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Lakeview struggles to keep police chief, sees three come and go in eight months

Wyn Lohner, the former Police Chief in Baker City, initially accepted the position of Police Chief of Lakeview, but on Tuesday, rescinded his letter of acceptance. (Background courtesy: MGN)

As of this week, Lakeview is without a police chief for the third time since February 2018.

Wyn Lohner initially accepted the position and was supposed to start on Oct. 1st, but due to public opposition to his appointment, has decided it's better for him and his family to not take the title.

Lakeview Town Manager Roberta Vanderwall says the police department has been without solid leadership long before they started trying to hire a new police chief after Travis Grindle's exit in February of 2018.

"Even before that , it was not a professional department," Vanderwall said. "We needed a strong leader. I've seen a bad department turn into a fantastic department with the right leadership, and that was how it was when Chief [Will] Behan came.

Grindle left in February. The town brought in Raymond Rau from Nyssa to stay on until April as the interim when they hired Will Behan as a long-term replacement. Behan left in June, so the Lake County Sheriff's Office assisted Lakeview Police Department in law enforcement until Lohner started Oct. 1st.

In a letter to Vanderwall dated Oct. 9, 2018, Lohner cited "evil forces" towards him as a main reason for his departure/change of heart.

"What I didn’t envision in Lakeview was having to battle evil forces controlled by a group of misguided citizens, who’s [sic] hateful, one sided approach has left the community in turmoil," Lohner said. "The really disturbing part of this campaign to discredit me, and your hiring of me, is that the apparent leader of this group is a retired law enforcement supervisor."

News 10 reached out to the person Lohner referred to as the "apparent leader" based off Vanderwall's interpretation of the comment. That person has not yet returned a voicemail, e-mail or Facebook message.

Vanderwall defended Lohner's decision to reject the job offer in a phone interview Thursday morning.

"One, he is retired," Vanderwall said. "He didn't have to, but number two why would you come to a town full of hate? ... They are so hateful, so hateful and destructive - a little vigilante group of people."

Vanderwall added later on she herself would not have taken the Town Manager position years ago knowing what she knows now regarding the Lakeview community.

On various social media posts, users have said Vanderwall was bringing in Lohner because they had a previous professional relationship. Vanderwall vehemently denied this, saying she met Lohner and his wife a year ago for the first time.

On Friday, Vanderwall plans to meet with LCSO regarding a contract to assist LPD once again. Vanderwall hopes it is a short-term contract, but is open to the possibility of a long-term contract. Vanderwall ultimately wants Lakeview to have its own police department separate from LCSO.

"We have to find fantastic leadership or look at different options," Vanderwall said.

On top of losing another police chief, Vanderwall noted by the end of the month, LPD will only have one officer on the payroll. Lakeview has a budget for four officers plus a police chief, according to Vanderwall.

When asked at the end of the interview if there was anything else she would like to add, Vanderwall repeated her frustration with the "little group of vigilantes."

"Oh, I probably can't say," Vanderwall joked. "It's very upsetting to see this group be so negative against the town and against Chief Lohner. As you read in his letter, he has led [the Baker City Police] Department, been involved 27 years, has taken people and [turned them into] police chiefs in other towns. It takes a strong leader to make it successful."

Read Lohner's full, unedited letter to Vanderwall below:

Ms. Vanderwall:

When I was offered the position of Police Chief for the Town of Lakeview I envisioned many opportunities to serve within your community.

I envisioned an opportunity to continue the work started by Chief Behan. To use my over twenty seven years of supervisory experience to continue with the professional development of the current officers and to fill the current vacancies with quality, community service minded applicants, while also updating operational and administrative plans and procedures. As you know, professional development of staff is always rewarded. Not only by their service within the community, but also within their careers. All three lieutenants that served under me in Baker City are now Chiefs of Police and my hope was to develop a replacement for me in Lakeview as well.

I envisioned an opportunity to work with your police officers, the Sheriff’s Office, State Police, D.A.s Office, Parole and Probation, the Juvenile Department and the other public safety/service organizations in Lakeview to enhance public safety throughout the Town of Lakeview. In Baker City that collaborative approach, coupled with consistent, dedicated policing led to Baker City being recognized as the safest city in Oregon. Not a small feat when you consider Baker City is only an hour down the interstate from one of the more violent, gang infested cities in Oregon.

I envisioned an opportunity to work with the school district to develop plans and procedures to enhance the safety within all of Lakeview’s schools. In Baker City we built plans and put systems in place within our schools that led to the Baker 5J School District being recognized state wide for their innovative approach to handling school threats.

In law enforcement we deal daily with the evil forces administered through criminally minded people. What I didn’t envision in Lakeview was having to battle evil forces controlled by a group of misguided citizens, who’s hateful, one sided approach has left the community in turmoil. This group has continually only presented one side of pending litigation from my tenure in Baker City. They continually present information that is either distortions of the truth or plain lies. They refuse to present information from Baker City’s side. They fail to read depositions and look at evidence that clearly refutes the plaintiff’s allegations. This attack they have perpetuated is not only against me, but also against the entire Baker City Police Department. For the allegations of retaliatory harassment to be true, you would have to believe that not only I lied; but that the current chief in Baker City lied; that both BCPD sergeants and many current and former officers at BCPD lied. You would have to believe that not only did all of those police officers put their careers on the line to cover up this alleged conspiracy, but you would also have to believe that the Chief Executive Officer and two other members of the management team at New Directions Northwest in Baker City also lied during depositions.

The really disturbing part of this campaign to discredit me, and your hiring of me, is that the apparent leader of this group is a retired law enforcement supervisor. What kind of person, much less someone with his policing experience, would only present one side of a situation and not seek clarifying answers to obvious questions and concerns about the case? I guess in his world the truth doesn’t matter when you can gather information that supports your cause. To think that this group feels this individual would make a good chief shows just how narrow minded they truly are.

Throughout my career in public safety management I have had to battle the political current that always flows behind the scenes. The worst of this is when the “Good Ole’ Boys” are pushing their agenda, typically through bullying tactics. This was prevalent in Baker City and is one of the reasons I left when I did. My hope was that Lakeview would be different and that I could do the work you hired me to do without the constant distractions coming from behind the scenes. Obviously this is not the case. I simply cannot accomplish the goals you and I both have in Lakeview when a group of Lakeview citizens are constantly on the attack.

I truly felt that God was leading me to Lakeview, in order to try and help the police department and in turn better the community. Now I just feel that perhaps He simply wanted to remind me just how much evil is in this world. I have fought it for many years now and I am at a point in my life that I just don’t need that aggravation every day. This feeling was reinforced by family, friends and a police chaplain friend of mine when I recently spoke to them about the situation. Therefore, I am withdrawing my acceptance of your offer to be Lakeview’s Chief of Police.

The only opportunity I see now for Lakeview is to assemble a positive minded, diverse group of community stakeholders to evaluate where the city goes next with policing services. Do you settle for contracting, or try to rebuild the department? If these stakeholders can determine that, get community buy-in and potentially select your chief of the future, it will be the community fighting this group as opposed to just you and the applicant.

I want to thank you for your support through this process and your sincere desire to better the town of Lakeview. I do wish you and the community nothing but the best as you move forward.

Respectfully,

Wyn Lohner

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