Univ. of Oregon Ends Embarrassing Trials, Pays Former Officer $1M

The trials exposed flaws in productivity and professionalism in the university police department.

The University of Oregon settled a lawsuit filed by a former university police officer for $1 million on May 19.

The settlement stems from a jury’s earlier conclusion that former officer James Cleavenger was retaliated against for complaining of unprofessionalism in the UO police department, reports Oregon Live.

Former UO Police Chief Carolyn McDermed fired Cleavenger in 2012 and created a dossier accusing him of being dishonest two years later when Cleavenger filed a lawsuit against the university.

The lawsuit and subsequent trials revealed that the department was fraught with dysfunction.

In 2013, Cleavenger’s lawsuit showed some UO officers, under the direction of UO Police Department Lieutenant Brandon Lebrecht, used work time unproductively by making a list of people and things the officers disliked. The list, which included more than 130 celebrities along with at least 25 campus community members, groups or landmarks, was titled the “Bowl of Dicks.”

“For hours and hours, we had to sit there and listen to this crap instead of doing our work,” Cleavenger told the Oregonian in 2014.

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Lawyers for Cleavenger also pointed to the following acknowledgements by former Chief McDermed during her testimony as examples of her flaws in leadership:

  • When McDermed learned of the vulgar list, she didn’t ask to see it or find out how it got started.
  • When Cleavenger was disciplined for an incident involving a handgun, McDermed said she didn’t know that Cleavenger and another officer disputed the facts of the incident. She also said she never asked Cleavenger or another officer that witnessed the incident what actually happened.
  • When McDermed saw a video of a field training officer parking in front of a home in a situation that required him to park out of sight, she did not discipline him and doesn’t know if anyone in the department discussed the mistake with the officer.
  • McDermed punished Cleavenger for using the lights on his patrol car to stop a pedestrian car, although she testified that she had no evidence Cleavenger was made aware of the policy forbidding such actions.
  • McDermed agreed to sign a neutral letter of reference about Cleavenger to give to future employers while simultaneously creating a dossier alleging Cleavenger was “repeatedly and seriously dishonest.” McDermed testified that she only agreed to sign the neutral letter because a lawyer told her to do so.

The settlement is $255,000 less than the amount a jury verdict awarded Cleavenger in federal court in September.

“This ordeal made my life a nightmare for four years,” Cleavenger says of the trial. “[The settlement is] a victory for every honest police officer in the state of Oregon.”

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About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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