Malheur County settles with Williams

By John L. Braese and Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

Brad Williams, former Malheur County undersheriff, will receive $475,000 from the county to settle his allegations he faced religious discrimination while working at the sheriff’s office.

County officials disclosed the settlement Tuesday in response to a public records request from the Malheur Enterprise.

“I think I am vindicated,” Williams said. “It vindicates me a little bit.”

Williams sued the county and Sheriff Brian Wolfe in October 2015 to contest his firing from the agency. In his federal lawsuit, Williams contended he faced religious discrimination from Wolfe. He said Wolfe, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave favored treatment to other employees affiliated with the LDS Church. Williams also said his firing in February 2015 came in part because he complained of mismanagement in the sheriff’s office.

The county and Wolfe denied the allegations in their court response.

Wolfe said Tuesday he still considers his choice to fire Williams was right.

“I believe that (the settlement agreement) is a lot of money for a decision that I believe was a lawful decision,” he said.

The agreement to settle the case was signed March 1 by County Commissioner Don Hodge and five days later by Williams. In the settlement, neither side admitted any wrongdoing.

Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.

The settlement is scheduled to be paid in three portions:

  • William’s attorney, Stephen Brischetto of Portland, will receive $158,333, to be paid by the county’s insurer.
  • Williams will received $216,666 to settle his claims for “pain and suffering, emotional distress and damage to reputation.” The sum will be paid by the insurer.
  • Williams will receive $100,000 from Malheur County to settle his claim for past wages.

According to Lorinda DuBois, county administrative officer, the insurance company will later reimburse the county for nearly all that $100,000. She said roughly $10,000 will have to be absorbed by county.

“The money will come out of the sheriff’s budget as that is the department the lawsuit was filed against,” DeBois said.

The agreement also requires the county to later issue Williams his retirement badge and retired officer identification.

Williams started with the sheriff’s office in March 2000 as a deputy sheriff. He was promoted to detective sergeant in 2008 and shortly after, promoted to undersheriff. In 2012, he was demoted to patrol sergeant, a position he remained in until his discharge.

He was paid $4,733 a month at the time he was fired in February 2015.

Wolfe told Williams in a Feb. 4, 2015, letter that he was being terminated for sharing confidential information, insubordination, and conduct that violated the state code of ethics for police officers. Williams disputed the assertions.

As a result of that termination, Williams was notified on April 22, 2015, that his state police certification was being revoked by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.

When Williams contested the revocation, the licensing agency withdrew the revocation notice. He remains certified as an Oregon police officer.

Wolfe said it’s time for all parties to move on.

“When Mr. Williams worked here, he did an awful lot of good work,” he said. “We have work to do so we will go forward with the work we have to do. We are not going to dwell on it.”

Williams said the settlement amount sends a signal.

“More than anything it reiterates that I was fired unjustly. It exonerates me. They don’t pay that kind of money to someone who is wrong,” he said.

Williams, who now works for an area housing developer, said he wants to put the case behind him, though it means giving up on his career as a police officer.

“My plan was to work until I was 60 and retire in good standing with the community. Once you are terminated and you bring a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff’s office it is a black mark on you. I have been drug through the dirt,” he said.