Ore. corrections inspector general under internal investigation
The state Corrections Department launched what it described as a personnel investigation earlier this summer
By Laura Gunderson
PORTLAND, Ore. — Leonard Williamson, the Oregon prison system's chief internal watchdog, is himself under investigation for reasons the agency won't disclose.
The state Corrections Department launched what it described as a personnel investigation earlier this summer.
The disclosure reveals more about what appears to be high-stake tensions within the state's second-largest agency.
Williamson, 50, stumped many leaders in public safety and justice circles when -- seemingly out of nowhere – he alerted the state last month of his intention to sue the agency and its director Colette Peters, who is also Williamson's boss.
At the same time, his attorney accused Peters of violating ethics laws in a complaint filed with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
Since then, Williamson and his attorney, Jim Van Ness of Salem, have not responded to repeated calls for comment. Reached by phone Wednesday, Williamson would not immediately comment on the personnel case.
Liz Craig, Corrections Department spokeswoman, said Williamson is being investigated by the agency's human resources department. She said the investigation is not criminal and would be completed soon. Williamson remains on duty.
Originally, the notion of an inspector general going after the corrections boss struck many as unprecedented.
"I have never heard of this before in my entire career," said John Foote, the Clackamas County district attorney who has served both as the Corrections Department's inspector general and, briefly, as the agency's director.
"Inspector general is a very challenging job," he said, "but a very important one for the health of the Department of Corrections."
Williamson, former Tillamook County deputy district attorney and a former state justice division manager, has been inspector general since 2011.
The post, created in 1990, is responsible for monitoring the work of all corrections employees and vendors, as well as investigating allegations of misconduct and criminal activity. The inspector general reports to the corrections director but also has the authority to report concerns about the director to the governor or attorney general.
In his claim, Williamson said he intends to sue for $3 million, accusing Peters, the state and "10 Does" with "injuring his professional reputation" starting on April 15. The significance of that date couldn't be immediately established.
Peters, who herself has served as inspector general, wouldn't comment directly on Williamson's allegation.
"Leonard Williamson has submitted a tort claim notice to the Department of Administrative Services alleging I have harmed his professional reputation," Peters said in a statement. "While I cannot comment on specific details at this time (due to pending litigation), I will fully cooperate in the legal process as it takes its course."
In her statement, she denied his attorney's ethics allegations.
"I have not, at any time, terminated or caused a person to be terminated within the Department of Corrections for the purpose of hiring a personal acquaintance," her statement said. "I affirm my hiring decisions have been in compliance with law and policy."
Ron Bersin, the ethics commission's executive director, said Van Ness' one-paragraph letter didn't qualify as an ethics complaint and that his agency wouldn't investigate.
The Corrections Department said in response to a public records request that Williamson's office has not produced any reports within the past 18 months raising concerns over Peters' hiring practices. The agency said a separate internal auditing office also has not raised any such concerns.