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Commissioner Cop

Roseburg, OR-After being motioned to pull over by the driver of an unmarked police car, Eugene Hall of Roseburg was surprised to see a Douglas County Commissioner step out from behind the wheel of that car.  Commissioner Laurance - Photo STAFF/Beacon

On Monday, December 19, Hall, who had been travelling on Harvard Avenue, noticed a dark blue sedan drifting into his lane. The driver, he said, was “apparently preoccupied with something on the passenger seat”. Hall said he tapped his horn to alert the driver but the car kept heading towards him, at which point, he said, “I hit the horn again”, convinced that if he hadn’t the sedan would have struck the passenger side of his pickup.

This time, according to a report submitted to the Roseburg Police Department, the driver noticed Hall’s vehicle and abruptly motioned with hand signals for Hall to pull his vehicle over. “I got out of my truck to meet the driver, whom I believed to be a police officer. As the person came closer I was surprised to discover that the driver was Commissioner Joe Laurance.”

Hall said in his report that “I asked him if he realized that he almost sideswiped my truck” to which Laurance replied, “I didn’t hit you,” followed by a stream of profanity directed at Hall.

Upon examination of the vehicle Laurance was driving, Hall said he noticed there were “several radio aerials on the Commissioner Cop roof and trunk; a spotlight outside within the driver’s reach; and blue and red emergency lights in the back windows.”

Commissioner Joe Laurance then presented a Douglas County Sheriff’s badge to Hall, who had questioned Laurance’s authority to pull him over. Hall, who has a Master’s Degree in Human Services and a Bachelor’s in Criminology, specializing in Police Science, asked to look at the badge, and noticed that it said “Special Deputy”.

Hall told Laurance that being a Special Deputy “did not give him law enforcement authority.” To this Commissioner Laurance, according to the report filed by Hall, said “I can do anything I want to you [expletives deleted].

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin told the Beacon that the authority of a Special Deputy is not generally construed to provide arrest authority to the public official, but is to provide them with “authority in a crisis” and to grant them access during emergency situations.

Sheriff Hanlin also said that anyone carrying a special deputy badge serves “at the pleasure of the elected Sheriff” who swore them in.

Upon further inquiry, the Beacon learned that Commissioner Laurance was never sworn in as a Special Deputy under Sheriff Hanlin. Laurance was deputized by the previous Sheriff, Jim Burge, and that status ended when Hanlin assumed office in January of 2009.

The report filed with the Roseburg Police Department on December 22, according to Sgt. Aaron Dunbar, is being investigated by Sgt. Brian Ulrich, who made contact with Laurance following the receipt of Hall’s complaint. Sgt. Dunbar said Ulrich contacted Laurance and took his statement.

The content of that statement is not available at this time, Dunbar told the Beacon, pending a decision by the City Attorney as to whether or not any charges will be filed. As of this date, no citation or arrest warrant has been issued.

Possible charges range from harassment to impersonating a police officer.

The vehicle Commissioner Laurance requested the fleet department buy for him to drive is a late model Crown Victoria, which according to county records is a former police vehicle that the county had to repaint dark blue for the Commissioner. The vehicle is equipped with a police radio; red and blue emergency lights in the grill; a spotlight; and red and blue lights on the interior rear window deck.
Sheriff Hanlin confirmed that at this time Joe Laurance does not have Special Deputy status. As to whether he might be deputized in the future, Hanlin deferred his answer stating; “I would like to have a conversation with the commissioner first.”

Sgt. Dunbar said the City Attorney, pending the outcome of the investigation, will hopefully have a decision by the end of the week as to whether Laurance will face any charges.

The Beacon made several attempts to speak with Commissioner Laurance both at the County Courthouse and at home. Laurance’s wife told the Beacon that he was aware of the request and would be returning the call. Laurance did not return the call.