Under scrutiny Police seize former Gold Hill councilwoman’s computer

Christine Alford says it’s retaliation for complaints against the police department; chief says he’s investigating identity theft

GOLD HILL — The author of the “Gold Hill Entrails” Web site lampooning city officials was surprised Monday morning when nearly a dozen police officers searched her home and seized her computer, saying they were investigating claims of identity theft. Alford, a former city councilwoman who was recalled in 2004, was not charged with a crime Monday.

“We’ve had individuals claiming they are victims. We’ll take the evidence where it goes,” said Gold Hill Police Chief Dean Muchow, adding he could not provide more details because of the ongoing investigation.

Nine officers from five police agencies joined Muchow in the search, entering Alford’s residence in the 200 block of Second Avenue in Gold Hill just after 9 a.m. The officers seized her computer system, including discs, two towers and other related items.

“Our agency requested aid of other agencies for safety reasons,” said Muchow, adding Alford was “upset” at the search, but “did not hinder anybody in any way.”

Alford said Muchow is trying to silence her because she lodged complaints about the chief with city officials and state regulatory agencies and because she satirizes the chief, his department and other city officials and residents on her Web site.

“I believe in good law enforcement and I believe this city has hired another bad cop,” said Alford. “I am going to get my computer back and proceed with (complaints and requests for investigations) … and continue with my Web site.”

Muchow said his investigation of Alford’s actions is not retaliatory. He is simply doing his job, he said.

“It’s been a lengthy case,” said Muchow. “We’ll see if things develop or if things fall out.

Alford said Muchow “is absolutely incensed” about her Web site, which not only posts fictitious interviews, but also lists articles, commentary and legal documents that support her contention the police department is corrupt, she said.

“He threatened I wouldn’t be able to touch a computer for 10 years,” said Alford.

In June, Alford sent an e-mail to City Councilman Gus Wolf and City Recorder Mary Goddard under the guise of former mayor Sherry Young. Alford’s e-mail was intended to mock Young — a staunch Muchow supporter — and the authors of another Web site that was soliciting $12,000 for Muchow’s legal defense, she said.

“Some people here might want to read this article and consider making a large donation to this fund,” Alford’s e-mail read. “Maybe they can think of it as a going away present, maybe they can consider it as insurance against being named in Dean’s lawsuit.”

“The people who read it knew it was a joke because I called and told them it was a joke,” said Alford.

Steven Green, a law professor at Willamette University, reviewed Alford’s Web site and discussed the ramifications of sending the fictitious e-mail. Alford’s Web site is “clearly parody” and therefore protected under the First Amendment, Green said.

“Without a doubt that is protected,” he said.

The e-mail may cause problems for Alford because it may fall under identity theft laws, Green said. But the lack of financial benefit to Alford or anyone connected to her would make the matter difficult to prosecute, he said.

“Normally, there would be some type of intent to procure a benefit from someone that you’re not entitled to,” said Green.

Wolf said the chief is using Alford’s e-mail, which he called a “practical joke,” to silence a political enemy.

“I see this as retaliatory and vindictive for making accusations or complaints against the police department,” said Wolf. “This is scary. It’s like a police state. How would you like to have 10 cops tramping through your house?”

Wolf filed complaints against Muchow with the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training earlier this year.

“I believe there are financial and policy inconsistencies that warrant further investigation,” said Wolf.

In August, Muchow appeared before the seven-member Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission after Alford filed complaints alleging Muchow used his position for personal benefit, receiving free meals from local restaurants and accruing large cell phone bills by making personal calls. Muchow has denied the allegations.

According to commission Interim Director Don Crabtree, Muchow’s charges died a “statutory death” after a 3-3 vote because they failed to get the mandatory four affirmative votes.

Muchow insists he is merely following up on citizen complaints and he is not upset about being personally lampooned because he has never read Alford’s Web site.

“And I never will,” Muchow said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2006/1017/local/stories/gh-alford.htm

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