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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rob Bearden Hired This Man


Hey, this is interesting: a guy who used to be my boss is on his way to jail. Wouldn't have happened, as I often say, to a nicer guy.

That's him over there. You can't see it represented here, but on the news tonight I could see his smug, sadistic smile, and knew immediately that it was him.

He was, briefly, the Assistant Chief of Security for the Portland Art Museum. I met him during this time, some ten years ago.
And I ain't one bit surprised that this is where we meet again.

So what happened? Well,

"Authorities arrested two people believed to have impersonated police when they broke into a man's apartment, robbed and assaulted him...While there, they allegedly took a cell phone and perhaps drugs, police said earlier."

Uh huh. Why?

"trying to get revenge for a dispute (the victim) had with a his former roommate..."

Sounds like cranked-out kinda activity. However, 'impersonating a police officer' is classic Mike Sumpter. I mean, he'd always claimed he'd been one, but who knows? He alternately claimed that he was fired for growing pot, or that he'd 'been shot too many times'. He was also fond of the story of where he beat the shit out of a man in front of his child, over a parking dispute.
He told me that he 'got tired of sending kids to prison for having a little pot.' It's clear that he shaped his story to fit the perceived predjudices of the listener. I wonder if he was ever actually a cop.

I have a letter here that I wrote to the board of directors of the museum. It was never sent, and it's probably for the best; it's not the best-written thing I've ever done. Besides, a week or so after I wrote it, he was out of his job anyway, having been accused of sexual harrassment several times in the same week, by the same guard.
At which point I called up his voice mail and shrilled, "Tripped over your dick, didn't ya', little man? BWAHH HAHH HAHH HAHH!!!" I could do that, as I was no longer employed there either.

His hiring was directly related to a turf war that had been brewing between Curatorial and Operations, which is to say the Art end of the business versus the Business end of the business. Business always wins in cases like this, but you're locked into it regardless and play out your role, no matter how stupid. Thing was, it didn't have to get as bad as it did.


Rob Bearden (on the left) was head of operations. Always kind of a shadowy figure, he seems to have been part of that weird gang of inept criminals who did all the booking at local rock clubs in the Seventies and Eighties. Exactly how he came to hold his current position is a mystery.
He really hated me, too. I'm not certain why this was. I applied for a position as his receptionist, back when I had no idea who he was, and was more or less told that I lacked the proper "game face". I think that the large cadre of frustrated artists who tend to comprise the staff of any museum bothered the shit out of him, and he determined to fire them all.

Rob had also promised us (the guards) that we would receive a raise and benefits, if we only met such-and-such conditions. The conditions were met, and two years later, we still hadn't recieved what we'd been promised. Also, more and more paid positions were being replaced by volunteers.
Museums are a fantastic example of how one can get rich running a non-profit. You spread the money around to all your other crooked friends in this crooked-est of businesses, while putting a minimal amount back into the museum and the community it serves.

So the guards, who as usual were misfit art people who just needed jobs, were being replaced by ex-military/law-enforcement personalities. This was not a job where violent conflict was much of a possibility; more of a public-relations, please-don't-touch-that, the-bathroom's-over-there type gig.
However, Rob Bearden was always hinting darkly at how the guard staff really needed some hard cases in charge, seeing how...Well, from the letter:

When Mike Sumpter was first hired, he quickly began speaking disparagingly of Denise Marsden, his predecessor. This struck many of us as an early bad sign, but Ms. Marsden's departure was still pleasing to many of us, as she had generally let her personal vendetta against the homeless and family issues with "people like" many of the guards get in the way of actually doing the job. This, Mr. Bearden has characterized as "being too good at her job".

'Being too good at her job' included at least once when she left a busy, packed museum on a Sunday -when only she and I were there- to go harrass a homeless man across the street, in the park. She would also cheerfully ask things like -while watching an elderly man slowly making his way up the stairs- "Don't you just wanna kill 'em?"
No, no I didn't, I said, and suggested that maybe she needed a different job. Back to the letter:

Soon, complaints arose against Mike from some of the female guards. They felt that they were being approached by him in an unprofessional manner, and he was all too open about muttering darkly to the rest off us that anyone who had a complaint, no matter how valid, was a "whiner" and didn't have "any business being a security guard".

Before long, the complaints were being logged, both on paper and otherwise, not only from guards but from women in several departments. Some of these are on file with Rob Bearden. Nothing seems to have been done about any of them.

Then, six guards all quit in one week. In two years of being a guard, despite the low pay and generally demeaning treatment of others
(sic), I have never seen that many guards quit at once, especially since several of them had not passed their probationary period, and would have had to pay back their $200.00 certification fee.
(I had forgotten that nasty little detail.)

The museum was now faced with not nearly enough guards to adequately cover the needs of a large scale exhibition like 'Egypt'. As the exhibit progressed, the understaffed guard force was in an understandably dark mood. Massive overbookings of poorly chaperoned school children made their jobs tenfold more difficult, and the official line was "we like the numbers".
(This was a direct quote from Rob Bearden.)

This struck many of us as dangerous thinking. "The numbers" drove up the incidence of injuries, almost certainly packed the museum with crowds exceeding the fire capacity, and the damage to the permanent collection continued apace.
(Layin' it on kinda thick there, but it was true.)

Amidst all this, we noted that our Assistant Chief had been hired merely to spy on us, generating a decidedly adversarial relationship with him, and the rest of his time was spent smoking cigarettes and talking on the phone. The level of complaint rose sharply. One of Mike's hires, a would-be police officer, had a bad habit of both arguing with visitors and making sexually inappropriate comments to female staff. When said staff members asked security personnel about who to complain to, they uniformly were told that Mr. Sumpter certainly wasn't. In the end, that particular guard left us.

So, as a guard with some experience at the museum, a number of people approached me with complaints about Mike Sumpter. Generally speaking, they were from women feeling sexually predated upon by him. But a few of them were about seeming entrapment ploys by Mike. One guard being offered drugs, another asked to buy drugs for Mike,

(And those highly varied stories I mentioned earlier about why he was no longer in law enforcement.)

This put me in an awkward position to say the least. I had listened to so many complaints at this point, and knew from experience that (Chief of Security) Nolan Hibbard wouldn't act on them, that I had to do something, but had no idea what.

(Oh, indeed. I'm gonna come back to this.)

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2 Comments:

Blogger leggio said...

i also knew Michael Sumpter,it would be interesting to hear more from you,ha and i wasnt shocked when i saw his face in the paper either

11:21 PM  
Blogger scott davidson said...

I could choose to fit the canvas print that I was ordering from wahooart.com to the pattern and color of the wallpaper in my living room. I could search for artwork by subject matter and even predominant colors. Then I customized the frame online because the site allowed me to match the frame style with different wallpapers, one of which looked like ours.
So now have this canvas print by Pierre Bonnard, http://en.wahooart.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT4PD

5:11 AM  

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