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‘Sex talk’

Deputy recorded on jail phone having sexual conversations with inmate paid over $100,000 during 18-month leave

Lawsuit, complaint claim sheriff discriminated against whistleblower, disseminated underage nude photos

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"Sex talk” recorded between a deputy and an inmate, allegations another deputy faced retaliation for reporting it and that the district attorney and sheriff’s office disseminated underage nude photos — a recent lawsuit and complaint allege multiple incidents of misconduct by criminal justice officials in Grant County.

John Day resident Haley Olson claims Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer and Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter violated her rights by obtaining and disseminating private materials from her cellphone in 2019, including nude photos of her when she was younger than 18, in an Aug. 28 complaint in U.S. District Court in Pendleton.

Carpenter said he reviewed the data from her cellphone, “clearly personal in nature,” and deleted it without sharing it, in a Dec. 4, 2019, letter to Olson. Carpenter did not respond to emailed questions, but his attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on procedural grounds.

Palmer’s attorney said the sheriff “never possessed or reviewed any of the material” Olson alleges and that he intends to file a counterclaim for slander against her.

Olson said the information on her phone also indicated she was in a relationship with former sheriff’s deputy Tyler Smith, and text messages between them discuss Smith reporting to the Oregon Department of Justice that Deputy Abigail Mobley was having an intimate relationship with an inmate and using drugs from the evidence locker, according to a Jan. 5 complaint Olson filed with the licensing agency for Oregon police officers.

Palmer placed Smith on paid administrative leave Aug. 9, 2019, for what Carpenter — who was also Grant County’s legal counsel at the time — described as “issues related to the performance of his duties as a sheriff’s deputy.” County officials declined to elaborate.

Smith’s wife had filed for divorce days earlier. Oregon State Police received a request to conduct an investigation of Smith Sept. 6, 2019, and arrested him days later. Smith’s wife accused him of attempted rape for an alleged incident in 2018. Smith pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Grant County officials terminated Smith’s employment as a sheriff’s deputy Dec. 17, 2019. Smith is fighting the termination, and an arbitration hearing is planned. Palmer’s attorney said he would not comment.

Mobley was placed on paid administrative leave March 18, 2019, pending an investigation. In February 2020, she was arrested for driving drunk — with a blood alcohol content of 0.27%, more than three times the legal limit — and she pleaded guilty in April, entering a diversion program, according to court documents.

In March, the Oregon Department of Justice informed Carpenter it had completed its investigation into Mobley, which included reviewing dozens of calls recorded on the jail phone between Mobley and former Grant County Jail inmate Darren Mortimore, “many of which contain conversations of a sexual, but non-criminal, nature,” according to a letter DOJ sent to Carpenter March 16. The DOJ letter concluded, however, “there is not a reasonable likelihood of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Mobley committed the crime of custodial sexual misconduct.”

DOJ and Grant County have denied public records requests from the Eagle seeking more information, citing a new investigation of Mobley. Smith reported Mobley for using drugs, according to a memo filed in circuit court Sept. 9 by his attorney, but a DOJ official said the agency did not investigate that allegation. Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office is now conducting an internal affairs personnel investigation expected to be completed by the end of September.

Mobley, meanwhile, remains on administrative leave, which has cost county taxpayers more than $100,000 over the last 18 months. She could not be reached for comment.

Undersheriff’s wife remains employed after phone sex with inmate, pleading guilty to driving drunk

Grant County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Abigail Mobley has been paid between $100,800 and $127,800 in wages and benefits on administrative leave since March 18, 2019, pending investigations into alleged misconduct while she was a corrections deputy at Grant County Jail.

In a March 16 letter to Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter, Senior Assistant Attorney General Daniel P. Wendel stated the Oregon Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Division had completed its investigation into Mobley, concluding there was insufficient evidence to prove that Mobley committed a crime.

Wendel said the investigation reviewed security footage from January and February 2019, over 100 phone calls made by former jail inmate Darren Mortimore and hundreds of pages of documents from the sheriff’s office in addition to interviewing witnesses.

Dozens of phone calls between Mobley and Mortimore were recorded on the jail phone, frequently involving “sexually explicit discussions,” Wendel said.

“However, only two of the calls referenced actual physical sexual contact that had purportedly occurred,” he said, referencing a kiss but without details of the time or place or whether Mortimore was in custody. “… In that context, the two statements may be reasonably viewed as simply ‘sex talk.’ Such speech itself, absent sexual contact within the meaning of the custodial sexual misconduct statutes, is not criminal.”

Wendel said Mobley declined to be interviewed for the investigation. He said Mortimore told Deputy Wade Waddell, “Everything you have heard is true,” without elaborating, but when questioned by the division, Mortimore said, “Nothing physical happened.”

“In sum, given the vagueness of the statements on the recorded phone calls, the lack of corroborating evidence of the purported sexual contact, and the vagueness as to the time and place of the purported sexual contact, there is not a reasonable likelihood of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Mobley committed the crime of custodial sexual misconduct,” Wendel said.

Mortimore was sentenced to four consecutive six-month jail terms after pleading guilty to charges of strangulation, fourth-degree assault and menacing, and entered Grant County Jail April 10, 2018, according to court and jail records. He served only 316 days in the Grant County Jail before being transferred to California on a felony detainer, Carpenter told the Eagle in April 2019, stating he could not provide any further information. Mortimore could not be reached for comment.

Drunk driving arrest

Mobley, 35, was arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants in Unity Feb. 8.

She pulled over to use the restroom, got stuck in the snow, stumbled down the roadway and fell down, causing minor abrasions to her face, according to an Oregon State Police incident report.

A blood alcohol test showed a concentration of 0.27%, more than three times the legal limit, according to OSP.

On April 9, according to court documents, Mobley pleaded guilty and completed a petition for a diversion — which allows for the dismissal of charges after one year if the conditions are met — agreeing to complete an alcohol and drug abuse assessment and any recommended treatment and not use alcohol or other intoxicants.

Ongoing investigation

Grant County officials and the DOJ have denied the Eagle’s records requests for personnel files and investigatory reports, citing an ongoing investigation.

Mobley last reported to work Feb. 4, 2019, according to payroll records obtained by the Eagle. She used a combination of vacation, sick and comp hours she had accrued until she was officially placed on paid administrative leave March 18, 2019.

DOJ investigators initially spoke to Carpenter in March 2019, and Carpenter said Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office was initiating a noncriminal employment-related investigation, according to DOJ emails obtained by the Eagle.

Carpenter made a criminal referral to DOJ on April 30, 2019, according to DOJ emails.

In response to a records request from the Eagle, DOJ Criminal Justice Division Management Assistant Nicole Mercado told DOJ paralegal David Taylor she had completed the necessary redactions to release a preliminary review of a case in an email Sept. 9, 2019. That case, however, was a different complaint against Palmer in which DOJ determined there was insufficient evidence to indicate criminal conduct. The response did not indicate DOJ had further records that were exempt from disclosure, as required by Oregon law.

On Oct. 17, 2019, Mercado told Taylor “there was an open investigation into Deputy Mobley,” according to a chronology by Taylor in DOJ emails. The same day, Taylor told the Eagle DOJ’s response to the records request included “investigations of complaints against Grant County Sheriff’s office and its employees” without mentioning additional records related to Mobley.

After the Eagle told DOJ officials that Grant County officials had confirmed DOJ was investigating Mobley, Taylor replied Oct. 18, 2019, stating there was a pending investigation against Mobley but the records were exempt from disclosure.

“(Assistant Attorney General) Daniel Wendel called me later that day and asked about the (public records request),” Taylor said in the chronology email. “I told him I sent a message that the records were exempt from disclosure.”

Emails indicate DOJ officials planned to meet to make case decisions — whether to do more investigation or charge or decline — Oct. 31, 2019. Wendel sent the letter to Carpenter declining to prosecute Mobley March 16.

The Eagle again requested records from DOJ related to Mobley’s investigation June 25. On Aug. 3, DOJ’s Senior Assistant Attorney General Andrew C. Foltz said the records were exempt under Oregon law because they were investigatory information compiled for criminal law purposes.

“Although DOJ’s investigation is complete, because of an ongoing personnel investigation in Grant County, we have determined that the public interest in nondisclosure at this time outweighs the public interest in disclosure,” Foltz said in the Aug. 3 email, adding the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office investigation should be completed in six to eight weeks.

Mobley could not be reached for comment. The Eagle contacted the lawyer who represented her in the drunk driving case and during the DOJ investigation, Oregon Fraternal Order of Police General Counsel Daniel E. Thenell, but he said he was unable to provide any information.

Mobley is the wife of Undersheriff Zach Mobley and the sister of sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Danny Komning. Zach Mobley did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal lawsuit claims sheriff, district attorney obtained, disseminated private information including underage nude photos

Grant County resident Haley Olson is seeking damages in federal court, claiming Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter and Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer improperly disseminated personal information, including explicit photos and videos.

Palmer’s attorney denied the claims, and Carpenter’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Olson claims Carpenter accessed her cellphone records “without any warrant or suspicion of criminal activity,” shared the contents with Palmer and that both released the information to others who have harassed Olson based on sexual information from her phone, in a complaint filed Aug. 28 in U.S. District Court in Pendleton.

Olson was arrested in Idaho in January 2019. She was charged with marijuana trafficking but said the substance was industrial hemp. The charges were later dismissed, according to Jerome County, Idaho, court records.

In the complaint, Olson said she signed a voluntary consent to search form allowing the Idaho State Police to search her cellphone based on ISP’s representation that the data extracted from the phone would be used only for the ISP investigation. She said the arrest was made a confidential record. ISP denied the Eagle’s public records request for documents related to her arrest.

Over the coming months, Olson said in the complaint, multiple members of the community contacted her online and in person, stating sheriff’s office employees were talking about her and the contents of her cellphone.

A male stranger approached Olson at a grocery store and said, “I heard there are some pretty smokin’ pictures of you going around the Sheriff’s Office,” Olson said in the complaint. Another comment referenced a specific sexual position depicted in a video, she said.

Olson’s friend asked if she was still with her romantic partner, former deputy Tyler Smith, before the relationship was publicly known and told her Undersheriff Zach Mobley and his wife, Abigail Mobley, had said, “There are photos on Haley’s phone you gotta see,” Olson said in the complaint.

Concerned the information in her phone had been made public, including nude photos she had taken in front of a mirror in a gym bathroom while younger than 18, Olson said she filed a public records request with Carpenter in December 2019.

District attorney correspondence

In response to a records request from the Eagle, Carpenter produced three letters regarding Olson.

In a Jan. 30, 2019, letter to Jerome County, Idaho, Lead Prosecutor Sandra Scott, Carpenter said Palmer approached him and indicated that Smith appeared to be in an extramarital relationship with Olson “and likely has engaged in activities with Olson that will affect his employment with the Sheriff’s Office.”

Carpenter said Palmer put him in touch with an ISP trooper who indicated Olson agreed to allow law enforcement to look at her cellphone and that an extraction of her cellphone took place. Carpenter requested a copy of the extraction.

“The information, if applicable, will be used only for internal purposes, and will not be disseminated to any other agencies or third parties,” Carpenter wrote in the Jan. 30, 2019, letter.

In an April 10, 2019, letter to Palmer, Carpenter said the extraction contained images, videos and audio files.

“I have reviewed the phone dump to determine whether any actionable evidence exists which could possibly subject Deputy Tyler Smith to discipline or sanction,” Carpenter said. “While no formal review for criminal activity took place, evidence of such is unlikely as the standard for any criminal action would be higher than the review undertaken.”

After reviewing the extraction, Carpenter told Palmer in the letter he knew Smith had been in an intimate relationship with Olson. He said he knew Smith had been present while Olson used marijuana products but saw nothing to indicate Smith used or distributed marijuana.

“I know of no evidence in the information provided to me which would show Deputy Tyler Smith could be found to have engaged in conduct which could subject him to discipline or sanction,” Carpenter said. “I have concluded my review and recommend that you take no action against Deputy Tyler Smith.”

In a Dec. 4, 2019, letter to Olson, Carpenter said he asked at least two agencies, including the Oregon State Police and possibly the Oregon Department of Justice Criminal Justice Division, to review the extraction.

“The agencies I asked to review it declined stating they were criminal investigation agencies and as there were no allegations of a crime there was nothing for them to investigate,” Carpenter said. “I was not willing to provide the flash drive to the Sheriff or any other local agency.”

Carpenter said he has specialized training in cellphone extraction and review and “took a quick look at the flash drive” before providing his findings to Palmer April 10, 2019.

“The content on the flash drive was clearly personal in nature,” Carpenter said. “To avoid any risk of the content inadvertently being retrieved by anyone else and/or shared, I immediately did a complete re-format of the flash drive.”

Status of the lawsuit

Olson’s lawsuit names Grant County, Palmer and Carpenter as defendants.

Grant County legal counsel Dominic Carollo said Carpenter was being represented by the state Department of Justice in his role as district attorney, not by the county for his role as county legal counsel. Carpenter served simultaneously a prosecutor for the state as district attorney and as a defense attorney for the county when this case began, but has since stepped down in his capacity as county counsel.

“The County is being represented by separate legal counsel and the County Court had no involvement with any of the salacious allegations at issue in the lawsuit,” Carollo said.

Palmer’s attorney, Oregon State Fraternal Order of Police General Counsel Daniel E. Thenell, said Palmer never possessed or reviewed any of the materials Olson alleges.

“We believe we have evidence to establish she knows her allegations to be false,” Thenell said. “On the Sheriff’s behalf, I intend to file a counterclaim for slander against” Olson.

A different attorney, Aaron P. Hisel, filed an answer to Olson’s complaint Sept. 10 in federal court, stating he is representing both Grant County and Palmer in the lawsuit. In the filing, he claims a variety of affirmative defenses, including failure to state a claim, qualified immunity, limitations under the Oregon Tort Claims Act, Palmer not being a proper defendant, absolute privilege, qualified privilege and contributory negligence.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Heather J. Van Meter filed a motion to dismiss the case on procedural grounds on Carpenter’s behalf Sept. 4.

Van Meter said in the motion Olson failed to provide a timely tort claim notice within 180 days of discovering a potential claim existed and failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Olson “fails to identify the source of the information and photos becoming public” and does not allege that Carpenter was informed by ISP that the arrest was confidential or the contents of the cellphone extraction were protected, Van Meter said.

“(Olson) does not provide any reasoning for why she is suing D.A. Carpenter and not the Idaho police who released information allegedly in violation of her agreement with them,” Van Meter said in the motion, adding in a footnote that, if the complaint was determined to state any valid claims, Carpenter preserves all defenses including but not limited to prosecutorial immunity.

Complaint, legal memo allege retaliation against former deputy who says he reported Mobley to the Justice Department

Former Grant County Sheriff’s Office deputy Tyler Smith, who was fired in 2019, claims he faced retaliation for being a whistleblower who reported to the Oregon Department of Justice that Deputy Abigail Mobley was having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate at Grant County Jail and using drugs.

Palmer’s police union attorney, Daniel E. Thenell, said he was not representing Palmer in this complaint but that Palmer “will not be making any comments about this or the other litigation matters.”

Smith’s attorney, Andrew Coit, confirmed Smith made a report about Abigail Mobley, but he said he was not at liberty to discuss the specifics or answer other questions.

Sheriff correspondence

In a March 26, 2019, letter to Smith obtained by the Eagle, Palmer said he received information that a businessperson from Grant County — whom the Eagle has identified as Haley Olson — had been arrested in Idaho and Smith’s business card was located in Olson’s vehicle. He said he was advised information had been extracted from Olson’s cellphone.

“The arresting officer that I spoke with advised me that he was unwilling to divulge that information to me,” Palmer said in the letter. “I subsequently went to the District Attorney and asked that Jim Carpenter make a request by and through his office to the prosecutor of Jerome County, Idaho.”

Palmer said he met with Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter and the county Human Resources Department March 18, 2019.

“Our (district attorney) also serves as our County Counsel, I was advised that, while we were using an outside agency to deal with personnel issues, that it would be a time to also look at the issue that we are dealing with you on now,” Palmer said in the letter. “As I shared with you, I have not seen any of the material or information that the DA has received and I will not interject myself into this investigation until the outside agency provides with a final report that either puts this to rest or provides me with information that may be of significance.”

Palmer told Smith he was not being placed on leave at the time.

In an April 11, 2019, letter to Smith, Palmer said the investigation into Smith’s involvement with Olson and her arrest in Idaho “will not go any further.”

In an Aug. 9, 2019, letter to Smith, Palmer said he was placing Smith “on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into policy violation(s) involving ethics issue(s)” and seeking an outside agency to investigate “this issue,” which is not further described. The letter was signed by Palmer, Smith and Sgt. Danny Komning, who is Abigail Mobley’s brother.

Carpenter later said Smith was placed on administrative leave for “issues related to the performance of his duties as a sheriff’s deputy.” County officials refused to provide further information or records.

Smith’s arrest

Smith’s wife filed for divorce Aug. 5, 2019. The Oregon State Police arrested Smith Sept. 6, 2019, after he was accused by his wife of attempted rape, assault and child neglect.

A Sept. 27, 2019, grand jury indictment in Grant County Circuit Court accuses Smith of attempted first-degree rape, attempted first-degree sex abuse and fourth-degree assault of his spouse while she was pregnant around Aug. 31, 2018. He was also charged with four counts of second-degree child neglect.

Smith’s employment as a sheriff’s deputy was terminated by the county Dec. 17, 2019, before he had entered a plea in the criminal case. He later pleaded not guilty to all charges. He is awaiting trial and an arbitration hearing related to his termination.

In a Sept. 9 memorandum filed in court regarding a motion to push back Smith’s trial date, Smith’s attorney said he identified new information that will “require further discovery and further investigation.”

“Defendant has uncovered documents which he believes support his position that he was fired from the Grant County Sheriff’s office in retaliation for reporting a Grant County Sheriff’s co-worker for having inappropriate sexual relations with an inmate and for reporting the same co-worker for using controlled substances,” Coit said in the memo. “... Defendant feels that those repercussions also ultimately influenced law enforcement’s decision to bring charges against him in this case. Defendant believes that to some extent, defendant’s wife who is the complaining witness in this case is coordinating with law enforcement to achieve their mutual goal: to get rid of defendant.”

During a Sept. 10 hearing, the judge granted Smith’s motion and pushed the trial dates back to April 5-16, 2021.

Yazmin Wadia, a victim’s attorney representing Smith’s spouse, did not respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutorial conflicts?

The criminal case against Smith is being prosecuted by Gretchen Ladd-Dobler, Wheeler County’s district attorney and the wife of Grant County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dave Dobler.

Ladd-Dobler told the Eagle Carpenter asked her to evaluate the case and decide whether to prosecute because Smith was a law enforcement officer in Grant County and Carpenter had a conflict of interest. She said he has occasionally asked to help with other matters, and this is a common practice among district attorneys.

Assisting in the prosecution is the Oregon Department of Justice. Ladd-Dobler said it is common to ask DOJ for assistance with serious cases because they have tremendous experience in certain areas.

Ladd-Dobler pointed out the case was investigated by OSP, not the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, and that district attorneys, not victims, decide if criminal cases move forward. She did not directly address the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on an open case or the defense theory of a case; criminal matters are of a confidential nature until presented in court to a jury sworn to evaluate the evidence presented and decide a matter in a fair and impartial manner,” Ladd-Dobler said. “... We have reviewed the recent allegations made by the defense and do not believe a change in attorneys is appropriate or necessary.”

Unanswered questions

Although Smith said his attorney would not allow him to discuss the case, Smith’s girlfriend, Haley Olson, shared with the Eagle messages from Smith that discuss him reporting allegations about Abigail Mobley to DOJ, which Olson obtained from a cellphone extraction of her phone.

In a Jan. 3, 2019, text message to Olson, Smith said he was going to report Abigail Mobley to DOJ and was nervous about going to work.

“But something has to be done. She’s arresting people and using the same drugs she’s arresting them for,” Smith said in the text message.

In response to a request from the Eagle seeking the information Smith reported and other whistleblower allegations, DOJ’s Senior Assistant Attorney General Andrew C. Foltz said July 17 that DOJ does “not have any records of other investigations or whistleblower complaint information regarding alleged misconduct at the Grant County Jail.”

Foltz did not directly answer whether Smith’s account of being a whistleblower to DOJ was accurate, but he said the DOJ investigation was limited to allegations of sexual misconduct with an inmate and did not look into allegations about drug use.

“DOJ’s investigation was conducted at the request of the district attorney, and not in response to any whistleblower complaints or allegations made by Mr Smith,” Foltz said.

DOJ declined the Eagle’s request for records related to the Abigail Mobley investigation Aug. 3, citing an “ongoing personnel investigation."

Umatilla County Sheriff's Office Capt. Thoren Hearn said in a Sept. 16 email an internal affairs investigation of Abigail Mobley is expected to be completed by the end of September.

This Eagle investigation has been ongoing for 534 days. If you have information, email editor@bmeagle.com or call 541-575-0710.

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