Oregon drug policy director pleads guilty to assaulting boy in Salem school program

The executive director of the state Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission has pleaded guilty to assaulting a boy in a Salem after-school program he ran as a side business. 

Reginald Richardson, 62, entered the plea in October for grabbing the 8-year-old boy by the back of his neck and shoving him into a wall for repeatedly being disruptive in class, the prosecutor said the child didn’t report the incident for several days, then told a counselor and complained of neck pain.

The assault resulted in district leaders banning Richardson from Salem-Keizer School District facilities in February and the early termination of his contract to run a program focused on academic support for Black students.

Besides his state job, Richardson also served as president of Salem-Keizer NAACP. He resigned Sept. 7, about six weeks before pleading guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, according to a resignation letter obtained by Salem Reporter. Richardson cited “medical issues” in his resignation, noting he’d been unable to attend recent meetings or carry out other responsibilities as president.

Richardson did not respond to a call from Salem Reporter. He and his attorney did not respond to detailed questions emailed Friday.

Richardson has moved to Chicago, according to court documents. He came to Salem in 2015 from the Chicago area after being hired as deputy director at the state Department of Human Services.

As of Monday morning, he was still listed on a state website as the state commission’s director, a role Gov. Kate Brown appointed him to in 2018. He was paid $186,996 in that role in 2021, according to an Oregonian/OregonLive database of state employee salaries. State officials last week wouldn’t confirm Richardson’s employment status. 

Tony Veniza, the commission chair, referred questions about Richardson’s employment to Jill Gray, who he described as “interim director.” Gray is listed as a policy analyst at the commission. She declined to answer questions Friday, saying the governor’s office planned to issue a statement.

The governor’s office did not respond to multiple earlier inquiries from Salem Reporter about his employment status or what steps they took in response to the assault. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Administrative Services did not respond to an inquiry about whether Richardson was currently a state employee.

The incident occurred Jan. 26 at the Career Technical Education Center in northeast Salem during an after-school program run by Richardson’s company, Community Learning Institute, according to Scott Healy, a Clackamas County deputy district attorney.

Richardson signed a contract in November 2021 to run the Sawubona Afrocentric After-School Program with the district following a successful summer program with the same focus. The program was “based in African traditions, rituals, values and symbols that provide a positive learning environment for students,” according to the district website.

The district planned to pay Richardson’s company up to $250,000 to run the eight-month program, which began in October 2021 and was to run through June 15, 2022, according to the contract.

The money was for a full-time director and hourly pay for teachers. The contract with Richardson’s company included $1,750 monthly for “overhead.” 

The day of the assault, Richardson went to observe the class at CTEC after the program director told him the boy had been a behavioral challenge “for some time,” Healy said.

“I guess it had become enough of a disruption, and enough of a consistent disruption, that it was affecting the class,” he said.

The boy “did act up in class that day,” and Richardson sat beside him to get him to concentrate on his assignment, Healy said. When the boy continued having trouble focusing and continued disrupting the class, Richardson took him to the hallway to talk to him.

A surveillance camera recorded the incident on video, Healy said.

Richardson “ends up grabbing (the boy) kind of by the back of his neck and kind of forcefully pushing him towards a wall, he loses his balance and goes into the wall. He doesn’t go into the wall super hard, but he goes into the wall kind of just to kind of regain his balance,” according to Healy.

Healy said what followed was a directed conversation in which Richardson was “giving him the business.” 

Richardson then told the boy to follow him into a multipurpose room. Healy said the boy could be seen rubbing his neck as he followed.

They sat at a table and had a conversation about the boy’s behavior before the boy was returned to class after about 15 minutes, according to Healy.

Healy said the boy showed no visible injuries but reported feeling sore to his counselor, who reported the incident to the state Department of Human Services.

Employees at the victim’s school and the district’s human resources department were notified of the incident Feb. 7, Salem-Keizer spokesman Aaron Harada said. He did not say who notified the school.

The Salem Police Department asked the state Department of Justice to investigate the incident as an outside agency due to Richardson’s positions at the state and Salem-Keizer NAACP, according to Salem police spokeswoman Angela Hedrick. Chief Trevor Womack and Richardson had worked together on local criminal justice reforms.

Harada said the district worked with the Department of Justice as it investigated. The after school program continued to run with extra staffing until the district terminated the contract early on March 8. 

“Dr. Richardson was not onsite or interacting with students during that time,” Harada said in an email. 

Richardson’s resume, submitted to the district, notes he oversaw Oregon’s child welfare services for eight months in 2016 and has a doctorate in social work with a concentration in child maltreatment.

Richardson was banned from all district property and school-related events on Feb. 23, and removed from a district list of approved volunteers. Harada said the district’s safety and risk management team, district leadership and legal counsel made the decision jointly, following their usual practice. The decision to bar Richardson from schools also meant he cannot contract with the district in the future.

A Marion County grand jury in May indicted Richardson on charges of fourth-degree assault and harassment.

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said she asked the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute Richardson because she worked with him on the policy commission as well as on criminal cases when he was deputy director of the Oregon Department of Human Services. 

Richardson pleaded guilty Oct. 18 to the assault charge for “recklessly” injuring the boy. Prosecutors dismissed the harassment charge as part of the plea deal.

Marion County Circuit Judge Thomas Hart sentenced Richardson to diversion probation, meaning the charge would be dropped if he follows certain conditions by next August.

Richardson was ordered to pay $1,000 to the victim’s family, attend at least 12 counseling sessions “focusing on anger management issues and alternative options for addressing challenging behavior from children,” and have no contact with the victim or his brother, who was also in the after-school program.

He must also complete 100 hours of community service at a DePaul University program in Chicago, which helps prepare graduate students for advanced social work employment.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.