Police officer said to have preyed on domestic violence victim in Salem faces loss of license   

A Salem police sergeant fired last December now is in line to lose his license after state officials say he took advantage of a domestic violence victim to develop sexual relations.

The state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training is proposing to revoke the certification of Jeffrey Keniston, now an officer with the Aumsville Police Department. The agency issued its proposed order on Aug. 31 and the Salem Police Department announced the action on Thursday, Sept. 14. The state agency licenses officers and investigates complaints of misconduct.

Keniston could not be reached by phone for comment Thursday, and Aumsville officials confirmed only that he remains employed there.

He was given 20 days to request a hearing to contest the revocation in the seven-page notification of revocation issued to him.

The proposed order will become final if he does not request a hearing. He would also have the right to request a court review of any final order within 60 days.

If his license is revoked, he can no longer serve as a police or corrections officer in Oregon.

Records of the licensing agency showed he was discharged from the Salem Police Department in December 2022 and was hired in Aumsville on May 15.

Aumsville City Administrator Ron Harding said the state’s process for Keniston “will determine ‘fit for duty’ and then the city will go from there.”

​​He declined to say why Aumsville hired Keniston, or whether the agency was aware of the open investigations by the state and Salem police when they did so.

Keniston’s firing and the board’s findings were first reported by Discrepancy Report, an online news site.

A complaint to Salem police on April 1, 2022, triggered an internal investigation, according to department spokeswoman Angela Hedrick. She said the Salem agency put Keniston on paid leave Sept. 29, 2022.

Discrepancy Report said that after Salem police reviewed accusations from Keniston’s ex-wife, the department notified him that it found evidence he had associated “with known criminals” and engaged in “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

The letter said Keniston’s ex-wife alleged he forced her to have sex with him after an argument on their engagement night, placed his hand around her daughter’s throat and held her against the wall. The letter reported the ex-wife’s account of him threatening suicide on multiple occasions if she didn’t comply with his sexual demands, according to Discrepancy Report.

She also accused him of parking and listening by phone to her having sex with “a known and convicted felon while on duty at his direction” as well as being sexually involved with a citizen he met through his police work, the news site reported.

Hedrick said Salem police opened a personnel investigation immediately after learning of “alleged misconduct” by Keniston. The agency also requested Beaverton Police Department conduct an outside investigation into possible criminal conduct. 

A spokesperson for the Beaverton agency could not be reached for comment Thursday. 

Court records show no criminal charges filed against Keniston. Marion County Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy did not respond to an emailed question Thursday about why prosecutors decided not to file charges.

“When the criminal investigation was complete, we finished the administrative investigation,” Hedrick said. 

The state board wrote in its report that he “gained an advantage by using his position as a domestic violence officer and department issued equipment and resources to contact a domestic violence victim he was assigned to follow up with for personal gain, which included sexual contact.”

The state found that Keniston “used his position for personal gain and engaged in a sexual relationship with a victim he was sworn to protect, reflecting an extreme violation of trust, adversely reflecting on the public safety.” 

That violated the state’s Criminal Justice Code of Ethics “and compromised the public’s trust in the public safety profession,” the state report said.

Keniston was hired as a civilian employee by Salem police in 1997 and resigned the following year. He earned his basic law enforcement officer certification in 1999 and worked at the Stayton Police Department until June 2004, then returned to Salem as an officer.

Keniston was promoted to corporal in 2015 and sergeant in 2020.

He was paid $58.47 an hour by the city of Salem. His final paycheck issued the day of his firing was $12,226, according to Courtney Knox Busch, the city’s strategic initiatives manager, which included a vacation time payout of $8,435.

 “The Salem Police Department fully investigates all alleged misconduct and takes appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination, when any member of our organization is found to have violated policy or our strict standards of ethical and moral behavior,” the agency said in its statement, but it released no details about the conduct. “We have no further comment at this time regarding this confidential personnel matter.” 

Managing Editor Rachel Alexander contributed reporting.

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

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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.