We need a new sheriff

Sheriff Mike Winters holds a news conference after Bradley Monical escaped from the Jackson County Jail in 2012.

“Promises made, promises kept”, touts Jackson County Sheriff Winters campaign materials. Running for another term, Mike Winters has a deeply rooted history of doing just the opposite of his shiny campaign slogans. From botched murder investigations to using Jackson County resources and funding to eradicate marijuana in outside jurisdictions; under Winters’ leadership, the sheriffs office has repeatedly failed to protect citizens and under his direction the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department has been hit with an alarming number of alleged human rights violations and other misconduct.

Jackson County can’t afford another four years with Sheriff Mike Winters.at the helm.

Some examples:

  • In 2004 the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department was sued by the ACLU for violating the constitutional rights of protesters during a peaceful demonstration in Jacksonville during a visit by President George W. Bush. “Despite the fact that both pro and anti-Bush demonstrators were within the same approximate distance to where the president was eating dinner, the Secret Service—and local police—chose to discriminate against those opposed to the President,” said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon.  “There was no security threat to the president and no justification for using force against peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.” Clubs and pepper spray bullets were used on the anti-Bush demonstrators including women and children.

  • In 2008 Cynthia Willis, a medical marijuana card holder was denied the right to renew her hand gun permit by the Sheriff who oversees gun permits in Jackson County. Willis took the county to court and won. The sheriff took the case to an appellate court and lost again. Not to be deterred Winters pushed for the case to be heard by the US Supreme Court. He lost again. It’s unclear how many tens of thousands of dollars these lawsuits cost Jackson County taxpayers.

  • In 2009 a former Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy, Jacob Franklin was awarded $209,000 in economic damages over a federal lawsuit after Franklin was fired by Winters. The wrongful termination happened over an incident when Franklin arrested Ron Oachs, a retired Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy. Franklins superiors wanted Oach’s charges to disappear and when Franklin wouldn’t comply he was terminated. The county paid out the damages plus lawyer and court costs.

  • The Mail Tribune reported that Winters said that in court documents Oachs threatened to sue Jackson County. “Since I firmly believed (Franklin) violated Oachs’ Fourth Amendment rights and that a judge and jury would find in Oachs’ favor at trial, I elected to have county counsel settle Oachs’ claim expeditiously and in order to avoid a lawsuit and the added taxpayer expense associated therewith.” Oachs was paid a $30,000 settlement in July 2009.

  • In 2012 the ACLU challenged the mail policy at the Jackson County jail with a lawsuit after it was found that inmates were only allowed to receive postcard correspondence from anyone other than their legal representatives. Winters reversed his policy a few weeks later, after apparently reviewing the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.

  • In February of this year, Jackson County Judge Joe Charter dismissed four cases of drivers who were ticketed for honking their horns in support of striking Medford school teachers. The Jackson County Sheriff’s office handed out the tickets near Griffin Creek Elementary School and cited them with ORS 815.230, which is the defective-horn violation. The sheriff’s office asked Charter to drop the cases, not because they believed they were interfering with the publics right to free speech, but because the officer who wrote out the tickets had charged the drivers with an incorrect state statute.

  • In April of this year, Jackson County Judge Joe Charter ruled in favor of a truck driver who had been ticketed by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for flashing his headlights at an oncoming driver to warn him of a potential speed trap. Citing that such actions are protected as free speech under the Oregon Constitution, the court case was dropped.

And then there’s the botched murder investigations of Dave Lewis and Troy Carney. Readers might recall that we covered those murders in Five Years Without Answers: the Unsolved Murders of Dave Lewis and Troy Carney (RVCP July 2013)

On the campaign trail, Winters cites the Jackson County Sheriff’s office as having a new cold case unit, but we think that effort is minimal. When this reporter couldn’t find basic information about those cases and inquired why there were not press releases and posters on the sheriff’s website, I was told that having a cold case presence on the website “was a great idea” and that it would be easy to do. More than a year has passed and  their website is still missing that information.

And finally, listen to the men and women who work with Winters and vote him out of office. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Employee Association released the results of a survey where their members made a strong statement.. Winter’s received a mere 4% of the votes.