 2014, Junction City’s then city administrator, Melissa Bowers, placed Chase on paid administrative leave after nine officers complained about Chase’s “management and communications techniques,” according to The Register-Guard in Eugene. He returned to work seven months later, the news outlet reported.

Chase sued Bowers and the city for $300,000 in federal court in June 2015, alleging Bowers had discriminated against him for his religious beliefs and put him on leave without due process. A federal judge dismissed the case a year later, court records show.

Junction City’s next administrator, Jason Knope, fired Chase in 2016 because he failed to tell city officials for several months that his city-issued Glock 21 had gone missing, The Register-Guard reported.

In a performance review of Chase, Knope expressed other concerns, including that Chase had allegedly entered a Junction City middle school classroom full of Latino children and, in uniform, shouted “put your hands up” in Spanish. The teacher complained to the city that Chase’s unannounced visit had scared the children, the outlet reported.

Chase also allegedly asked a reserve officer candidate if he was married, and reportedly dramatically changed his tone after the man told him he was gay, The Register-Guard reported.

Jobless, Chase started over in Gervais.

The city hired him as a rank-and-file police officer in July 2016. He worked his way up, getting promoted to lieutenant in 2017 and to chief in 2019.


Mayor Annie Gilland declined to talk in detail about Chase’s firing. She said that she and others in Gervais have faced heated criticism in office but that the fury directed at them online has worsened since “the Chase thing.”

Brown, the city manager, said he directed all city employees not to speak publicly about the investigation to protect them from potential litigation. He declined to talk at length, too.

“I was disappointed that those things that were reported had happened,” Brown said. “The council made their decision based on the report, and that’s really all I can say.”

Among Chase’s most vocal supporters is 43-year-old Heather Lagaso, who criticized the investigator for failing to interview all of Chase’s former and current employees. Lagaso, who does not work for the city, said she is president of the Gervais Community Progress Team, a nonprofit that organizes community events.

Lagaso called some of the complaints against Chase nonsense and said he was a fixture of the community who strove to help people.

“(Chase’s) goal was to try to have an impact in a positive way – to show folks some of these authority figures are on their side,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, Rob Ladd, who was appointed to the city council last year, agreed to an interview at the auto repair shop he owns in town.

The 52-year-old said he grew up in Gervais and has never left.

“Everyone knows everyone,” he said, waving back at drivers who greeted him as they approached the stop sign outside his shop on the corner of Third Street and Douglas Avenue.

Taking up less than a square mile of land, his hometown has always felt like a tight-knit community, he said. But the political fighting stirred by a small group has disrupted that sense of community, Ladd said.

He said when he voted to fire Chase he hoped it would help restore a sense of normalcy in Gervais.

“If one person complains, it might be nothing, but if multiple people complain?” he said. “He’s been around this business and been a chief – you’d know better.”

— Catalina Gaitán covers public safety, politics, policing and more. You can reach Catalina at [email protected].

Contact Keizertimes Staff:
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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