Deschutes County Commissioners held an executive session Wednesday regarding the most recent lawsuit against Sheriff Shane Nelson.
The $2.5 million federal lawsuit, filed last week by former Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office captain Deron McMaster, alleges civil rights violations and retaliation by Nelson.
Commissioners discussed whether to utilize internal or external legal counsel to represent Nelson, the county and two private investigators in court. A decision has not been made.
Commissioner Phil Chang says the county’s legal counsel will likely meet with DCSO’s current attorney before commissioners can move forward with a decision.
“There is already external legal counsel who is working on this case for the sheriff’s office,” Chang said. “So if we want to change direction on that, we would need to do that pretty soon.”
Chang says his biggest concern would be the cost to represent Nelson in another federal lawsuit.
“For external legal counsel,” Chang said. “There would be certain rates that I anticipate would be significantly higher.”
Commissioners also addressed conflicts of interests in using internal versus external legal counsel.
“Some of the things we talked about today were whether this kind of suit or case is very specialized,” Chang said. “Whether you need specialized legal expertise or practice to be able to handle a suit like this, but on that count, I think we heard that both external legal counsel and our internal legal counsel have substantial expertise in these kinds of matters.”
What is Sheriff Nelson accused of in the lawsuit?
McMaster claims Nelson withheld evidence, a transcript provided by Nelson’s wife, during an internal investigation that later cost McMaster his career.
“It wasn’t until after Mr. McMaster’s Loudermill hearing took place,” Andrew Mittendorf, McMaster’s attorney said. “That DCSO legal counsel found the missing Lisa Nelson transcript and sent it to us.”
Mittendorf says McMaster wanted to finish the career he was called to serve for the last 28 years.
“Obviously, on a monetary level, there’s pay,” Mittendorf said. “You know he lost his job and he’s now making less money, doing a job he enjoys, but making less money. There’s certain retirement benefits that kick in if he had made it to 30 years, and so he was deprived of that ability as well.”
Last summer, a federal court ruled against Nelson in a separate case; awarding a former deputy over $1 million.
According to a statement from DCSO, “The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is aware of the complaint filed by Mr. McMaster’s attorney. Sheriff Nelson disputes the allegations made in this complaint and plans to vigorously defend the Sheriff’s Office against these allegations. No further information will be released due to the pending litigation.”
Nelson declined to comment beyond the statement.