Ex-police officer pleads no contest to menacing

A former Medford police officer who threatened a runaway teenager with a Taser, then lied about it to investigators, pleaded no contest to a single charge of menacing in Jackson County Circuit Court Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Travis Henson, 36, agreed to voluntarily have his police certification with the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training revoked in exchange for the dismissal of a charge of official misconduct in a plea agreement before Circuit Judge Ray White.

Henson also was fined $500. He was not placed on probation, court records show.

"He is now guilty of the crime of menacing," said David Hopkins, the Douglas County deputy district attorney who handled the case at the request of the Jackson County District Attorney's Office. "His actions, and the falsities he told, were very troubling. And that's what led to this prosecution."

Henson can legally reapply for police certification in Oregon or another state, but he will carry the menacing conviction on his record, Hopkins said.

Hopkins said video and other evidence supported a 15-year-old boy's account that Henson threatened him, assaulted him and deployed a Taser just inches from his eyes in the back of a police cruiser last year. Henson had apprehended the boy twice in an hour after he'd run away from the Jackson County Juvenile Justice Center.

Henson had been facing misdemeanor charges of first-degree official misconduct and menacing, both of which carry a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and a $6,250 fine. Henson's plea agreement was entered by his attorney, Carl Caplan, and Hopkins just moments before the start of what was expected to be a two-day jury trial.

The former officer wept, but did not speak at Wednesday's sentencing. His no-contest plea, while not an admission of guilt, carries the same consequences in court as a guilty plea, Hopkins said.

On May 28, 2007, Henson picked up the runaway youth just three blocks from the 10th Street detention center. Instead of taking the boy directly back to the facility, Henson drove to a Chevron station on Stewart Avenue and parked out of video range behind the gas station. Getting into the back of the vehicle, Henson threatened to shoot the boy in the eyes with his Taser, Hopkins said. After removing the cartridge containing electrodes from his weapon, Henson fired the Taser, causing electrical arcs to occur only 4 inches from the boy's eyes, Hopkins said.

"He told the boy, 'I'm tried of this crap,' " Hopkins said.

Henson then received a call on his radio about a traffic crash and raced back to the detention center, calling for someone to "come take this kid," Hopkins said.

"The boy began screaming his head off. 'He's dirty! Get me out of here,' " Hopkins said.

Henson backed the car out of the secured area at the detention center, parked down the street and again entered the back seat of the vehicle. This time he put his hands around the boy's neck, punched him in the chest and threatened him to convince him to remain silent, Hopkins said.

Video cameras showed Henson arriving at the detention center, then leaving the secured area, then arriving again minutes later. Officials at the detention center said the boy exited the car crying, scared "and unlike they had ever seen him," Hopkins said.

Henson denied that he'd driven to the gas station with the boy and that he'd deployed his Taser. But videotape at the Chevron station and the detention center, combined with downloaded GPS information, allowed investigators to track Henson's movements and his speed. His Taser showed it had been deployed at 1:06 a.m., Hopkins said.

"Everything we were able to verify supports the victim's story," said Hopkins.

Henson was placed on administrative leave soon after the incident. Criminal charges were filed on Sept. 27. Henson resigned from the department in October, before the completion of an internal investigation and before the department informed him of any disciplinary measures he may have faced.

Police Chief Randy Schoen described the loss of Henson and the actions that led to his departure as "a tragic event." Henson was a good officer who had served the public well up to the point of the incident, Schoen said. But Henson's actions that night and during the investigation were not only a criminal violation of police policy, they also constituted a betrayal of the public's trust, Schoen said.

"People trust police to obey the laws they are sworn to uphold," said Schoen, adding he wished Henson well in endeavors outside of law enforcement.

Hopkins praised the Medford department for its professionalism during the investigation.

"Everyone at Medford P.D. has been tremendously professional. It's always hard to deal with a situation like this," Hopkins said.

Henson joined the Medford Police Department in July 2003, following a stint in the Oregon State Police after graduating from Eagle Point High School. Henson is a commissioned reserve officer with the U.S. Coast Guard. He worked on patrols off Cuba between May 2004 and January 2005.

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

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