Investigation into Cottage Grove police chief, captain found 'extremely unacceptable behavior'

Cottage Grove Police Chief Scott Shepherd and Capt. Conrad Gagner resigned days after receiving notice that findings in a preliminary investigation indicated “extremely unacceptable behavior and a total lack of control and leadership.”

Shepherd and Gagner resigned in October. They had been on paid administrative leave since July amid an investigation.

Cottage Grove officials declined to provide details about the investigation or the allegations last year.

City Manager Richard Meyers told the Register-Guard in a statement emailed Monday that the city stopped the investigation after the two men resigned, echoing a statement from 2022.

But notices in September to Shepherd and Gagner outline “numerous” findings of wrongdoing, including:

  • Gagner’s use of homophobic and racial slurs in the workplace and Shepherd’s failure to address it.

  • Issues with Gagner’s use of social media that Shepherd failed to address.

  • Sexual harassment and other unprofessional conduct and behavior.

  • Failures within the city jail.

  • Failure to assist outside law enforcement agencies.

The Register-Guard obtained the documents through a public records request first granted to The Chronicle after an appeal.

Shepherd and Gagner received notice of administrative leave on July 29, 2022, and of potential termination on Sept. 30, 2022. They resigned on Oct. 3, 2022.

Meyers did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about their resignations, the investigation or the police department overall.

He wrote in the notices of potential termination that Shepherd and Gagner’s actions led the police department to suffer and “placed the City at risk of unneeded liability.”

Jeff Groth continues to serve as interim chief. The city will start developing the recruitment process for a permanent chief this week, Meyers wrote.

The department is actively recruiting for a new captain, Meyers said. The Eugene Police Department was providing a sergeant as a fill-in captain, but Sgt. Ryan Nelson returned to his fulltime duties with EPD.

"We are deeply grateful to the Eugene Police Department and Chief Skinner for their assistance," Meyers wrote. "It has been invaluable and highlights their sincere desire to professional high quality law enforcement in the Lane County."

The Lane County Sheriff's Office has been providing support and assistance as needed, Meyers added.

Gagner used racial slurs, posted police surveillance footage to social media

Gagner worked for the Cottage Grove Police Department for nearly 30 years.

He first joined the department in August 1995, according to state records. He resigned in April 2004 to work for the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Tribal Police Department.

Gagner worked for the tribal police for five months before returning to Cottage Grove. He was promoted to corporal then commander and was serving as captain when he went on administrative leave in 2022.

A notice in July informed Gagner he was under investigation for complaints about inappropriate behavior and comments, inappropriate TikTok videos, retaliation, harassment and creating and condoning a toxic work environment.

That investigation found misconduct and “significant performance deficiencies,” according to a follow-up notice from Meyers dated Sept. 30.

The notice outlines issues related to:

  • Unprofessional conduct and behavior. This included using racial slurs on a “semi-frequent” basis, using homophobic slurs and rubbing a female colleague’s cell phone all around his crotch area while laughing.

  • Misuse of social media, including posting police surveillance footage to TikTok. The notice adds Gagner lied about taking down videos and continued to post footage.

  • Failure to ensure a professional and efficient workplace and neglect of duties. This included failing to act when a colleague’s wife caused a disturbance in the office, failing to complete job descriptions for a dispatch supervisor position, failing to ensure the completion of annual performance reviews and neglect of several other listed items.

  • Jail failures, including improperly holding and releasing inmates.

Meyers wrote the investigation had “numerous findings of wrongdoing” and actions Cottage Grove can’t tolerate “from any member within the City, especially someone in your position.”

Shepherd failed to address problems, engaged in inappropriate relationship that affected department

Shepherd also worked for the department for around 30 years. He joined Cottage Grove police in January 1993 as a reserve officer then was hired as a police officer in July 1994, according to state records.

He was promoted multiple times, most recently to chief in September 2016.

Allegations of misconduct predate his promotion to chief, including complaints from 2011.

Shepherd’s notice of administrative investigation and paid administrative leave informed him the city was looking into complaints he had created and condoned a workplace where inappropriate behavior, retaliation, bad conduct and more were “encouraged and tolerated.”

The follow-up notice in September reads that the investigation found misconduct and “significant performance deficiencies.”

The notice outlines issues related to:

  • Failure to create and maintain proper order and efficiency in the workplace. This included failing to address Gagner’s use of slurs and other inappropriate behaviors and failing to address reports of bullying against a reserve officer who left the department.

  • Failing to address inappropriate social media posts by Gagner and directing him to investigate his own misconduct.

  • Failing to take action regarding a December 2021 Police Association Party after receiving reports that law enforcement officers may have driven while drunk after the party and that on-duty staff may have helped administer “intoxilyzer” tests at the police department.

  • Unprofessional conduct and behavior, including incidents from 2011 where he slapped the buttocks of a former female officer and pulled out a pubic hair and put it on another officer’s phone.

  • Engaging in an inappropriate relationship that affected the department. The notice says the relationship affected Shepherd’s work performance and led to his wife going to the police department and entering his office, where she threw things around and went through his desk.

  • Failures within the city jail, namely a failure to oversee operations that enabled poor management and improper detainment and release of prisoners.

  • Failing to properly lead and manage your department and neglect of duties. This included officers wearing ballistic vests with expired warranties, Shepherd’s failure to complete his own state certifications on time and failure to address alcohol misuse and performance issues without the department.

  • Failures related to calls for assistance by neighboring agencies, including denying a December 2021 call for assistance by a Douglas County deputy sheriff and failing to address a sergeant’s denial of another call for assistance that left a Lane County deputy sheriff holding a potentially armed suspect at gunpoint alone for more than 10 minutes until other agencies provided help.

Meyers wrote the investigation uncovered “significant issues and concerns” within the police department and indicated wrongdoing Cottage Grove can’t tolerate “from any member within the City, especially the Chief of Police.”

Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Investigation into Cottage Grove police finds 'unacceptable behavior'