A Salem cemetery gatekeeper Wednesday disputed key events described in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought against the state by a fired Oregon State Hospital security employee.
Joe Salazar Jr., the gatekeeper at the Lee Mission Cemetery, challenged claims made in a $2.4 million lawsuit filed by ex-hospital worker William Coleman.
He disputed, in part, the lawsuit’s assertion that Coleman and a hospital security coworker, Gregory Charles, visited the cemetery Nov. 24 to patrol the area.
“Those guys never went in there to patrol that cemetery,” Salazar said. “They had no authority to do that. It’s a private cemetery.”
Salazar said he observed the men having oral sex in a state vehicle parked in a secluded back corner of the cemetery, west of the hospital campus along D Street NE.
In legal papers, Coleman and Charles have characterized the sex allegation as bogus. They claim hospital officials took steps to end their employment without specifying reasons. Both are pursuing legal action against the state, claiming they were fired because they are black. Coleman has filed a civil suit, accusing hospital officials of discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination. Charles has filed a tort claim notice with the state, signaling his intent to sue.
A Statesman Journal story published on Wednesday outlined Coleman’s lawsuit. It also reported that Coleman faces criminal charges that he sold tobacco and creatine, a muscle-building supplement, to prison inmates.
The Marion County criminal charges against Coleman allege that he sold smuggled contraband to inmates in exchange for cash.
Coleman worked as a corrections officer at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem from Jan. 18, 2005, until he resigned Sept. 18, 2007, according to state records.
The alleged contraband dealing occurred from October 2006 to May 2007.
Coleman began working at the state hospital in October.
In a Wednesday interview, Salazar scoffed at the notion of hospital employees patrolling the private cemetery.
“Never,” he said, adding that hospital employees occasionally drop by the cemetery.
Salazar said he has served as the volunteer gatekeeper at the cemetery for four or five years. He lives in a house facing the cemetery.
“I see every car drive in and out,” he said.
On Nov. 24, Salazar said he became suspicious when he saw a vehicle pull into the cemetery and stop in a back corner of the graveyard.
He said he rode his bicycle close to the parked vehicle, which had state license plates. He said he witnessed two men having oral sex.
Salazar said he decided to circle the graveyard on his bike, hoping that the men would finish and leave.
After 10 or 15 minutes, Salazar said he returned to the vehicle and tapped on a window. A man sitting in the driver’s seat jumped out, he said.
Salazar said the man zipped up his pants and ordered him to leave.
“He said, ‘I’m a police officer, and we’re in the middle of an investigation, and if you don’t get the (expletive deleted) out of here you’re going to be part of it.'”
After a confrontation, Salazar said he returned home and padlocked the cemetery gate to prevent the vehicle from leaving.
He said he reported the incident to the chairman of the cemetery board and to Salem police. A short time later, police arrived and questioned Coleman and Charles. Police contacted hospital security leaders, who came to the cemetery.
Hospital officials took immediate action to end Coleman’s trial service employment. Charles was placed on leave and “duty stationed” at home until he was fired in March.