The city of Aumsville earlier this year hired a Salem police sergeant three months after learning that he had been fired and faced a misconduct investigation by state officials.
The state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training has since determined that on Aug. 31 Jeffrey Keniston took advantage of a domestic violence victim while working at the Salem Police Department to develop sexual relations. Salem police said in a statement Thursday that conduct led to his firing last December.
Keniston is now in line to lose his license while still being employed by the Aumsville Police Department as of Thursday. The state agency licenses officers and investigates complaints of misconduct.
The licensing agency notified Aumsville police that it was investigating Keniston in February, two months after he was fired from Salem.
An agent conducting a background check on behalf of Aumsville police contacted the state agency on Feb. 13 “for information on Keniston’s ability to be certified,” according to Sam Tenney, a spokesman for the licensing agency.
Two days later, the licensing agency “responded that Keniston had an open professional standards case regarding his separation from Salem Police Department (SPD) and provided the agent with a separation form filed by SPD on Dec. 9, 2022,” Tenney said in an email Friday. “The professional standards case was triggered by Keniston’s termination from SPD.”
Aumsville hired Keniston on May 15, DPSST records showed.
On Aug. 31, the agency concluded Keniston had “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.
Aumsville city officials have declined to explain why they hired Keniston while he was suspected of misconduct.
Keniston could not be reached for comment Friday.
Aumsville Police Chief Damian Flowers on Friday declined to explain the decision or say if Keniston was still employed at his agency. He said a day earlier that Keniston remained employed.
As of Friday, Keniston was still among the list of officers on Aumsville police’s website.
The chief said he could not comment on personnel matters and referred Salem Reporter to Aumsville City Administrator Ron Harding, who also declined.
“DPSST is responsible for reviewing any information that questions a given officer’s code of conduct, and their final order will determine the fit for duty of those officers under review. As a small city, we rely on the professionals at DPSST to make such a determination after it has completed its internal process,” Harding said in an email Friday. “As I am sure you understand a city cannot publicly comment on present or past staff.”
Aumsville Mayor Angelica Ceja Ochoa also said she could not provide information on matters related to city personnel, saying in an email that she and city councilors did not have authority over “the hiring, discipline and removal of any staff.”
When a police officer leaves an agency, the agency is required to fill out a separation form and report the departure to DPSST.
A records specialist for the licensing agency and officials with the city of Salem did not immediately respond to a request for Keniston’s separation form. Aumsville’s police chief, city administrator and mayor declined to provide the document.
“Any documents that you are seeking, your request would need to go through the city itself,” Ceja Ochoa said.
Keniston’s firing and the board’s findings were first reported by Discrepancy Report, an online news site.
He was given 20 days to request a hearing to contest the revocation. 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.
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.
DPSST records showed that Salem police discharged Keniston on Dec. 8, 2022.
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.