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GRESHAM, Ore. (GRESHAM OUTLOOK) — Gresham Police Chief Robin Sells submitted her resignation from the city of Gresham Friday morning, Feb. 19.
In a letter sent to city leadership, she emphasized the resignation was not voluntary, coming on the heels of a third-party investigation that highlighted a hostile workplace within the Gresham Police Department under her direction.
“I am not resigning voluntarily, but as a direct result of the city’s choice to release a deeply flawed report without affording me due process,” Sells wrote.
The investigation was conducted by Barran Liebman LLP at the direction of Gresham City Council, and sought to weigh dueling complaints filed by Chief Sells and Deputy City Manager Corey Falls against one another. That report was released to the public Tuesday, Feb. 9, and heavily leaned in favor of Falls, a Black man attempting to implement new programs within the city, and portraying a pattern of hostility, scorn, and attempts to undermine his authority.
Falls has declined to speak with media about the investigation and its findings.
In her resignation, Sells opened up publicly for the first time since release of the Barran Liebman report.
“I believe I have been unfairly treated due to my age and sex,” Sells said, which had been the main thrust of her complaints, which were unsubstantiated by the report. “I will consider redress in the courts.”
Sells said the report was made public before any of the findings were shared with her. She said Interim City Manager David Clyne came to a decision before speaking with her, and that the discipline process was “devoid of anything resembling due process, respect or fairness.”
Though she is leaving the Gresham Police Department sooner than planned, Sells said she views it as a retirement that was coming regardless of the report’s findings.
“I (reflect) on my good fortune to have been blessed with the opportunity to lead a hardworking and dedicated force of incredible people,” she wrote. “They take life and death risks for the rest of us, each and every day, and I will remain forever in their debt.”
In her letter, Sells said she was given 10 days to prepare a response to the report, had no access to documents, and could not contact those interviewed.
She said the report weaves a false narrative, ignoring key events and taking things out of context. Sells said the report criticized her for not developing a comprehensive policing plan, which she said she was not hired nor qualified to do. She said the city offered little support or resources. Sells also pushed back against the accusation the police department as a whole opposes diversity, equity and inclusion.
“The hires I made during my tenure have drawn us closer to the demographics of Gresham than any other chief before me,” Sells wrote.
Her letter addresses a key component to the Barran Liebman investigation — that Falls did not receive support in his task to implement 21st Century Policing strategies when he was first hired in 2017. The goal was to eliminate potential bias in law enforcement.
While he began with a positive view of the approach being taken by the city, that quickly changed. He later would tell council that when he submitted his plans for reforms, none of his ideas were implemented.
The investigation agreed that Falls’ strategic plan he submitted in 2017 was never fully implemented. That has remained true to this day — though some of his suggestions, such as body cameras for officers, have been utilized. At the time Sells sent an email to the police department that further attempts to introduce the plan were at an end and that the status quo would not change.
“People of color at the city of Gresham have been impacted and harmed by subtle racism,” Falls wrote to council.
Falls also reported that Chief Sells was “not a fan” of his employment, and he thought her treatment of him was unprofessional.
The investigation found it likely that his race played a role in his poor treatment, as did his focus on issues of racial bias within the department.
In her resignation letter, Sells disagrees with those findings, writing his failure in implementing a 21st Century Policing program was not due to the color of his skin nor rumors about him.
“In my opinion he simply did not build his own trust and legitimacy with the department,” Sells wrote. “He focused on what he considered micro-aggressions and not the big picture. He was not present and offered little that was creative, innovative or practical.”
In her letter, Sells acknowledged her use of the word “lazy” to describe Falls in a previous message penned to Gresham City Council after her first retirement as a “poor choice and one (she) regrets.”
“I understand now the word carries unintended baggage,” Sells added.