Ex-Deschutes prosecutor still plans to sue county, despite report refuting most claims
(Update: Adding video, Hummel comments; Troncoso still plans lawsuit; attorney's news release)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- On Friday, the results of a nearly four-month investigation into allegations of racism and sexism in the Deschutes County District Attorney's office were announced.
The independent investigator's report found all but one allegation made by former deputy district attorney Jasmyn Troncoso in a notice of intent to sue were not substantiated.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he was relieved.
"I know everyone who works with me, of course,” Hummel told NewsChannel 21 on Friday. “They're valued members of my team. I was shocked when I heard people on my team allegedly acted this way."
Troncoso alleges her co-workers bullied her, told her she was unqualified and a drama queen, accused her of having affairs and was ridiculed for speaking Spanish.
Hummel confirmed Troncoso was the only Spanish-speaker in his office at the time.
The investigation found that the only substantiated claim was that a mug with offensive language on it was on the desk of an employee.
Hummel announced that the staff member has been suspended for five days without pay.
But Hummel said there was a roadblock to finding more evidence of Troncoso's claims.
"It's real hard to find it when the complainant refuses to talk to you," he said, noting that Troncoso declined to take part in the investigation.
Troncoso told NewsChannel 21 Friday she was disappointed with the investigator's findings -- but not surprised.
"The purpose of that investigator was to defend the office,” she said. “I had no interest (in taking part in the investigation), after I already provided all the statements that I had, not only to the office, but to the human resources manager in Deschutes County."
Troncoso resigned to return to her role as a deputy DA in San Bernardino County, Calif., where she worked prior to Deschutes County.
"Was I surprised with what was in the report?” she said. “No -- I figured it was going to be inflammatory."
She contended her claims are backed up by witnesses.
Hummel said he would have taken drastic action if the report came back supporting Troncoso's claims.
"I wouldn't have stood for it,” he said. “I would have terminated the people who did what they were alleged to have done."
Troncoso said she will proceed with filing a formal lawsuit, not only for herself, but to inspire other women to come forward with similar claims.
Troncoso's attorney, Matthew Ellis of Portland who specializes in employment law, issued a news release blasting Hummel for his news release.
"Mr. Hummel's press release today is further evidence of the backlash suffered by women of color who accuse historically white institutions, like the Deschutes County District Attorney's office, of discrimination," he wrote.
":At best, Mr. Hummel's decision to issue this press release showed extraordinarily poor judgment by a public servant. At worse, it was defamatory and in bad faith," Ellis added.
Ellis disputed that the investigation was independent, calling it "hugely biased."
"Against this backdrop, it was a very poor choice to issue this press release in response to concerns a women of color with the bravery to stand up to a historically white institution and bring forth claims of discrimination," Ellis wrote.
"Mr. Hummel's tone-deaf response shows he lacks the judgment and foresight to lead the DA's office through this difficult time. He should resign, immediately," he concluded.
Here's the full news release from Hummel:
DISTRICT ATTORNEY OFFICE INVESTIGATION COMPLETED
In April, former Deschutes County Deputy District Attorney Jasmyn Troncoso’s attorney notified Deschutes County that Ms. Troncoso intended to file a lawsuit against the County. Ms. Troncoso alleged that her former coworkers bullied her and that this treatment was motivated by her race and gender (Ms. Troncoso self identifies as Latina).
Upon receipt of this notice, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel immediately ordered an independent investigation be conducted, and vowed that if any of Ms. Troncoso’s allegations were confirmed, he would take immediate action. Hummel also informed the public that he would announce the investigator’s findings when the investigation was completed.
Local employment attorney Peter Hicks was retained to investigate Troncoso’s allegations, and he has now completed his investigation (report here). Mr. Hicks found all allegations except one to be not substantiated. The one that was substantiated (concerning a coffee mug emblazoned with offensive language, discussed below) was determined not to have been motivated by racial or gender animus and concerns the actions of an employee that occurred without the knowledge of District Attorney Hummel and his management team.
The allegation which Mr. Hicks confirmed involved an employee who had been given a gift of a mug with a message that is offensive toward Spanish-language speakers and individuals with intellectual disabilities. The recipient kept the mug on their desk for a relatively short period of time. No member of the management team was aware of the mug, and had not been alerted to its presence until Ms. Troncoso came forward with the allegation concerning the mug in the written notice of her intent to file a lawsuit. If any member of the District Attorney management team had been aware of the mug, neither they nor District Attorney Hummel would have tolerated its presence.
After reviewing the investigator’s findings, District Attorney 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. It was determined that the mug owner did not intend to insult Mexican-Americans or people with intellectual disabilities by owning the mug. And, in fact, it was determined that while employed with the District Attorney’s Office Ms. Troncoso had joked about the mug with the mug owner, saying about the mug: “that’s ******* awesome,” and then asking to take a picture of it because her friend would find it funny.
District Attorney 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. He wrote in his notice of discipline (full notice here (note graphic language)):
"Regardless of what your intent was in having the mug, you exercised extremely poor judgment in doing so. … Every person served by our office deserves to be respected, valued, and treated with dignity. What is in our heart is irrelevant, if our actions convey dismissiveness, hate, or disrespect. I shudder to think of how a mother with a young daughter living with an intellectual disability and who was a victim of a crime, would feel if she walked into one of our prosecutors’ offices to prepare for trial and saw your mug. She might rightfully feel like we did not value her daughter as much as we value victims of crime who do not live with a disability.
"Or imagine a Mexican-American defense attorney who stops by our office to negotiate a resolution of one of her client’s cases. How would she feel if she saw a mug emblazoned with [the message]?” She might feel hurt, disrespected, and enraged. She also might rightfully question whether her clients are treated the same as clients of white attorneys.
Statement from District Attorney Hummel upon release of the investigation:
“Jasmyn Troncoso was one of my deputies, and I appreciate the service she provided to our County during her brief tenure. I continue to wish her well in her future career. What Ms. Troncoso alleges happened to her during her employment in my office is outrageous, despicable and has no place in our society. The moment her attorney notified me of these allegations, I set out to find out if they were true. The investigation is now complete and almost all of the allegations were deemed not substantiated.
"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. 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.
"I do not have the final say in this 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. I support our system of justice and believe it is the best in the world.
"I was shocked when these allegations were brought to my attention because I know the team in my office to be dedicated, ethical, and respectful people. I’m proud to work with some of the finest public servants in our country. We do our business in public, never hiding from the facts.
"It was uncomfortable for people in my office to have allegations against them aired publicly for months with no opportunity 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. We’ll now get back to focusing on making Deschutes County the safest place in the country to live, work, and raise a family.”