Three cops ‘disgraceful,’ ‘irresponsible’ in face of colleague’s life-threatening injuries at police academy

Marion County Courthouse (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

Three police officers “risked another’s life to save themselves” in an incident at the state’s training academy last October that could have killed another recruit, according to a review by the Marion County District Attorney’s Office.

The review, released Friday afternoon, presents a damning picture of an October incident that left one recruit with a serious head injury and spinal fracture while the group was practicing defensive techniques in an academy dorm room. 

While criminal charges won’t be brought, the review said that the three recruits’  “lack of candor” during the investigation “should cause serious concerns about their credibility” and is “antithetical to what real police officers do: protect others.”

“Their ‘circle the wagons’ version of what took place that night is not credible,” said the report by Matt Kemmy, Marion County deputy district attorney. “Whether their story was created by some misguided belief that they needed to cover for one another or whether it was done for self-preservation, it is disturbing either way.”

In Oregon, all new law enforcement officers go through a 16-week training academy in Salem run by the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. The department certifies officers, but the new officers are employees of police agencies from across the state. 

DOCUMENT: Investigative report

The incident occurred on Oct. 17 when Dustyn Matlock, a recruit with the Portland Police Bureau, Joseph DeLance, with Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, along with Austin Daugherty and Dylan Hansen, both recruits with Oregon State Police, went to DeLance’s room and practiced defensive tactics after a police academy training. 

Matlock sustained a life-threatening injury after allegedly being slammed to the floor, according to the report. 

The Salem Police Department subsequently investigated for possible criminal charges and submitted its results to District Attorney Paige Clarkson’s office. Her office released its conclusions Friday afternoon, finding that evidence wouldn’t support a criminal case but cited the “callousness” and “disgraceful” attitude of the three officers after Matlock was injured.

“We have to do our own scrubbing of the information to see what occurred,” said Eriks Gabliks, director of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.

He said that he hadn’t seen the report but that the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training will be conducting its own review now that the investigation is over to see if there were any academy violations. 

He said that DeLance, Daugherty and Hansen graduated from the academy but have not been certified to function as police officers. He said that the department will consider the certifications and will also make information available to the officers’ agencies where they are still employed. 

“I’m sure that they’ll want to look into it as well,” he said.

Their status with their employing agencies couldn’t be established Friday evening.

He said that Matlock didn’t finish the academy because of his injuries. But Matlock returned to duty on Jan. 20.

Gabliks stressed that the incident occurred after hours and was not part of the academy curriculum. 

‘Something isn’t right’

Matlock was injured after the four officers returned to the academy dorm in Salem following dinner and drinks, the report said.

The four described roughhousing and practicing defense tactics in their dorm rooms. Matlock said the last thing he remembered was grabbing DeLance by the biceps and then “he was knocked unconscious.”

He told police he had no memory of how he got hurt but woke up on the floor in extreme pain with DeLance telling him that he was ok and “you can tell everyone in Portland you’re tough.” 

He was unsteady on his feet and he repeatedly told the others that his head and wrist hurt.  His legs began to have tremors, a fact that both Daugherty and Hansen commented on. 

Instead of seeking medical help, Daugherty attempted to check Matlock’s eyes for signs of a concussion and searched WebMD for symptoms of a brain bleed.

Matlock took a shower and when the other recruits went to his room to check on him, he was having full body tremors, the report said.

They brought in another recruit, Jonathan Martin, to inspect Matlock’s wrist.  

Martin told investigators that Matlock was “acting strange, his body was shaking, and he was saying, ‘something isn’t right’.”  

Matlock asked for someone to call him an Uber to take him to the hospital but DeLance, Daugherty and Hansen refused and instead repeatedly told Matlock to “take ibuprofen” and “sleep it off,” the report said. 

Martin subsequently took Matlock to the hospital, who at that point “was hanging onto Martin’s shoulder and almost had to be carried.”

Matlock was diagnosed with a brain bleed, cervical spine fracture and broken wrist – injuries that a treating doctor told investigators were “life threatening.”

A doctor told investigators that if Matlock had gone to sleep that night as his colleagues were trying to convince him to do, he might have died due to brain swelling. 

The doctor was “extremely skeptical” that Matlock’s injuries could have been caused by being dropped to the floor because they were more consistent with blunt force trauma seen in a bicycle and car crashes. 

A second doctor said the severe injuries “were consistent with being ‘body slammed’ to the ground,” the report said.

DeLance, Daugherty and Hansen maintained that Matlock was dropped and fell to the ground and downplayed the medical symptoms he was experiencing by claiming to investigators that they thought he was faking it, cold and drunk. 

Hansen refused to take a polygraph test, telling investigators, “it’s just going to be a waste of your time and money to do it, because I don’t lie.” Daughtery “repeatedly” said he would take the test but then his attorney interceded to stop any more questioning.

In assessing whether a crime happened, the report concluded that there was no evidence the three officers intended to hurt Matlock. They said under criminal law, they also had no duty to be sure he was cared for after he was injured, “notwithstanding the callousness of their conduct following his injuries.”

DeLance was certified as a corrections officer with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office in 2018, according to DPSST records. The sheriff’s office announced Friday evening that DeLance was placed on administrative leave while the agency investigates. 

Oregon State Police said Daugherty and Hansen are both on administrative leave while the agency investigates.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009. Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.