Ontario Mayor Riley Hill and Council Member Freddy Rodriguez were photographed last year during a public gathering in Ontario. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

ONTARIO – Two Ontario city officials put a political opponent under suspicion last fall by reporting to police allegations of child abuse for which there was no evidence.

Ontario City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez was so determined to press allegations against Marty Justus that he sought intervention of the Malheur County Sheriff’s Department when he concluded Ontario police weren’t doing their duty, according to interviews and police records.

And Mayor Riley Hill at about the same time told police about second-hand information about Justus. But Hill asked police to treat him as anonymous.

Hill, Rodriguez and Justus all served on the Ontario City Council last year, clashing over marijuana issues and other matters.

Police reports obtained through public records requests to the Ontario Police Department and the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office in fact showed no evidence that Justus was involved in illegal behavior, even after interviews with those Rodriguez and Hill identified as key informants. 

The two officials acted on hearsay. Detectives last fall concluded there was no evidence of any crime.

The implications are significant. U.S. justice is founded on the principle that individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Government officials suggesting a person is guilty of criminal conduct without proof flows against that bedrock principle.

Rodriguez has persisted in publicly suggesting Justus was a child molester, doing so on his public Facebook page and during city council meetings.

At an April 27 council meeting, Rodriguez dared Justus to prove him wrong.

“Why aren’t you suing for slander? I would go down if I was lying,” Rodriguez said.

On Wednesday, May 12, Justus put the city on notice he may sue over what his lawyer said were “specious and retaliatory allegations of criminal conduct” by Rodriguez and Hill.

Justus, who is openly gay, said in an interview that Hill has been running a “smear campaign behind my back and he was letting Freddy do the dirty work.”

Hill didn’t respond to several telephone and email messages seeking comment.

In emails to the Enterprise, Rodriguez tried to disclaim any responsibility, saying he only passed to police information he had heard from others, including Hill.

During his council statement last month, Rodriguez also maintained that he is a mandatory reporter, required by law to report information about abuse. He didn’t explain why he waited months to report to police his concerns of child abuse.

He has insisted that Hill had “corroborated” information about Justus and that the mayor urged Rodriguez to have the police come talk to him.

In emails to the Enterprise, Rodriguez said an Ontario man told him in January 2020 “about his knowledge of Marty’s predatory actions towards gay minors in town.” He said that two to three months later Hill “disclosed knowing about Marty’s actions.”

He said Hill told him to “tell authorities that mayor has info to provide on this.”

But it was Hill who last October went to police, contacting Chief Steven Romero.

Romero in an interview last week initially referred to Hill as a “citizen who wanted to remain anonymous.” He ultimately confirmed Hill was the source when the Enterprise asked about any contacts from Hill.

As the chief recalled, Hill contacted him to say “I don’t have any direct information but this was what was said to me.” Hill said “that allegedly years back Marty may have been involved in some type of criminal conduct with a minor” and named a local woman as his source of information, Romero said.

A police report shows the agency took Hill’s information seriously, tracking down the woman – who also wanted to be anonymous. The woman told a detective that yet another person told her that his son reported contact with Justus five years earlier.

The detective located the son, establishing he was an adult at the time he and Justus had contacts on a dating application. The man also “advised that he and Mr. Justus had never had in-person contact.”

“There was no crime to report,” Romero said.

He said Rodriguez was unhappy with that result and sought to have the sheriff’s office investigate. He said Rodriguez wrongly reported to the sheriff’s office that “we were ignoring this matter.”

“We do the job right and we don’t deviate,” the chief said.

Rodriguez later told a detective that he contacted the sheriff’s office because he didn’t think the city police had resources to investigate as he thought necessary. He said the sheriff’s office sent him back to the Ontario Police Department

According to police reports, an Ontario detective interviewed Rodriguez by phone on Oct. 29, 2020.

“Mr. Rodriguez advised that prominent men in the Ontario area were taking advantage of underage males,” according to the report of the call. “Mr. Rodriguez advised that one of the subjects mentioned was Marty Justus.”

Apparently unaware that Hill had already talked to police, Rodriguez repeated that Hill had “corroborated” the information and pressed the detective to talk with the local man who had originally told him about suspected abuse.

“This is online where he says all this is going on,” Rodriguez said, according to a recording of the interview obtained by the Enterprise.

In November, that man told the detective by phone that his concern was that truck drivers passing through Ontario were using an online dating service to connect with juvenile boys.

The man “advised that he had never heard Mr. Justus’ name come up, that was brought up by Mr. Rodriguez.”

In a later interview he said he did raise Justus’s name – but only in relation to men in their 20s. He said Rodriguez “twisted” his remark “into Mr. Justus engaging [in] sexual activity with underage males.”

The man “stated that Mr. Rodriguez wished to set up a ‘sting’ on Mr. Justus, using and/or posing as an underage male as bait.” The man said he wouldn’t participate.

Rodriguez last week disputed that claim.

Justus, who have been active in the current effort to recall Rodriguez, said the councilor continues to press the issue for political purposes.

“He thinks that fanning the flames of homophobia is to his benefit and against me,” Justus said. “But I wrap myself in the gay flag and I’m proud of it.”

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