Reporter Says Police Chief Has It in for Him

PENDLETON, Ore. (CN) – A small-town reporter in the Oregon desert claims in court that the city and its police chief got him fired for a critical column he wrote about them.
     Brian Addison sued Baker City and Police Chief Wyn Lohner on Oct. 29 in Federal Court.
     Baker, pop. 9,900, in eastern Oregon, is the seat of Baker County. It is named after Edward Baker, the only U.S. senator ever killed in military combat.
     Addison says he wrote a newspaper column for the Record-Courier newspaper in March 2008, criticizing the Baker City Police Department for conducting a canine search during halftime of a high school girls basketball game. Addison called it a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
     The morning after the column was published, Police Chief Lohner demanded a meeting with Addison and Debbie Schoeningh, the editor of the newspaper, Addison says. Schoeningh is not a party to the lawsuit.
     At that meeting, Lohner threatened to stop writing his own weekly column unless the paper retracted Addison’s column, according to the complaint.
     Schoeningh refused to retract the column, but issued a statement saying that the opinions in Addison’s column were his own, not those of the newspaper. Schoeningh said she supported Addison’s right to express himself.
     Addison was fired three months later, when a new publisher bought the Record-Courier.
     When he picked up his final paycheck, Addison says, he got into a “heated” discussion with the paper’s new owner-editor and publisher. Addison acknowledges he “made some inflammatory statements,” but says “the parties involved later state that they did not feel threatened by him.”
     Nonetheless, police Officer Wayne Chastain showed up at Addison’s house later that day, June 6, 2008, with a stalking citation, claiming someone at the newspaper had filed a harassment complaint against him. Chastain is the same officer who led the canine search during the basketball game, Addison says in the complaint.
     A judge at Baker County Circuit Court refused to issue a restraining order and dismissed the citation.
     Baker City police then regularly followed him while he was driving, Addison says. One day an officer stopped him as he walked home from a grocery store, searched his groceries, and left without explaining the reason for the search, according to the complaint.
     Addison says the harassment has continued over the years.
     In November last year, he says, the Baker City Police Department got him fired from a job with local nonprofit New Directions by giving his boss a “fact file” on him that contained false claims.
     From a records request the ACLU filed on his behalf, he says, he found out the police had called his boss and suggested that she “implement more rigorous background check procedures, and urged New Directions to request public records about plaintiff from local law enforcement – the implication being that Mr. Addison has a criminal history and that he was not suited for employment at New Directions,” the lawsuit states.
     Addison says the “fact file” claimed that police had ticketed him 11 times in five years, though he received just one ticket during that time, for having expired registration tags. He says the “fact file” also claimed he received a ticket for the stalking incident, which had been dismissed.
     Since he was fired from New Directions last year, Addison says, he has been working as a contract reporter for Baker County Press, but the city and its police department have prevented him from reporting on city news and politics.
     He seeks punitive damages for retaliation, defamation and tortious interference with economic relations.
     Lohner did not respond to a request for comment.
     Addison is represented by Clifford Davidson, with Sussman Shank in Portland, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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