State closes review of Salem’s former deputy chief

State officials have closed their review of a top police official who quietly retired two years ago while suspected of lying to his colleagues at the Salem Police Department.

Oregon’s Police Policy Committee decided on Thursday to take no action against former Deputy Chief Steve Bellshaw, finding that “there is insufficient evidence to find that Bellshaw was intentionally untruthful.”

Bellshaw retired under a special deal in February 2022. The city of Salem agreed to pay him $53,500 in taxpayer money which he didn’t earn and he agreed not to sue the city.

The city has resisted details about what was behind the deal.

But a recent state report sheds new light on the allegations Bellshaw faced just before his departure. The memo was written by a compliance coordinator for the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the state agency tasked with certifying officers and reviewing complaints of misconduct.

Bellshaw declined to comment on Friday about the committee’s decision. 

He still holds his police certification, though it is listed by the state as inactive.

READ IT: State memo

The city placed Bellshaw on administrative leave on Nov. 12, 2021, “pending a determination to investigate alleged policy violations,” according to the state report.

Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack in a memo 11 days later requested an outside investigation including possible “untruthfulness by Bellshaw,” the state report said.

 “The memo noted that after the chief of police worked closely with Bellshaw for a few months he developed concerns about Bellshaw’s integrity and decision making, identifying multiple instances where Bellshaw had been asked questions and gave contradictory information in different settings.”

Salem officials have refused to disclose the memo, citing restrictions under the Oregon Public Records Law. The state agency wouldn’t release the document either, saying it was bound to keep the record confidential under state law.

But the report noted that Bellshaw was told that an outside investigator would investigate the allegations while he remained on paid leave.

“A settlement agreement between Bellshaw and the SPD was reached prior to any outside investigation commencing,” the report said. “No further investigation was conducted to determine if the allegations were sustained and Bellshaw retired as a part of the settlement agreement with the SPD.”

Bellshaw’s attorney, Dan Thenell, would later tell Salem Reporter in November 2022 that Bellshaw was never told there would be an investigation. Thenell said talks to reach a settlement started with the city at the time Bellshaw was placed on administrative leave. He did not immediately respond on Friday to a written request for clarification.

The state certifying agency reviewed information provided by Salem police to determine if Bellshaw violated state administrative rules. The agency considered Salem police’s personnel action form, the city’s separation agreement with Bellshaw, the chief’s memo and “administrative leave documentation,” according to the report.

“The information provided related to his separation was preliminary,” the report said. “Based on the preliminary nature of the allegations, there is insufficient evidence to find that Bellshaw was intentionally untruthful. Bellshaw was not interviewed as a part of the investigation, and without additional context from Bellshaw into his alleged statements, the department is unable to find sufficient evidence to support a violation of the board’s moral fitness standards.”

The Police Policy Committee closed the Bellshaw matter at a meeting on Thursday as part of a sweeping vote that included closing several other cases. It acted without comment on Bellshaw’s case.

Bellshaw joined Salem police in 1989. He was promoted to sergeant in 1998, lieutenant in 2004 and deputy chief in 2007, according to records of the state certifying agency.

He managed the department’s support division. He also served as an instructor on the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force.

Bellshaw was paid about $160,000 annually. 

Bellshaw’s quiet retirement was unusual for a senior Salem police executive. 

Salem officials issued a statement in October 2022 asserting that city officials tried and failed to hire a qualified third-party investigator. When Salem Reporter asked for records demonstrating the truth of the statement, the city responded that its burden to gather them outweighed the public interest in the documents. The city required $4,200 to search city files for such records, making no assurance that records it found would be released.

Salem Reporter sought donations from readers to cover the fee through its Disclosure Fund, raising over $5,000 within three days. The news organization paid the fee but contested it in a petition to Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson’s office, asking her to order the fees be waived.

After Salem Reporter narrowed the scope of its request, the city revised its fee estimate to $1,100 and waived all fees – refunding the full $4,200.

The only records the city released in response to the request which it hadn’t previously disclosed were emails with two reporters with the Statesman Journal The city asserted that all other relevant records were confidential under state law.


Citizens get no city response to concerns about secrecy of police official’s departure

City charges thousands for records proving public statement about investigating police official

DA orders city to release records that police official was put on paid leave

DA backs Salem’s effort to keep police misconduct files secret

Deputy police chief’s retirement remains a mystery as city withholds documents

A Salem deputy police chief quietly retired under an agreement. City leaders aren’t saying why

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

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

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.