Real trooper scandal is how troopers excused their own

COMMUNITY VOICES: A guest columnist's view

August 11, 2008 

When I think of state troopers, I think of my Dad. He served as a trooper in Oregon for 27 years before he retired, now some 29 years ago. Dad didn't talk about his work with us kids very much. Instead, conversations at home generally revolved around fishing, Dad's lifelong passion. But, I do remember one event shortly after Dad retired that did spark some conversation over a weekend while I was home from college.

One of Dad's closest friends, still actively serving as a trooper, had been found in his personal car, parked but still running alongside one of Salem's busy roads, sleeping off his night of drinking. As a result of this misconduct, Dad's friend had been summarily ushered out of the Oregon State Troopers, forced into retirement. What I remember about this event and about the conversation between my parents is not what was said or done, but what was not.

My parents did not offer a single excuse, explanation or argument on behalf of their friend to suggest they thought it was inappropriate for him to lose his job, no matter how long he had held it, or with what degree of honor he had served in the past. In fact, their friend offered no resistance to his ouster from the troopers, and simply accepted the consequences of his actions. Actions that he took while in his own personal car, not while in a marked trooper vehicle.

There was no fellow trooper who shielded my parents' friend from a blood test or who quietly taxied him home. There was no superior who decided that it was appropriate to assess a meager wrist-slap punishment upon him, or a state commissioner who failed to see the justification for his termination. The only consideration that this Oregon trooper was given by his superiors was the opportunity to retire before being fired.

I've thought about those past events a lot over the last few weeks. While I'm quite certain that Walt Monegan is a good man, and while it is true that an investigation of trooper Mike Wooten was completed before Monegan took office, I seriously question why Monegan would not take a careful look at whether the troopers adequately investigated reports from multiple witnesses that Wooten drove his patrol car while drunk or drinking alcohol. I also question why Monegan showed no concern over the apparently favorable treatment Wooten got from his fellow trooper, who stopped him on suspicion of drunk driving and gave him a ride home without arresting him, even though he smelled alcohol on his breath. And why would Monegan think that a meager five-day suspension was sufficient for Tasering an innocent child, illegally shooting a moose, speeding, making unsafe lane changes and engaging in other unsafe driving?

Should we feel better knowing that witnesses have described how one of our troopers, a man who wears a badge and exercises the authority of law, drove a marked trooper vehicle while intoxicated, only to be stopped and taxied home by a fellow trooper? Should we feel better after reading the transcript of this trooper's investigative interview, which records the snickering and laughing of this trooper and his union representative? Are we expected to believe that the scandal here is about whether our governor "abused power" by allegedly suggesting that this plainly unqualified man be dismissed as a trooper, rather than about why those individuals assigned the responsibility to manage our troopers neglected to perform their jobs by using the power we gave them?

Here are a few better questions. Why is an honorable man like Chuck Kopp hounded into leaving his job over past allegations of questionable severity, while another man accused of serious criminal charges is allowed to continue wearing a uniform and badge? Why should we give attention to the biased blogs of a self-important sore political loser determined to fling mud at the political victor who now honorably wears the title of Alaska's governor? Maybe we should save our money and tell the Legislature to skip its politically motivated investigation. How about we get on with addressing the important matters the Legislature purposely left undone in its last session?


Kevin Clarkson is an attorney in Anchorage.

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