Cop slaps son for ‘misbehaving’ as discipline, but now he’s fighting his entire career
A little over two years ago a small story circulated across Oregon of then-active duty state trooper James P. Duncan, slapping his son across the face hard enough to knock the 11-year-old boy to the ground.
His daughter, at the time 13 years old, recorded the incident on her cell phone in an attempt to show a counselor. Although Duncan attempted to delete the footage, his ex-wife found it in a recently deleted bin on the phone and in 2015 a long and confusing criminal case began.
Typically, someone in this situation would be charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment, a felony in Oregon. Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Barton said that if given the chance, he would have suggested those charges to a grand jury, but Duncan’s attorney and Barton made a deal instead.
Duncan pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault in the fourth degree and sentenced to 18 months probation. He is restricted from seeing his children while additionally ordered to take anger management and parenting classes, but a special allowance was made for Duncan to keep and use his gun.
After all, how would a policeman do his job if he was restricted from using his gun?
This is where it gets interesting.
Oregon law clearly states that someone on probation is not allowed to carry a firearm. As stated earlier, Duncan was given special allowance by a Washington County Judge to carry his gun while at work in order to properly carry out his duties. Yet Duncan remained on administrative (paid) leave and was not allowed to return at the time because the state police were conducting their own internal investigation.
On top of that internal investigation, Department of Public Safety Standards and Training began their own review of the case, as is their duty when any Oregon officer gets fired or quits. They are responsible for the providing the certifications an Oregon officer needs to be a cop. Normally, this would be an open and shut case, Duncan was convicted of domestic violence, therefore his certification would be revoked.
Here’s the catch, at that time, while there was a law regarding domestic abuse, there was no law concerning child abuse. Duncan’s case did not fit the criteria for revocation. Department officials recommended that Duncan’s certification should remain in Oct. 2016.
Duncan in the clear until his supervisors at the police department noted a new federal law that had recently passed. A U.S. supreme court decision ruled that any domestic violence conviction, including misdemeanors, will remove the citizens right to possess a firearm.
It seemed all hope for Duncan getting back on the force was lost, but he had an ace up his sleeve. Duncan has friends in high places, and he intended to use them.
I haven’t mentioned that for three years, Duncan was the personal driver for former Chief Justice Paul De Muniz. Duncan’s good standing with De Muniz no doubt was the reason De Muniz was able, despite complaints, to sway Washington County District Attorney Bob Hermann to get Duncan’s conviction swapped with a different misdemeanor. One that is NOT subject to the new federal gun law.
Now that Duncan had won on the federal level, all he had to do was get the pesky state out of the way. Oregon law states that ANYONE convicted of a violent crime, misdemeanor or felony, will have their gun rights revoked for four years. A judge denied his first appeal but after he finished his probation in 2017, a new judge reinstated his right.
Now with everything clear, all he needed was his job with the state police back. This time his case fell upon an arbitrator instead of a judge. Duncan even had the Oregon State Police Officers Association on his side this time. They argued that Duncan’s “exemplary career” gives enough evidence that Duncan can still be a good officer, and the slap was a fair use of corporal punishment.
The arbitrator, however, did not agree. Stating the strike was “intentional and premeditated” and the fact that Duncan tried to delete the video gave the evidence that Duncan’s character was questionable.
Because the two parties could not come to an agreement, AGAIN the case comes before Oregon’s police certification agency.
What technically should be an open and shut case for the certification board is not so easy. The state law clearly says that anyone fired for cause must be de-certified, but as stated earlier, Duncan’s case did not meet those guidelines and that’s why the board voted to keep his certification. But now the committee will review aspects of the case beyond just the slap, into the deletion of the videos by Duncan and other allegations that he had also previously stuck his daughter in a sperate incident.
But Duncan came in swinging with a letter to the board. He argues the when the regulators reevaluate the case after already making a decision, they are violating his due process rights. And you know who agrees with Duncan? None other than retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice W. Michael Gillette.
Gillette wrote “I write this email solely because I want to see Mr. Duncan treated fairly, and I am concerned that the Committee and, ultimately, the Board may not be treating him that way… I do ask the Committee and the Board to stand back and consider whether they are not, in fact, taking ‘a second bite of the apple…If they are, they shouldn’t be.”
It pays to have friends in high places, but does that mean Duncan did the wrong thing in advocating to get his job back? Are we to say that he is beyond rehabilitation?
Today, regulators will make their final decisions. Do they revoke Duncan’s certification or let their previous ruling stand? More to come as the story develops.
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