A Salem police sergeant fired last December is challenging state officials’ plans to strip his police license after they found he took advantage of a domestic violence victim to develop sexual relations.
The state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training proposed on Aug. 31 to revoke the certification of Jeffrey Keniston following a misconduct investigation by the agency. Keniston, now an officer with the Aumsville Police Department, was given 20 days to request a hearing to contest the revocation.
The state agency, which licenses officers and investigates complaints of misconduct, received a request for a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 26, from an attorney representing Keniston, spokesman Sam Tenney said.
Keniston could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The licensing agency will next refer the case to the state Office of Administrative Hearings office to set a date for the contested case.
The city of Aumsville hired Keniston three months after learning that he had been fired while under state investigation.
Aumsville City Administrator Ron Harding confirmed on Thursday that Keniston was still employed by the city.
The licensing agency concluded in its August report that 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,” according to the proposed order.
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.
Salem police said in a Sept. 14 statement that conduct led to his firing last December.
Aumsville city officials earlier this month declined to explain why they hired Keniston while he was suspected of misconduct.
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.
Records of the licensing agency showed that Salem police fired Keniston on Dec. 8, 2022.
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 Tenney.
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 on Sept. 15. “The professional standards case was triggered by Keniston’s termination from SPD.”
Aumsville hired Keniston on May 15, DPSST records showed.
Aumsville Police Chief Damian Flowers on Sept. 15 declined to explain the decision or say if Keniston was still employed at his agency. He said a day earlier that Keniston remained employed.
The chief said he could not comment on personnel matters and referred Salem Reporter to Harding, the city administrator who also declined.
As of Thursday, Keniston was still among the list of officers on Aumsville police’s website.
Keniston’s firing and the board’s findings were first reported by Discrepancy Report, an online news site.
In addition to contesting the revocation, Keniston 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.
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.