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Godwin v. Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

August 31, 2017

RONALD GODWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROGUE VALLEY YOUTH CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; KEN JERIN; OREGON YOUTH AUTHORITY; COLETTE PETER; JEAN STRAIGHT; CITY OF GRANTS PASS; JOHN and JANE DOE, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MICHAEL McSHANE United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Ronald Godwin and Defendants Ken Jerin, Colette Peters, and Jean Straight (collectively “the State Defendants, ”).[1] ECF Nos. 130, 132. The Court heard oral argument on the motions on August 9, 2017. ECF No. 153. For the reasons set forth below, the State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Godwin's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED as MOOT.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         The Oregon Youth Authority (“OYA”) is a state correctional agency responsible for housing and reforming youth offenders. The mission of OYA “is to protect the public and reduce crime by holding youth offenders accountable and providing opportunities for reformation in safe environments.” Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at. 1, ECF No. 131. Defendant Colette Peters was the Director of OYA in 2010. Compl. 3. Defendant Jean Straight was the Assistant Director of Business Services for OYA in 2010. Compl. 3. The OYA operates the Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility (“RVYCF”) in Grants Pass, Oregon. Defendant Ken Jerin was the Superintendent of RVYCF. Compl. 3.

         Plaintiff Ronald Godwin was contracted by OYA to serve as the religious services coordinator, volunteer coordinator, and chaplain at RVYCF from 1997 until his termination in September 2010. Godwin Decl. ECF No. 88. In that capacity, Godwin was to provide “a full range of religious services, ” to the RVYCF residents, including arranging for the recruitment and coordination of religious volunteers and meeting individually with youth to identify religious needs. Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at 1-2; Godwin Decl. The record reflects that Godwin's service was exemplary and he was honored with the Director's Award in March 2010. Godwin Decl.

         Godwin was at one time a member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club. Godwin Decl. The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment designated the Vagos as a criminal organization and “Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, ” or “OMG, ” known to be active and growing in Oregon.[2] Lippold Decl. Ex. 2, at 3, 5, 10. The Assessment noted that gang members, including members of OMGs, were known to have applied for or gained employment with police, judicial, or correctional agencies nationwide:

OMGs engage in routine and systematic exploitation and infiltration of law enforcement and government infrastructure to protect and perpetrate their criminal activities. OMGs regularly solicit information of intelligence value from government or law enforcement employees.
[National Gang Intelligence Center] reporting indicates that gang members in at least 72 jurisdictions have compromised or corrupted judicial, law enforcement, or correctional staff within the past three years.

Lippold Decl. Ex. 2, at 8.

         Although Godwin acknowledged that a number of Vagos from the Grants Pass area have been convicted of criminal activity, he described the group as motorcycle enthusiasts who join together to enjoy the open road. Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 18-20, 30. Godwin described himself as holding a “chaplain-type” role within the Vagos. Godwin Decl. Ex. 12, at 1; Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 17. There is no indication that Godwin had personally engaged in any criminal activity, either as a member of the Vagos or otherwise. Lippold Decl. Ex. 6, at 2; Ex. 8, at 4. Godwin “retired” from membership in the Vagos in 2003. Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 2.

         Members of the Vagos advertise their affiliation by wearing the Vagos “cut” and “colors, ” including a patch depicting the Norse god Loki. Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 3-4, 10. As a retired member, Godwin was permitted to wear the cut and colors of the Vagos when attending club functions or with the permission of the local chapter president. Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 4-5. There are no special insignia or markings that would distinguish the cut and colors of a retired member of the Vagos from those of an active member. Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 11-12.

         In 2010, Grants Pass police observed Godwin wearing the Vagos cut and colors on “numerous” occasions, both alone and when riding in the company of other Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3-4. In particular, the Grants Pass police reported that on April 30, 2010, Godwin was seen riding his motorcycle in full Vagos regalia and that he made a rude gesture at a passing police cruiser, and that on June 25, 2010, Godwin was involved in a traffic stop while wearing his Vagos cut and colors and riding with five to seven members of the Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3-4. Godwin acknowledges at least some of those incidents, although he denies directing a rude gesture at the police. Lippod Decl. Ex. 3, at 2; Ex. 4, at 29; Godwin Decl. Ex.23, at 1-2. On July 9, 2010, Grants Pass Police Chief Bill Landis contacted the OYA headquarters to report that Godwin was a “patch-wearing member of a documented criminal organization.” Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2. OYA suspended Godwin's employment pending their investigation into Landis's allegations. Godwin Decl.; Lippold Decl. Ex. 7, at 2.

         Godwin maintains that he never concealed his membership in the Vagos, either before or after his retirement from the group. Godwin Decl. Godwin says that several of his co-workers, including supervisors, knew of his involvement with the Vagos. Godwin Decl. The record is not clear how widespread the knowledge of Godwin's association actually was, however. The record contains a number of declarations from Godwin's coworkers indicating that they were either unaware of his association with the Vagos until 2010, or that they believed his association was historical rather than current. See Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 2 (Decl. of Doug Williams); Ex. 7 (Decl. of Pam Boston); Ex. 8 (Decl. of Louise Pizer); Ex. 10 (Decl. of Matt Sweeney), ECF No. 139. Many of these coworkers expressed dismay at learning that Godwin had been seen in the community wearing Vagos colors while working for OYA. Jerin also testified that he was not aware of anyone at RVYCF who knew of Godwin's association with the Vagos. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 2.

         On July 12, 2010, Director Peters assigned Ken Jeske of the OYA Professional Standards Office to investigate the reports of Godwin's membership in the Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2; Ex. 6, at 3. On July 15, 2010, Godwin called Jeske to give a statement. Godwin admitted his past membership in the Vagos, but told Jeske that he had retired from the organization. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2. Godwin stated that he was aware of the organization's criminal activity “through the newspaper” and from statements made by other Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2. Godwin admitted that he still had his Vagos cut and colors and gave contradictory statements about his recent involvement with the Vagos. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 2 (“He stated he had not be involved with them [the Vagos] for 15 to 20 years.”) (“He stated he did attend [a recent Vagos function] and did wear his coat containing the patch in question.”), at 2-3 (“He stated that he does not attend any club functions and described the recent reported activity as a 30 club Run. . . .”), and at 3 (“Godwin stated he has not worn his coat or attended any Vagos functions prior to this event or following.”). Jeske informed Godwin that local law enforcement had expressed concerns about Godwin's affiliation with the Vagos and told Godwin that “by wearing those colors he was supporting a criminal organization and representing Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility as a contractor for religious services.” Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3. Godwin stated that he used his past experiences and involvement with the Vagos as a positive example of personal reform and self-improvement in his work at RVYCF. Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3. Godwin offered to stop wearing his Vagos cut and colors and to disassociate himself from the organization. Godwin Decl.; Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 3.

         On July 16, 2010, Jeske submitted his investigative report, in which he noted Godwin's explanations, but concluded that “law enforcement reports multiple incidents indicating Godwin is currently associating with a known criminal element tracked by multiple law-enforcement agencies as a national threat.” Lippold Decl. Ex. 3, at 1-2.

         Jean Straight also called Godwin during the investigation to ask him if he had attended any local events while wearing his Vagos colors. Godwin Decl. Godwin told her that he remembered that he had worn his Vagos patches at “a couple of local events.” Godwin Decl. This statement would appear to contradict at least some of what Godwin told Jeske about the extent of his involvement with the Vagos in 2010.

         Jeske's report was reviewed by Straight, Jerin, and Peters. In her deposition, Peters testified that she believed Godwin's association with the Vagos and his public display of Vagos colors ran counter to the mission of the OYA. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at 6. Peters felt that Godwin's association with the Vagos would create a perception that “would have interfered with [Godwin's] ability to help in the transformation or reformation of the youth in our care and custody.” Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at 4. Peters observed that an OYA employee's reputation in the community “bleed[s] into their work.” Lippold Decl. Ex. 9, at 9. She was worried about how far knowledge of Godwin's involvement with the Vagos had already spread or would spread in the future. Lippold Decl. Ex. 9, at 9. Peters expressed concern that Godwin's association with the Vagos presented a threat to the safety and security of the institution. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 1, at 8-9.

         Ken Jerin also expressed concern about an OYA representative publically associating with members of a criminal organization. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 6-7. Jerin was especially concerned because Godwin's role as religious services coordinator put him in a position of mentorship with the youth at the facility. Jerin worried that if those youths were to see Godwin publically wearing Vagos colors, it would send a message contrary to OYA's mission of rehabilitation. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 7-8. Jerin felt that knowledge of Godwin's association with the Vagos would create a perception among RVYCF staff that Godwin supported criminal activity in the community. Such perceptions, he felt, would be damaging to employee morale. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 4, at 7.

         Straight agreed that Godwin's association with the Vagos compromised his ability to work in a youth correctional facility. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 6, at 2. Straight testified that, as far as she knew, none of the residents of the facility knew of Godwin's association with a criminal organization and she believed that it would send a counter-productive message if they were to learn of his membership in the Vagos. Second Lippold Decl. Ex. 6, at 2.

         Based on Jeske's report, and after a conference with Straight and Jerin, Peters determined that Godwin's contract should be terminated. Lippold Decl. Ex. 7, at 2; Ex. 9, at 14; Ex. 10, at 2. On August 10, 2010, Straight sent a letter to Godwin informing him that his contract with OYA was terminated, effective September 15, 2010. Godwin Decl. Ex. 32. Godwin emailed Straight to ask the reason for his termination and was ...


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