By TED TAYLOR and MEGHAN GLOVA
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
An independent investigator has dismissed a former Deschutes County deputy district attorney’s allegations she was a victim of a toxic sex and race-based hostile work environment, saying “almost all of the allegations were deemed not substantiated.”
Jasmyn Troncoso, a former deputy district attorney who was sworn into office by DA John Hummel in July 2019, gave notice in March she was leaving for a position in California and officially resigned in May.
In April, Troncoso, the only deputy DA of color and only Spanish-speaking attorney in the office, filed a tort claim notice saying she was a victim of “both sex and race discrimination throughout her employment with the County and on a continuing and ongoing basis,” according to her Portland-based attorney Matthew Ellis.
The claims said Troncoso was accused of being anorexic and was told she was hired because Hummel found her attractive and wanted to have sex with her.
It also alleged she was accused of having an affair with a male victim’s advocate, sleeping with a male defense attorney and “mostly by staff, of being ‘dumb,’ ‘ditzy,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘inexperienced,’ and a ‘drama queen.”
Hummel ordered an independent investigation into the allegations and local attorney Peter Hicks took on the case.
Hicks found “all allegations except one to be not substantiated,” according to a release from Hummel.
Among the conclusions in Hicks’ highly-redacted, 34-page final report was that the deputy DAs and other employees interviewed during the investigation – people Troncoso had frequent contact with personally and professionally – noted she didn’t talk about any of the allegations with them despite her often sharing personal information.
“It should also be noted that when Ms. Troncoso spoke to Mr. Hummel when she resigned, she did not raise any of these issues,” according to the report.
Troncoso declined to be interviewed for the independent investigation, but she did participate in an interview with Deschutes County HR officials in late March.
Included in Hicks’ report is Troncoso’s March e-mail to her superiors letting them know she had taken a similar job in California.
In the e-mail she made no mention of the toxic work environment, saying “I want to, again, reiterate that I am incredibly grateful and thankful for the opportunity to work for this office. It was a very tough decision to return to California, and I will miss all of you dearly.”
According to Troncoso’s attorney, Matthew Ellis, she rejects the “independent” investigation.
“The investigation was far from independent because it was done by a career defense attorney who specializes in defending those accused of discrimination in claims brought by victims,” Ellis said. “Furthermore, the investigator works at the same former firm as the Deschutes County attorney who hired him and was certainly paid thousands of dollars for his report and his opinion.”
In a statement, Hummel said he was shocked when the allegations were brought forward.
“It now makes sense to me why, when Ms. Troncoso’s attorney first contacted me on April 27, he pushed me to settle this case for a large amount of taxpayer money before I even conducted an investigation to determine if the allegations were true. And he advocated for keeping his proposed settlement secret from the public,” Hummel said. “Specifically, he said: “This may be one of the few cases that is best resolved on a confidential basis.”
“I immediately rejected his proposal for a quick and secret settlement, telling him that we would inform the public, conduct a full and fair investigation, and let the truth dictate the result.”Troncoso_investigation_report_9.10.20_-_Redacted_UPDATED-2
Troncoso said Hicks’ report wasn’t unexpected.
“I’m not surprised that an investigator was hired to find what Mr. Hummel wanted him to find, which was that my claims were not substantiated,” she said. “Despite enough evidence to the contrary.”
The lone substantiated claim involved a mug used by a staffer that that was offensive to Spanish-language speakers and those with intellectual disabilities.
Hummel determined the intent of the gift giver and the gift recipient was to make fun of the “stupid” questions they joked about often fielding during the performance of their job duties, according to Hummel’s statement.
It was determined that the mug owner did not intend to insult Mexican-Americans or people with intellectual disabilities by owning the mug.
Hummel imposed a five-day suspension without pay to the mug owner “because even though the employee did not intend to belittle Mexican-Americans or people with intellectual disabilities, the message on the mug is contrary to the values his office embraces and having the mug at the Office showed extremely poor judgment.”
Troncoso said the mug was just an embodiment of the attitude in the DA’s office.
“There was a lot of, it seemed, issues with the Hispanic community in that office,” she said. “Seeing that mug on top of all of that, I think just all of that combined was extremely offensive.”
You can read the full notice of discipline here.
Hummel said it was “uncomfortable” for his office to have these allegations publicly aired for months with no chance to respond.
“With the investigator’s report now public, Deschutes County residents can see that, like anyone, we are not perfect, but we did not do what we were alleged to have done,” he said. “We’ll now get back to focusing on making Deschutes County the safest place in the country to live, work, and raise a family.”
Hummel concluded by saying he didn’t have the final say in the matter.
“If Ms. Troncoso disputes the findings of the investigator she has the right to go in front of a jury and ask them to decide the facts,” he said. “I support our system of justice and believe it is the best in the world.”
Troncoso said the case isn’t closed.
“We are moving forward in federal court,” she said.
Troncoso says the most frustrating part is not what she experienced individually, but how many women are treated when they come forward with similar claims.
She hopes taking this case to federal court will set an example.
“They too can move forward and be believed at some point,” she said.