'Where is Sergeant Lee?'

(See correction below)

ROGUE RIVER — Large signs begging the question, "Where is Sergeant Lee?" have appeared around town almost as fast as city officials have taken them down on private lawns, at Ray's Food Place and on telephone poles near City Hall.

The subject of the poster campaign, Rogue River police officer Butch Lee, has been placed on administrative leave, reducing the number of officers available for patrol to four.

This week, a handful of citizens voiced concerns over the possible loss of a well-liked local cop and for what some say are unpopular decisions made by Police Chief Ken Lewis.

Longtime resident Richard Reed voiced frustrations with city officials' removal of the signs regarding Lee and with the sudden decision to take Lee off patrol. Lee is the third police officer to be placed on administrative leave since 2004; former officer Carl Lehman was placed on administrative leave in March 2005 and resigned a month later.

Officer Roger Bigham was fired in November 2004 after eight months' administrative leave for allegations of misconduct. He countered with a civil suit against the city.

"There are a lot of things that have happened in our city, with our police force, that need to be looked at," Reed said. "There are a lot of concerned citizens who especially want to bring up the Sergeant Lee issue. We want some answers."

City Administrator Mark Reagles confirmed Lee had recently been put on administrative leave, and that an investigation was taking place, but said city policy prohibits him from discussing personnel matters.

Lewis was unavailable for comment as both Reagles and Lewis were in court in Medford for Rogue River resident David Nash's suit against the city of Rogue River, Rogue Valley Medical Center's psychiatric department and Chief Lewis for an incident that occurred in 2003.

Nash claims he was held at RVMC on a mental health protective order instigated by Lewis, who deemed Nash unable to fend for himself. Nash claims the incident resulted after several incidents in which Nash attempted to bring about awareness of security issues with the city and Rogue River schools.

Soup Station owner Terry Fimbres (see correction below) said a number of residents felt Lee had been targeted for questioning Lewis' management style.

From her own experience, Fimbres said her complaints in recent years about the city's police force have been met with being singled out and pulled over repeatedly by officers.

"And I had a message left on my machine talking about what a nice business I have and how I'm going to lose it if I keep supporting the people I support," Fimbres said, adding that some residents thought Lee lost his job because he was identified as a possible damaging witness in the Nash trial.

"For all we know it's because of that, but they've been trying to get rid of him for years," she said. "Something's not right in this city but no one will speak out because they're afraid of retribution."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

Corrections: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to Butch Lee as a police sergeant; he no longer holds that rank. Also, it misspelled the name of Terry Fimbres. This version has been corrected.

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