Leadership and cowardice. Only one label is appropriate in Hagg Lake fiasco.

An open letter to Bob Davis and Pat Garrett.

Dear Mr. Davis and Sheriff Garrett,

I have been a vocal critic of Washington County’s role in the drownings of four people at Scoggins Valley Park. I can’t say that either of you have done anything wrong, however, because neither of you have done anything at all. At least not publicly. You’ve left public servants to take the brunt of taxpayers’ outrage while you have remained silent.

As public anger was directed (and sometimes misdirected) at hard-working, low-level deputies and PIOs, you two guys hid. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit, Mr. Davis, that I didn’t even know that you were the highly paid County Administrator for the nearly 530,000 of us who depend on your services. I was aware of your name, Sheriff Garrett, because I subscribe to your department’s emails, and your picture is always very prominently displayed. I also know you from your infrequent public statements, such as when you grabbed the limelight to announce that you would not enforce federal gun laws.

I do know almost everyone else involved in this fiasco. In my role as a volunteer NFPA-certified Public Information Officer and member of the Safe Kids Coalition, I spent countless hours in meetings with the county’s PIOs and representatives to Safe Kids. I went on numerous tragic calls with the two deputies who have taken the public’s heat in this matter. I think that every one of them is a kind, caring professional, trying to follow orders and do the right thing.

As this tragedy spun out of control, however, these public servants were powerless to properly respond to the issues being raised by the public. Each of you could have manned up and taken a leadership role, but neither of you did.

You are cowards.


Ken Bilderback
Washington County taxpayer

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett sent me this almost immediate response:

Hi Ken

Like all of us, I believe Mr. Medill cares deeply about the community and is greatly saddened by the tragedy.  It’s also clear to me emotions remain high over this tragedy and, as you point out, a lot of people are trying to do the right thing.  I’m optimistic that we got to the right outcome and, as you likely know, the County’s working on a wide range of water safety measures in the Park.  They were moving in right direction soon after the tragedy but I have to conclude Mr. Madill sped-up the process.  One outcome for me from this experience is the Sheriff’s Office will take a more active role in safety planning with the Parks Department.

We have a lot to be proud at the Sheriff’s Office Ken that’s been publically covered.  To name a few – our policing partnership with the City of Cornelius after year-long discussions and study, first jail in the country to update ICE detainer practice following a Federal Court decision on April 11th of this year (Portland), achieving gold standard with excellence rating during our recent law enforcement national accreditation, my open letter to the public following our recent jail criminal cases, and innovating how police respond to mentally ill in crisis by pairing master’s level clinicians with deputies in the field.  As you indicated, our staff works hard to keep this county the safest urban county in Oregon.  You no doubt know policing is continuously under a microscope – likely as it should be.  I was in close contact with our deputies involved in the Hagg Lake event and my decision to not be publically vocal was simply to prevent it from becoming more of a media circus.  Time will tell whether that was correct, and I respect your opinion that it was not.

By your statement that you subscribe to our emails that you receive our electronic Sheriff’s Office Newsletter where we get to showcase much of our deputies’ excellent work.  If not, we’re happy to subscribe you.  Let us know.

I do appreciate your letter Ken – good to know your thoughts.  I trust you’ll feature my response with your letter.  And thank you for your service with the Safe Kids Coalition and your support to the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office.


Sheriff Garrett