Questions emerged at Tuesday's Ontario City Council meeting about the city's investigation into a complaint against Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero. (The Enterprise/Kezia Setyawan).
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that City Manager Adam Brown was present for a meeting to discuss the complaint. The story has been updated to show that Lt. Jason Cooper, not Brown, was present at this meeting.
ONTARIO – A misconduct complaint against Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero that is more than a year old emerged in public Tuesday as a local resident questioned what became of the matter.
Ontario resident Jackson Fox questioned the Ontario City Council during Tuesday’s meeting about its knowledge of the complaint that the chief pressured a subordinate regarding potential private real estate deals.
The complaint has been given fresh life when a local attorney representing Mayor Riley Hill obtained and then recently provided copies of the complaint to Ontario councilors and the Enterprise.
During the public comment section of Tuesday’s council meeting, Fox referred to the complaint that Dallas Brockett, then an Ontario code enforcement officer, made against Romero in 2019.
“Did the city manager inform the council of this complaint and was this investigated? Has the council seen a copy of the investigation?” Fox asked.
Councilors didn’t respond and Fox said he hoped to hear a response from them within seven days.
City Manager Adam Brown said in an earlier interview that Ontario attorney Zach Olson sent the complaint to city councilors on July 1 after he obtained it from the state through a public records request. Olson is representing the mayor in litigation to overturn a city fine for failing to clean a property.
The complaint was filed on December 19, 2019, two months after the incidents occurred. In the complaint, Brockett asserted Romero was “using the badge for personal gain.”
Brockett said that in September 2019, he and Romero were driving around the community and “‘putting out fires’ so to speak.”
While passing one house, Brockett said Romero mentioned that the property looked perfect for a photography office for his wife and asked Brockett to “contact the owners if you know them and let them know somebody you know, ‘a friend,’ is interested in buying the property,” according to the complaint.
Brockett said the comment did not sit right with him at the time.
As a code enforcement officer, Brockett regularly contacted owners with nuisance properties and could subsequently fine them if the property wasn’t cleaned up.
In a recent interview with the Enterprise, Romero said that both his wife and Brockett are interested in photography and that he had mentioned “hypothetically” wanting to purchase her a photography studio. Romero denied ever asking Brockett to contact property owners on his behalf.
Brockett asserted that a month later Romero again approached him about a separate property and asked Brockett to contact the owners because “(Romero) and his brother were investing in property in Ontario on a private business basis.”
Brockett said Romero also asked that no more city liens be placed on the property. Brockett said he ignored the request.
Fox mentioned the second property Tuesday, saying it appears to have been sold to clear city liens.
“Did the city collect on the liens and fines on that property?” he asked councilors.
Romero said that he may have asked Brockett to stop putting liens on the property because potential buyers had spoken to the city about buying and fixing it up.
Romero didn’t deny having casual conversations in the past about investing in local properties with his two brothers, but said that it was never in relation to code enforcement.
Romero said the only property he owns in Ontario is his home.
Brockett said he had hesitated to file the complaint because of Romero's position and from fear he would lose his job.
Romero said a “misunderstanding and misinterpretation” led to the complaint. Romero said that Brockett was pressured to act against the chief by the Ontario Police Association, the labor union for police officers, and its former president Chris Bolyard.
Brockett, now a code enforcement officer in Baker City, couldn’t be reached for comment as the complaint became public.
A month after Brockett filed the complaint, the police union wrote the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which certifies police officers, to report that Ontario City Manager Adam Brown “had not taken the complaint seriously and to the OPA’s knowledge, had not investigated the complaint.”
Brown responded to the state agency that the complaint was “dealt with immediately and the chief addressed it with the union present within days of it coming to my attention.”
“The union has made this claim after knowing full well it was taken care of,” said Brown.
Romero said that when the initial complaint was filed, he met with Brockett, Lt. Jason Cooper and Officer Casey Walker.
Romero said he explained the misunderstanding, apologized to Brockett and “when we left that meeting everything was fine.”
News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.
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