Around Oregon, Special Reports

A veteran police chief’s fall – how Ray Rau ended up in jail

Ray Rau came to Tillamook’s rescue in early 2021.

The city’s police department had no chief, its staffing was in disarray and community relations were strained.

Rau was among police chiefs in Oregon who serve as a kind of first responder for troubled agencies.

Splitting time between rural Nyssa where he was employed and the coastal city, Rau promptly started reforming the Tillamook agency.

“He did some great, amazing things,” recalled Nathan George, Tillamook city manager.

Two years later, the reputation Rau built in nearly three decades in law enforcement was shredded.

Rau, the kind of police executive others wanted to emulate, stood in a courtroom earlier this year as a state judge convicted him of taking illegal drugs from police files. Dressed in a suit, Rau tried to explain. The judge found his justification implausible and found him guilty of criminal conduct while acting as police chief.

As a result, he lost his badge.

He lost his job.

And for a time, he lost his freedom.

Soon after the court hearing, Rau, who turned 57 in February, reported to the Tillamook County Jail, shedding his suit, donning green-striped inmate garb and settling in for a week in a cell.

Rau’s career started as a prison guard in 1995. He then shifted to policing and later worked for the state training new officers.

Few hints of the trouble to come emerge in an examination of what’s publicly known about Rau.

This account is based on public records from the cities of Tillamook and Sandy, the Tillamook County District Attorney’s Office, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Department of Justice and state court records. Information also was obtained in interviews and by email from officials in Sandy, Nyssa and Tillamook as well as professional organizations representing law enforcement.

Rau declined an interview, answered one set of written questions from the Enterprise and then ignored follow-up questions.

After he was sent excerpts of this account to review for accuracy, Rau emailed on June 19 that he was out of the country, on a church mission in Nicaragua.

“I and other members of our team have laid hands on and prayed for sick people who live in abject poverty and have seen cataracts disappear and sight completely restored, wounds close up and heal with no scar, spinal injuries heal and had people walk for the first time in years,” he wrote.

“Any article you should decide to publish will have zero impact on my life,” he said.

His private attorney, Vance Day, scolded the newspaper for its inquiries.

“You have no ethics, journalistic or otherwise,” Day wrote on Rau’s behalf. “Your readers know that, but those who remain with you do so simply because you muckrake for profit and certain miscreants thoroughly enjoy the jaded intellectual masturbation in which you traffic.”

State records show that Rau was certified as a corrections officer in Oregon in 1995, going to work at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton.

He left prison service behind in less than two years, going to work for the police agency in the northeast Oregon border town of Milton-Freewater and then transferring to the Sandy Police Department in 1999.

While there, he was seriously injured in an on-duty crash in 2003.

He later told the city manager in Tillamook that he was hit by a car going 50 mph as he was out on a traffic stop. He said the injuries left him in a coma.

In an email to the Enterprise, Rau said, “The wreck occurred while I was trying to apprehend a hit-and-run drunk driver.”

Records of the investigation by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department show that a deputy had alerted Rau that he might have spotted the suspect in an earlier crash walking along the highway. Rau told investigators he turned around on the highway to join the deputy. He was traveling about 20 mph when he lost control on a snowy street, crashing into a ditch.

Rau said the crash left him hospitalized for a week and he returned to duty in a month.

“I remember that he mentioned having issues with his back that were ongoing,” said Don Ballou, who worked with Rau in Nyssa before succeeding him as chief.

Six months after the crash, in June 2004, Rau left Sandy for the state agency that trains and certifies police officers – the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. Over the next eight years, he would earn promotions with increasing responsibility for training police officers for Oregon agencies.

Rau told the Enterprise that sometime around 2009, “I had been prescribed a small dose of hydrocodone to manage the chronic pain while I slept.”

He said he maintained that treatment “over the years” but provided no further explanation.

Hydrocodone is “relatively potent” pain reliever, according to the National Institutes for Health. “It is vital to monitor patients for addiction, abuse, and misuse signs,” the agency warns.

In June 2012, Rau was hired as police chief in Nyssa. He developed into a popular leader at the agency and in the community.

“Chief Rau was a larger-than-life character who gave his all for our community.”

–Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret

“I have earned a reputation for getting the job done while holding others and myself accountable,” he wrote in a later resume. He said he had “uncompromising integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and the highest of ethical standards.”

He later listed as one of his accomplishments “direct oversight and implementation of staff assignments to the evidence room and bringing it into compliance with state and local regulations.”

Jim Maret is city manager of Nyssa but also serves as a reserve police officer.

“Chief Rau was a larger-than-life character who gave his all for our community,” Maret wrote in an email. He said Rau was “looked up to and respected in our department and community” and that “he left us more trained, made us a true team with better equipment.”

Rau also became part of the “Linebacker” program of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police. Chiefs serve on a temporary basis in other communities as they recruit for a new chief. Rau, for instance, served that function for the southeastern border town of Lakeview for about two months in 2018.

In the following two years, court records show, Rau fell behind on some bills that prompted collection efforts. By September 2019, he owed a credit union $695 for a credit card bill. In 2020, he owed the Ontario hospital $316 that a collection agency later sued to collect. And in December 2020, he owed $2,716 on another credit card bill that was charging Rau 24.74% interest.

Ray Rau, former police chief in Nyssa, discusses policing in a video interview in January 2023. He is no longer a police officer after his conviction in April 2024 for criminal conduct. (Tillamook County Pioneer)

In early 2021, Rau’s name was on the list of possible temporary chiefs when Tillamook sought help from the police chiefs association. He was hired as interim that April and hired permanently that July. He worked three days in Tillamook and then returned to Nyssa for three days of 12-hour shifts.

Rau eventually moved with his wife and their three dogs to Tillamook.

George, the Tillamook city manager, needed someone to step into what was “a mess” in an agency where the environment for employees was “extremely toxic.”

He asked the chiefs association to assess the Tillamook Police Department, resulting in a 14-page report issued just a month after Rau arrived.

Two police chiefs serving as reviewers found that “the former police chief made the decision to lock the front doors of the police department and ordered staff to stop answering the phone.”

As a result, reviewers found that “the community has been dissatisfied with the difficulty in contacting anyone at the PD.”

The visiting chiefs recommend more training for Tillamook officers, including on the “basic principles of the chain of command.” They found police supervisors were directly contacting city councilors, terming the practice “unacceptable.”

Rau moved quickly to change operations.

He put a command structure in place and directed more active patrol, switching to 12-hour shifts considered more efficient and effective. He instituted better procedures for citizens to report crime “instead of just calling the chief or calling a favorite cop,” George said.

“We were really hungry for this adjustment,” said Nick Troxel, who became a lieutenant under Rau and now is interim police chief.

Troxel said Rau created expectations for police employees and worked more closely with the community. Troxel said he looked to Rau as a mentor for the day he would become a police chief.

The visiting chiefs also noted problems with how the agency was storing evidence, including illegal drugs. The city had installed two steel cargo containers inside its public works department’s compound, two miles north of the police department. City officials anticipated remodeling City Hall one day to include a new evidence facility.

“The new police chief should order a complete audit of all property and evidence, to include storage and facilities, by an outside agency,” the reviewers recommended.

Troxel urged Rau to authorize a full audit.

“No, no, no. We’re good,” Troxel later quoted Rau as saying.

Lacey Larson was the agency’ administrative assistant and functioned also as the evidence technician. She participated in a full evidence audit in 2020 and expected another with Rau’s arrival.

“My understanding was when the department changes hands, that that needs to be done,” Larson later told investigators. She talked to Rau about such an audit but “it never worked out.”

Rau said it was “not accurate” that he didn’t allow an audit. Instead, he said, he directed Troxel to monthly do a sample audit of evidence in case files.

“I assumed, wrongly, those were getting done,” Rau said.

Troxel said Rau never gave him such an assignment.

Ray Rau, former police chief in Nyssa, discusses policing in a video interview in January 2023. He is no longer a police officer after his conviction in April 2024 for criminal conduct. (Tillamook County Pioneer)

At the time Rau arrived, officers drove evidence to the storage compound, checked in items for temporary storage lockers. The department’s evidence technician then moved sensitive evidence into a second cargo container for secure storage, an area known as the vault. The evidence technician had one key to allow access. A second, intended for emergency use only, was locked away in the chief’s office, sealed with evidence tape.

The evidence storage at that time had two levels of security. One was a video recording system, which operated in a loop and recorded over itself every few days. Another was an alarm system, disarmed by police employees who punched in their personal codes to gain access when they wanted to check in evidence.

The alarm system then logged every movement in and out of the evidence storage.

Troxel described this as “a very good system to have set up so we would actually know who was in evidence.”

The practice was for officers to seal drugs in clear plastic bags and create a property receipt. The evidence technician then sealed both items in manila folders, marking each with the case number and then placing them into the permanent storage area.

Scores of evidence files containing suspected illegal drugs were held in the second storage unit. Larson, the evidence technician, walked Rau through her system soon after he arrived in 2021.

Then, in September 2021, Rau came to her with what she considered an odd request.

He wanted to take out methamphetamine, he told her. He intended to take it across state to his old agency in Nyssa to help train a new drug detection dog. Rau assured Lacey that the methamphetamine would be destroyed after the training, she recalled.

“I’ve never checked out evidence” already planned for destruction, Larson said later.

Agency records show Rau took 4.3 grams of suspected methamphetamine, though there is no record it was tested by a laboratory for confirmation.

Ballou, the Nyssa police chief, said he did talk to Rau about getting drugs to use for dog training but the plan never advanced because the city’s police dog had been handed off to another agency.

To track the meth he had taken, Rau said, he wrote “a memo to Chief Ballou.”

The Nyssa agency “never received a memo as we did not need the training aids,” Ballou said.

“I would have questioned the legitimacy as this is way outside of protocol and extremely suspicious.”

–Nick Troxel, interim Tillamook police chief

Nyssa’s canine officer at the time told investigators that he knew nothing about any such training. In any event, he used synthetic training aids.

Rau told the Enterprise he wrote up a memo about his intentions and then later returned the methamphetamine to the agency’s evidence storage. He said he left a memo documenting the return on the desk of Larson, the evidence technician.

“I explained this to Lt. Troxel,” Rau wrote.

Troxel said recently that “I know nothing about this. Neither does Lacey Larson.”

Had he known of Rau’s plan, Troxel said, “I would have questioned the legitimacy as this is way outside of protocol and extremely suspicious.”

Two months later, in November 2021, Rau made another decision that troubled those on his staff in Tillamook.

He personally called ADT, which provided the alarm system for the evidence storage. He ordered the service ended.

“He says, ‘We’re shuttin’ off the alarm,’” Troxel later told investigators, saying Rau told him the alarm “was a waste of money.”

Rau recently wrote the Enterprise that the “police department budget was not that good.”

The system cost the city $93 a month.

Troxel said he objected to the termination of the security alarm.

“Security for your evidence locker is of upmost importance,” Troxel said.

He said the loss of the alarm system hampered his efforts to have the Tillamook Police Department professionally accredited, a sort of gold star for departments.

Rau more recently offered another reason for cutting the alarm.

“The service had a number of false alarms,” Rau wrote the Enterprise. “We tried to fix the problem.”

This was news to the city manager and to Troxel, who said, “Never knew or heard of false alarms.”

Around this time in late 2021, according to court records, Rau started the criminal conduct that would later lead to his conviction.

Through the following year, Troxel grew concerned about his new police chief. He was absent from work often, though the city manager said he was aware and not concerned. Rau worked long, odd hours and had health issues, George said.

Troxel shared a vivid account of a trip he took to central Oregon with Rau to attend the annual chiefs conference in April 2022. Rau missed big portions, enough that his absence was noted by at least one other police chief.

Rau asked Troxel to leave the conference early to return to Tillamook. He said he wasn’t feeling well, that he suffered altitude sickness, Troxel later told investigators.

“He’s in the passenger seat, like, he would be alert, awake and then he’s passed out, like he’s out frickin’ cold,” Troxel said in a taped interview with detectives. “It’s almost as though he was going through withdrawals, drug withdrawals, DTs.”

Troxel told detectives that Rau once confided he was addicted to pain medications.

“He goes in and tells me about how, you know, through all his surgeries and all this stuff and trauma in his life, that he’s addicted to pain meds and he’s doing his best to, to get over it and to, fight that,” Troxel said. “He was swearin’ up and down to me that he was clean.”

Troxel said he couldn’t recall the circumstances of the revelation.

Rau said the account was a lie.

“I never told Lt. Troxel that I was addicted to pain medications,” Rau wrote. “I don’t have any addictions. I have never been addicted to any medication, drugs or alcohol.”

He added, “I have never used any narcotics or medication that wasn’t prescribed to me.”

That July, Rau was sued for an unpaid Mastercard bill. A Tillamook County sheriff’s deputy served court papers on the chief at his office, court records show.

George, the city manager, was unaware of the lawsuit against his chief. He said the action was “definitely concerning” and that he expected Rau would have told him.

A second lawsuit, this time for $2,716, was filed in Tillamook County Circuit Court. The creditor later won a judgment when Rau failed to answer the complaint.

The following May proved Rau’s undoing because of the diligence of the evidence technician.

The account comes from state police reports, including transcribed interviews with key witnesses.

On Monday, May 8, a security camera recorded Rau unlocking the evidence vault, going in and closing the door behind him.

The next day, Larson was on duty by 6:30 a.m. She was alone inside the evidence vault where she alone worked when she started processing a prosecutor’s order to destroy meth filed in evidence that was no longer needed.

She thumbed through manila envelopes containing evidence filed in a two-drawer cabinet until she found the right case.

Larson opened the contents onto her work table.

“All I found was a property receipt. There was no crystal meth like the item described. It was completely empty and that was the sole one item in that envelope,” she recounted later to an investigator.

She looked on the floor and then inside the evidence drawer.

Larson decided to alert Troxel, her supervisor, sending him a text as he ate breakfast.

“I have problem,” she typed.

“We can work through it,” he responded.

“Ummmm I dunno……unless you know how to make meth so I can replace the bag I have missing,” she texted.

She then decided to check the lower evidence drawer to see if the meth had fallen out there. The envelopes should all have been in the same position, part of Larson’s system for keeping track.

One didn’t match.

“This one was upside down and turned around in that drawer, and it immediately caught my attention ’cause I’m like, where’s the case number?” Larson recounted.

A realization sunk in.

“Someone’s been in my evidence room,” she thought to herself.

“It happened on my watch but it was not my fault.”

–Ray Rau, former Tillamook police chief

Troxel soon arrived and Larson showed him her discovery. They locked the evidence room and returned to the police station.

Troxel couldn’t locate Rau, who was scheduled to be on duty at 7:30 a.m., and so alerted him by email that Larson reported “missing methamphetamine set for destruction.” He requested the chief arrange for “an outside agency to complete a full inspection/audit of evidence.”

Not long afterward, Rau showed up at Larson’s desk.

“Lacey, I’ve been taking evidence and destroying it,” he said.

“What?” she asked.

“I’ve been doing it for months.”

He explained he did so to protect her from exposure to potentially lethal drugs. He said he hadn’t tracked what he took.

As Rau talked, putting on what Larson later described as “horrible acting,” she texted Troxel.

“I want out of here,” she typed. “I feel uncomfortable. He just confessed to this.”

Larson made up an excuse to leave the office while Troxel returned from a meeting elsewhere.

He found Rau alone in the police department, sitting in his office, eating a bag of chips.

“Sir, we need to talk,” Troxel told his chief.

Rau described taking meth and fentanyl out of evidence to protect Larson.

“You cannot do this. This is not okay,” Troxel responded.

“I know. I screwed up. I screwed up. I should just resign,” Rau replied, who was sweating and crying.

The two men then walked a block to Tillamook City Hall, finding City Manager Nathan George in his office.

For the third time that morning, Rau admitted taking evidence and again explained he did so to protect the evidence technician.

Rau went on leave from duty at that moment.

George later explained he formally placed Rau on administrative leave.

Rau had a different view. He said he decided that morning to take personal leave to deal with stress issues. He said there was no connection that day between his leave and the confessions he made about the evidence.

The city manager said the chief said nothing that day about suffering post-traumatic stress.

By that afternoon, the Oregon State Police mobilized to investigate, with Detective Brian Eskridge of the Newport station in the lead.

A lieutenant and sergeant drove to Rau’s home that evening, but found he was gone. He had left town to stay with friends down the coast in Lincoln City.

Police tried reaching him by phone. He didn’t answer, but they instead got a call from a criminal defense attorney who said she was now representing Rau. She later said police never interviewed Rau or took up his offer to take a polygraph examination. The results of such tests aren’t admissible evidence.

Over two days, a state police team went through each case file in evidence storage – about 200.

The subsequent report detailing every instance where evidence was missing or a file had been tampered ran to 53 pages. Among the discoveries:

• In Case 23-2216: “The evidence bag was cut and then resealed below the cut,” the audit said. “The clear crystal rock observed in the body cam video is clearly not the same dark colored gravel type rock that was inside the tampered evidence bag found during the audit.”

• In Case 22-8331: “Based on the comparison between that case file photos, and the tampered item, it is clear that the green closure Ziplock bag with the large crystal shards was missing.”

• In Case 20-3007: “JH1 was listed as “Meth Pipe.” JH1 was missing from the evidence envelope.”

In all, investigators found, the evidence files in 64 drug-related cases showed tampering. In 19 instances, suspected meth was missing that “had a combined weight of 195.3 grams including packaging materials” and another 13 cases where the weight of the missing meth wasn’t documented. Investigators also reported they couldn’t find “25 glass pipes with suspected methamphetamine residue” that should have been in evidence files.

Eskridge turned over the findings to the Oregon Department of Justice. Tillamook County District Attorney Aubrey Olson asked the state to handle the matter to avoid any conflict of interest since her office routinely worked with Rau.

Rau was charged on Aug. 30, 2023, and by January, he agreed to plead no contest to two misdemeanor criminal charges. With such a plea, Rau didn’t admit guilt but instead agreed that prosecutors had enough evidence to prove him guilty.

In court, his attorney, Christine Mascal described Rau’s conduct as a matter of paperwork, not criminal intent.

“That’s all he did – he violated policy,” she said, saying he took only two or three meth pipes.

Rau explained again he acted only to rid evidence flles of what he thought was fentanyl – and only in instances where there would be no prosecution.

Circuit Judge Sheryl Bachart questioned him closely.

Did he review police reports relating to what he was destroying? No, he said.

“These were things I heard in the office.”

Did he track down other evidence files with what he thought were fentanyl?

“I didn’t get into all that,” Rau said without explaining further.

“What about all the other fentanyl she had to handle?” the judge asked. Rau stood silent.

Rau shifted blame for the evidence problems to Troxel.

“He ran the evidence room,” Rau said. “It happened on my watch but it was not my fault.”

But he was charged with mishandling evidence since about the time he canceled the alarm service in late 2021. The prosecutor said the tampering with evidence was “probably orchestrated from the very beginning with the policy decisions made by the chief.”

With his conviction, Rau surrendered his police certification. He was fired by the city the day after the court hearing. And he turned himself into the jail, where he spent eight days as an inmate.

George launched a search for a new police chief, still underway.

Meantime, the district attorney’s office continues to comb through cases in which evidence found to be tampered was used to charge or convict someone.

Olson already has dismissed charges against several defendants or asked a judge to erase convictions in others.

Among those who with convictions cleared were a 29-year-old man who pleaded guilty in March 2022 to resisting arrest, a 35-year-old man who pleaded guilty to first-degree theft and who served 10 days in jail and a 33-year-old man who pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of heroin.

Rau stands by his claims of what motivated him.

“Negligent mishandling of the bag could expose a person to great harm or even death,” he wrote to the Enterprise.

Rau didn’t address questions about how drugs sealed in a bag posed a threat to Larson, what concern he had about other police employees and whether he raised his concerns about the risk of fentanyl with other city authorities.

Rau’s characterization of the danger of fentanyl doesn’t match science.

The American College of Medical Toxicology said research found that it “very unlikely that small, unintentional skin exposures to tablets or powder would cause significant opioid toxicity.

The Washington state Department of Health addressed the risk as well.

“You can’t overdose just by touching fentanyl,” the agency says in a publicly-available report. “In fact, there are no confirmed cases of overdose from touching fentanyl powder or pills. While fentanyl can be absorbed across the skin, this happens only with constant direct contact over hours and days.”

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].

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