Abo was challenging firing, possible decertification
Last January, the same month Michael Abo was welcomed into the Yamhill Police Department as an unpaid reserve, he filed a tort claim with Yamhill County challenging his fall 2012 firing by Capt. Tim Svenson of the sheriff’s office. He maintained his rights had been violated.
The filing of such a claim is a required precursor to the filing of a lawsuit seeking damages and/or reinstatement. However, to date, he has not followed through, records show.
Now facing felony charges in connection with the near-fatal battering of a 4-year-old, Abo also challenged a move by the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training early last year to revoke his law enforcement certification. He won an administrative law judge’s recommendation in his favor, records show, but DPSST has not yet acted on it.
Almost all Oregon police departments mandate full background checks for reserve officers, including Yamhill’s. But the untimely August death of Gordon Rise makes it impossible to determine whether the then-chief actually conducted one in Yamhill, and if so, what it revealed concerning Abo’s troubles with the sheriff’s office and state licensing agency.
Greg Graven, promoted to chief following Rise’s death, said, “Administratively, I was not involved with that aspect of the hiring process.”
Though Abo remains officially on the roster, he went inactive when Graven took over. The chief attributed that to “personal and personnel reasons.”
Abo’s firing by the county came, after four years on the force, at the hands of Svenson on Nov. 19, 2012. It followed repeated warnings and disciplinary actions by Svenson for failing to appear at trials, according to DPSST records.
County personnel records are not normally open to the public, but DPSST disciplinary files are. And by policy, DPSST is committed to investigating any behavior leading to dismissal of a certified officer.
Abo, a martial arts, body-building and cage-fighting enthusiast, blamed two of the missed court appearances on the “several” pain medications he was taking in connection with a shoulder injury, his DPSST file shows.
After reviewing the evidence, and arguments from both sides, DPSST concluded Abo’s certification to work as a police officer in Oregon should be revoked. Abo found favor with an administrative law judge on appeal, but the arbitration ruling is only advisory.
Abo filed the tort claim last January, according to County Counsel Christian Boenisch. Boenisch said the law gives him two years to follow through with a lawsuit or forfeit the privilege.
In the tort claim, Abo’s Salem-based attorney, Daemie Kim, advised the county:
“Mr. Abo’s claims include, but are not necessarily limited to, the violation of his federal Family and Medical Leave Act rights (and) state Oregon Family Leave Act rights, interference with Mr. Abo’s FLMA/OFLA rights and retaliation (motivated by Mr. Abo’s exercise of his right to remain on leave during his FMLA/OFLA leave) in violation of state and federal employment laws.”
According to the claim:
Abo filed in July 2012 for leave under the federal FMLA and state’s OFLA following surgery to rehabilitate an injured shoulder. As a result of surgery, Abo “would be on several pain medications,” according to the application, which was granted.
At the end of July, while still on leave, he received a call inquiring about the status of a trial. He said he wasn’t sure, but wouldn’t be able to attend, due to the paid meds he was taking.
“By contacting him to have him come back to work during his FMLA and OFLA leave, Yamhill County, YCSO and Capt. Svenson interfered with Mr. Abo’s rights,” Kim argued in the claim.
According to the DPSST file:
During the second week of August, while Abo was still on leave, Svenson notified him of potential disciplinary action for failing to meet a court obligation.
On Sept. 10, Svenson imposed an unpaid five-day suspension, to be served when he received medical clearance to return to duty. The captain, now seeking to replace the retiring Jack Crabtree as sheriff, also placed him under a one-year “last-chance” stipulation with regard to court appearances.
Abo was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 16 and fired on Nov. 19, also by Svenson, state records show.
Serving as an unpaid reserve is a normal step in the process of pursuing a job as a paid officer. In fact, Abo began his career as an unpaid reserve with Yamhill County, where he was assigned to the jail before getting on full-time.
Some time back, the Oregon Legislature passed a measure extending DPSST’s certification program to reserve as well as regular officers. However, no funding ever followed, so the program was never implemented.
“It is kind of odd that it’s in the statute, but we’ve never had the money to do that,” said agency program manager Linsay Hale.
“We’ve never certified reserve officers in the state of Oregon,” she said. “Individual agencies are responsible for conducting their own background checks.”
But she added, “For the most part, most agencies are very thorough in their background checks, because it is a huge liability.”
Crabtree said his office treats reserve applicants the same as it does other applicants.
“As a rule, before we hire a deputy or a reserve we get a complete background check,” he said. “And then we check on the background check. We can’t afford not to.”
He said, “I can’t imagine any law enforcement agency not doing them.”
Graven concurred. He said it’s standard operating procedure.
However, the only public record speaking to the addition of Abo to the reserve force in Yamhill is a set of minutes from the city council’s meeting of Dec. 12, 2012, just three weeks after the county let Abo go. It shows Rise introducing Abo as a reserve officer candidate boasting five years of patrol experience with the county, and the council granting its unanimous approval.
Abo was active with the department from that point through Rise’s death in August, but has not been active since.