Oregon’s public records laws and the federal equivalent exist to help ensure government transparency, without which it is almost impossible to properly evaluate how well a public agency is functioning. These laws are designed so that any citizen can review, with some exceptions which we will get to later, the inner workings of the very agencies our taxes fund to provide essential services. When a public agency, for example the Coos County Sheriffs Office fights tooth and nail against releasing information to a public record request it is hard not to speculate the sheriff may be deliberately hiding something.

It took four months of repeated attempts before Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni finally condescended to sit down with the Schaffer family in the spring of 2016. The topic of the conversation was the 2006 death of Loni and Rob Schaffer’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Shayleen. The family has always been suspicious of the “official” account of their daughter’s death as a traffic accident and in the ten years since have unearthed some glaring failures and omissions on the part of the investigating agencies. Based on witness testimony and combined with the opinions of hired experts the family are convinced foul play contributed to Shayleen’s demise.

The prime suspect in this potential murder mystery will soon become apparent but this story is about how a lackadaisical approach or a rush to judgment taken by the sheriff’s office and the medical examiner can deny justice to grieving families.

The Schaffers along with their daughter-in-law crammed themselves into the tiny office across from Zanni. On the desk in front of him lying face down was a stack of papers. Captain Dan Looney happened by the office door and Zanni called him in to join the meeting. There was so little space Looney sat on a chair halfway out the doorway. Zanni refused to allow the family to record the meeting.

At long last the family was able to begin to explain the concerns they had over the handling of their daughter’s death investigation, or rather the lack thereof. We’ll cover most of these concerns more deeply in subsequent stories and an upcoming podcast but one issue that stands out is the glaring lack of detail provided in Chief Deputy Medical Examiner, Kris Karcher’s report. Karcher, a forensic nurse examiner for Coos County obtained some fame from other cases she has been involved with including being a part of the search team that found the body of missing teen Leah Freeman in August of 2000.

Karcher’s report is almost empty, comprised of unchecked boxes and blank description fields as well as incorrect dates and times. She lists one injury, a “3 cm depressive fracture to the occipital lobe” however, crash scene photos obtained via a civil suit brought by the family show a large piece of brain matter at least 17 cm by 12 cm and at least 3 to 5 cm thick on the road next to her and a massive gaping hole in the back of her head. This is hardly the level of care one would expect with the death of a minor child.

Zanni listened for a few minutes before leaning back in his chair with an air of swagger and his thumbs resting on his gun belt and declared, “This is why I had to come out of retirement, to clean up stuff like this.”

Zanni was sworn into office in 2011, succeeding Sheriff Andy Jackson who had moved on to be a county commissioner. Anyone who knows Zanni will not be surprised that he would regard himself as some sort of lone messiah riding in on a white horse to rescue the department.

He punctuated his statement by flipping over the stack of papers on his desk revealing gruesome crash scene photos which caused Loni Schaffer to gasp audibly. Then he proceeded to explain why he wasn’t going to “clean up” the investigation into Shayleen’s death.

“We don’t have the expertise to do crash scene investigations. We don’t have the resources to do this type of investigation,” Zanni explained, “or the funding.”

As if on cue, Captain Looney weighed in standing up angrily almost knocking over his chair.

“What is your point?” demanded Looney before storming out of the room. “Just what are you trying to accomplish?”

The answer to Looney’s questions should be obvious. As for Zanni, he may just as well have told the Shaffer family their daughter isn’t important enough, but he did acknowledge, indirectly, Shayleen’s case hadn’t been handled properly. He also acknowledged inadvertently that despite his heroic sacrifice of coming out of retirement, nothing has improved during his tenure as sheriff.

Recently, Loni Schaffer requested all the crash scene photos via a public record request. Her request was denied under an exemption which shouldn’t apply to the family. In our next story we will delve deeply into how the Coos County Sheriff and the medical examiner failed the Schaffer family and who may be responsible for her untimely and violent death.



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