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New chief pledges thorough review of how system failed.

Byline: Rebecca Nolan The Register-Guard

Eugene's new police chief promised a thorough review of how two former officers' alleged sexual misdeeds went unnoticed or unreported for years.

Chief Robert Lehner, who started work Jan. 5 and will be formally sworn in during a Friday ceremony, also pledged to examine the department's selection, training and supervision of new officers to minimize the likelihood of additional abuses of police power.

"We'll be looking at how it developed, who all was involved, who wasn't involved, everything from how we hire officers to how we train them to how we supervise them," Lehner said Wednesday. "I think the public will demand and should demand that kind of review on our part, and we will do that. But it's going to take some time."

Lehner was still assistant chief for the Tucson, Ariz., police when Eugene officers Juan Francisco Lara, 29, and Roger Eugene Magana, 40, were accused of using their power as officers to coerce women into sexual contact while on duty and in uniform. They were both fired.

Lara was convicted Tuesday on 10 counts and faces more than 20 years in prison at an upcoming sentencing hearing. Magana awaits trial on 51 charges, including allegations that he forcibly raped two women and abused at least 13 others.

"These people got into our system, and somehow we kept them," Lehner said. "You're talking about really typical, standard predatory criminal behavior here."

The chief said no one in the department, from command staff to line officers, has objected to his plan for an extensive look at whether the system failed and what changes need to be made. He said he will sit down with people of all ranks and discuss the best way to go about the investigation, which isn't likely to begin until Magana's case has been closed.

"Talking about the morale of the rank-and-file - they don't want to work with these people," he said. "The last thing they want is a system that lets somebody like that through, because we all get painted with the same brush."

One of his goals, he said, was to tighten up the screening process to eliminate applicants who are predisposed to abuse of power.

Sexual abuse is one of the more common forms of serious officer misconduct nationwide, Lehner said. He said he dealt with sexual misconduct cases in Tucson, too, and each one revealed ways the system could be improved.

"My gut-level feeling tells me that overall the system is pretty clean," he said. "We do have an anomaly here and we will find something that we can fine-tune to minimize the possibility of this occurring again.

"What would make this tragedy even worse is if we didn't learn from this experience one way or another."
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Title Annotation:Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 15, 2004
Words:461
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