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Gladstone police officer already entwined in murder investigation fired for further allegations

Sgt. Lynn Benton

Police officer Lynn Benton has some soap-worthy headlines attached to his name. The FTM Gladstone sergeant has been implicated in the 2011 murder of his wife Deborah Higbee-Benton, but these are not the allegations for which he was recently fired.

Benton was fired last December following a memorandum (PDF) issued by Gladstone police chief Jim Pryde. This memo has just surfaced, thanks to an appeal The Oregonian filed with the  Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office which ordered the release despite the city of Gladstone’s decision to withhold the document.

In it Pryde recommends termination based on the following accusations:

Allegation 1: Lynn Benton was involved in a fraudulent marriage in 1993 to a Brazilian man (Jose Zonis) so he could obtain citizenship in the United States: Sustained

Allegation 2: Lynn Benton possessed and viewed pornographic material on his assigned Gladstone Police Department laptop computer: Sustained

These reasons seem particularly bizarre in relation to the ongoing murder investigation. One is much less severe, the other from very long ago and therefore common knowledge. I can certainly see the reasons why Gladstone would want to oust Benton but it also seems all kinds of sticky.

Here’s some more background from The O:

Benton, then named Lynne Irene Benton, married Jose M. Zonis, a Brazilian immigrant, in 1993. They divorced in 1996, according to Clackamas County court records. Zonis, contacted in Minneapolis for a previous article, declined to answer any questions about their relationship.

Marrying solely to qualify for citizenship violates federal law. However, no charges have been filed against Benton or Zonis.

Benton was placed on paid administrative leave the day after his wife, Deborah Higbee Benton, 54, was found slain in May at her Gladstone beauty salon. Benton was paid $6,357 a month during the four-month investigation that resulted in his dismissal.

Benton, 49, was implicated as a co-conspirator in his wife’s death during a December bail hearing for murder defendant Susan Ellen Campbell. Clackamas County prosecutors said Benton, a 24-year police veteran, offered Campbell $2,000 to kill Higbee Benton.

However, Benton has not been charged. After the hearing, Gregory D. Horner, Clackamas County chief deputy district attorney, said, “the investigation is continuing. We’re not going to comment any further.”

Prosecutors allege Campbell made a call to Benton directly after the shooting of Higbee-Benton on May 28, 2011. The shot itself did not kill her although a subsequent brutal beating did. This included a dozen broken ribs, a lacerated liver and evidence of strangulation, including a fractured thorax. Investigators later found .25-caliber ammunition in Benton’s locker at police headquarters.

Prosecutors also claim that the Benton’s marriage was a tumultuous one, and that Higbee-Benton initially supported Benton’s gender reassignment but later opposed it, which was the basis for much of the marital tension.

So this odd collection of incidents and series of unfortunate events continues to unfold with connections here and there but with a big picture that’s incredibly difficult to see. As soon as there is any clarity, or even any more information I’ll post an update.

Below you can watch a KPTV video of the initial murder trial and accusations. It’s particularly interesting that the reporters make mention of court records calling Benton both he and she. Benton’s trans status likely has little to do with the murder or firing but, of course, it gets intertwined and adds a dimension of complication.

2 comments to Gladstone police officer already entwined in murder investigation fired for further allegations

  • sam

    an article i read a while ago in the oregonian said that while benton has transitioned to male, he was still purposely passing as female publicly/professionally. this may have something to do with the confused mixture of pronouns in stories about the case.