Salem, Ore. – Following widespread claims of fraud and unfair trade practice allegations by a now-defunct horse auction company across social media, along with an investigation by Equestrian Media Group, the director (CEO) of the Oregon State Fair & Expo Center (OSFEC) seemingly retaliated against this publication.
Numerous shocking statements were made on Sept. 23rd by the head of OSFEC, Kim Grewe-Powell, during an impromptu interview at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. At one point in the conversation, Grewe-Powell stated she was going to ‘have a conversation with the governor’ about Equestrian Media Group, seemingly in retaliation for both audio and video recording of her in public without her consent during firm but polite questioning.
Among the statements was also a claim that the governor-appointed council overseeing the OSFEC had “decided” that the body was not interested in dialog with Equestrian Media Group about a Sep 9th incident where this reporter was accosted by staff with PNW Horse Sales.
Oregon State Fair Council members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, many of whom are current and former state legislatures and public officials with other government bodies.
Suspected retaliation after press passes “revoked” at rodeo
The conversation with Grewe-Powell took place after this reporter and our cameraman eventually purchased tickets to the Northwest Pro Rodeo Association Finals event and entered the Pavilion at the fairgrounds– prompting Grewe-Powell to approach us for a conversation.
Prior to the event, John Jardine with Plus1 Productions, the production company behind the event, was contacted by Equestrian Media Group with a press access request to cover the NPRA Finals event. Jardine expressed his delight in inviting this publication to cover the event and highlight the hard work of the cowboys and cowgirls. Jardine obtained additional information, including names of our staff expected to cover the event, and instructed us to obtain their “press passes” which would be available for us upon arrival.
The step was standard practice when covering such events, and unique passes provided by event organizers typically help their staff facilitate access, including to the rodeo athletes for interviews.
Upon our arrival on the evening of Sept 23rd, officials with Plus1 Productions and the NPRA shockingly claimed that there were no such passes available and that we were “not on the list”. Initially believing it was a mistake we attempted to contact Mr. Jardine through calls and text messages but were suddenly not able to reach him.
Several officials made contact and then claimed no such arrangements were made by Equestrian Media Group with NPRA. That included one official who disingenuously implied our publication was lying about our arrangements with Jardine in order to gain “free access” to the event– saying he was part of “production meetings” with Mr. Jardine and had checked with him.
When asked if someone could get Mr. Jardine to come speak with us, officials repeatedly declined. Officials did however say we were welcome to enter if we purchased tickets, but would have the same access as every other attendee.
While standing outside the Pavilion trying to make sense of the situation, with our crew having countless hours of combined commuting to cover the event, our cameraman spotted a woman just inside speaking with several of the officials who continually looked back at us through the front glass doors in the middle of the huddled conversation.
That individual was later identified and confirmed as none other than Grewe-Powell herself.
Equestrian Media Group then suspected that the OSFEC and Grewe-Powell may have played a role in blocking our access in an effort to retaliate against this publication following our pushback related to public records concerning PNW Horse Sales, and the Sept 9th altercation resulting in what this publication believes was a retaliatory trespass by OSFEC while engaging in a constitutionally protected activity in only the publically accessible areas open to the public.
Threat of arrest for “trespass” at Oregon State Fair during investigation into PNW Horse Sales
A recently obtained recording from the dispatch call center of the Oregon State Police (OSP) also included a claim during the Sept 9th call by OSFEC Operations Supervisor Michael Legorreta that Equestrian Media Group’s managing editor was an “animal rights activist” and was causing a disruption.
Despite the claim –that only seemed to serve as being inflammatory– prompted the response from State Police, Legorreta was not believed to have even been present.
Following the Sept 9th incident, Kristina Jones, an auction clerk with PNW Horse Sales, also made false and inflammatory statements in since-deleted social media posts that this reporter was a “pedophile” by falsely implying our photographs were focused on her children.
Only a dozen of the photographs taken during the incident included children, albeit incidentally. The majority of photographs taken were after the altercation began and were actually of Donald Nowlin.
Unlike a private corporation or private property owner, a public corporation like OSFEC is simply permitted operational flexibility similar to a private corporation, but must still respect clearly defined constitutional requirements and rules of government accountability.
“A public corporation is granted increased operating flexibility in order to best ensure its success, while retaining principles of public accountability and fundamental public policy,” according to Oregon Law and statements made by the Oregon State Fair Council.
Days prior to our attempted coverage of the NPRA Finals on Sept 23rd, Equestrian Media Group followed up by email on an earlier letter sent to the OSFEC and its council concerning the Sept 9th threat of arrest for trespass from a public area. While we had been invited to the event by organizers for the Sept 23rd rodeo, the prohibition would remain in place until we were told otherwise.
“Please be advised that the current prohibition is preventing us from covering other key news within the equestrian industry, specifically, event coverage of the Northwest Pro Rodeo Finals being held on the 22nd and 23rd of September at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. NPRA and Plus 1 Productions welcomed our coverage and attendance,” wrote Equestrian Media Group.
“We respectfully request an immediate response, even in part related to the existing access prohibition. The continued prohibition continues to create further violations [of] the constitutional rights of free press rights under the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as Article 1, Section 8, of the Oregon Consitution.”
A day later, Grewe-Powell responded by saying in part, “OSFEC is not imposing any ‘prohibition’ against you attending the event at the Fairgrounds that you describe below.”
Grewe-Powell later claimed in our impromptu interview that a trespass and threat of arrest never occurred and we were only politely asked to leave by a trooper. She also claimed to have spoken with OSP after the incident, although a subsequent records request with OSP claimed no such communications, again raising more questions about a suspected coverup of OSFEC’s and Grewe-Powell’s response to the incident.
On Sept 9th, two weeks prior to the Sept 23rd rodeo event and conversation with Grewe-Powell, this reporter was accosted by officials with PNW Horse Sales, having gone to the Oregon State Fairgrounds and walking in publically accessible areas outside of leased buildings as part of our investigative reporting of the embattled company.
During the altercation, Nowlin and the company’s clerk, Kristina Jones, made physical advances and repeatedly got in the face of this reporter, eventually leading to Jones also physically attempting to grab a camera and then demanding the camera’s SD card. In multiple cases, they promptly ceased the more aggressive conduct upon switching to video recording.
Jones was one of the primary sellers at the auction. That discovery also started to paint a picture that the majority of staff behind the auction company were also well-established horse traders who do business across Oregon and Washington.
The discovery continued to raise further questions regarding the company’s transparency and the growing allegations by former buyers of unfair trade and illegal auction practices.
The altercation between PNW Horse Sales and Equestrian Media Group at the fairgrounds started with Nowlin on a recording clearly claiming he was “in charge” of the operation, although he would not admit he was actually part of PNW Horse Sales.
Growing issues for PNW Horse Sales after increasing public scrutiny and allegations
Days prior to the auction, Geneva Boston was arrested on a charge of felony aggravated animal abuse by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office after a now-viral and self-recorded video was leaked online showing her repeatedly whipping a horse in the face and across its back.
The charges were later dropped by the Marion County District Attorney’s Office after a witness, later identified as Nowlin, failed to cooperate with the investigation.
PNW Horse Sales and its officials and sellers had also begun scrubbing countless online horse sale ads across social media, as well as past auction history from auction site HiBid.
The company had had also attempted to further distance itself from Boston just days prior to what became its final auction. The company announced its closure after learning that Equestrian Media Group uncovered that the company’s auctioneer had a previous criminal history of stealing horses in Louisiana, a case that received some widespread media attention.
The auctioneer, Jonramon Hatfield Vaughns (aka John Henry), is also alleged by victims in Washington State of the same scheme as recently as late 2022. Officials with the Louisiana Department of Livestock & Foresty are currently working to obtain further information in response to public records requests. On Tuesday an investigator with the LDAF told Equestrian Media Group that they were in the process of speaking with prosecutors in two parishes.
An investigation with LDAF followed up following initial publication and confirmed that after being arrested in relation to a probation violation on an unrelated matter, as well as for the charges of horse theft in two parishes, Vaughns reportedly fled and is still a wanted fugitive in Louisiana.
Vaugns previously claimed his cases were completely resolved through “civil settlement”, but Equestrian Media Group. The investigator, who was also involved in the 2018 case involving Vaughns, seemed very surprised that he was working as a livestock auctioneer.
Vaughns (Henry) claimed in a phone conversation with Equestrian Media Group that he was previously in a relationship with Jones, but was instead engaged to another woman. Despite the claim, postings by Jones on social media appeared to make clear she was still in a relationship with Vaughns.
Nowlin and Boston had been the subject of public scrutiny in late 2021, prompted an investigation by this publication after Brian & Carrie Carlson of Yamhill County, OR, contacted the Marion County Sheriff’s Office as well Equestrian Media Group regarding his family’s plight for the return of his niece’s horse. Their niece, Jessica Carter, had gone away for undergraduate studies on the East Coast.
Boston had falsely told police had died— all while actually shipping the horse with Nowlin for sale at an auction yard in Billings, Montana. Nowlin’s history of aggressive, inflammatory, and threatening behavior eventually expanded to target this publication and this reporter following the publication of that story.
Nowlin also aggressively attacked Harmony New Beginnings Animal Rescue and its founder Joy Laudahl on social media. The group is 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue that provided temporary quarantine for Carter’s horse after its return following a “ransom” that included a civil settlement.
Public records issues and evidence of concealment by PNW Horse Sales
PNW Horse Sales’ through its listed owner, Tommie Reeves, had repeatedly claimed publically and to prospect customers that notorious horse trader and self-described “kill buyer” Donald Nowlin, as well as his past-alleged girlfriend and business partner Geneva Boston, were not involved at all in the company’s operations.
Equestrian Media Group found evidence through a USDA Surety Bond for PNW Horse Sales that clearly corroborated the claims that Nowlin was well involved in the operations of PNW Horse Sales. The document was provided in a records request with the OSFEC, and also the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), showing an address for a property in Selah, WA, owned by Nowlin.
However, the same document also obtained from the OSFEC was obscured enough to not show the address information for the company. This raised further questions and led to a subsequent records request with the OSFEC.
That follow-up request resulted in an exorbitant and arbitrary $600 fee estimate, despite it being a very narrow request for a single hour of call logs from the OSFEC’s business phone system, which should have taken minutes to compile.
Equestrian Media Group successfully challenged OSFEC’s demand after repeated pushback with Grewe-Powell who initially handled the request. Eventually, OSFEC retained the services of a Salem-based law firm and had an attorney respond to the ongoing request- an attorney retained after OSFEC failed to provide a copy of their public records policy which was required per Oregon Public Records Law under ORS 192.324(7).
The attorney for OSFEC promptly indicated the fees would be waived. OSFEC later acknowledged it was working to remedy its ongoing violation of Oregon Public Records Law, but still took several weeks to provide records that should have taken minutes to export from their phone system. As of the publication of this story the OSFEC has yet to comply with the law.
When asked if the State Fair or its council would be interested in a sitdown to review audio and video from the September 9th incident, Grewe-Powell responded saying, “I’m not interested, the council is not interested.”
“The council is interested in you talking via our lawyer,” said Grewe-Powell.
The statement raised new questions concerning the body’s council, which oversees OSFEC and Grewe-Powell, as it is subject to Oregon Public Meetings Law which would require decisions to be made in public meetings. While deliberations could also be made in executive sessions, public notices even for executive sessions must generally be made.
State Fair director inaccurately claims recording is illegal without consent
Just under 2 minutes into the 11+ minute conversation, Grewe-Powell surprisingly asked if she was being recorded, despite us clearly holding a mobile device up like a microphone and clearly stating our questions were “for the record” at the start of our conversation.
Grewe-Powell’s question seeking to confirm the obvious recording came after she began to give conflicting answers and become defensive.
Well-established legal presence does not require any consent for recording people in public, especially when it involves conversations with public officials.
According to the Oregon law firm Powell Law PC, “Recording audio in public gatherings, events, or protests where individuals do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy is generally allowed.”
Surreptitious audio recordings in person had previously, with some exceptions under legal precedence, been illegal under Oregon law. However, that law was recently ruled unconstitutional and made void by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Existing legal precedents also existed in relation to recording public officials in some cases while they were clearly engaged in their official duties.
“Oregon law generally prohibits unannounced recordings of conversations, subject to several exceptions,” U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Segal Ikuta wrote in the majority opinion. “We conclude that Oregon’s law is a content-based restriction that violates the First Amendment right to free speech and is therefore invalid on its face.”
Regardless, the recent 9th Circuit ruling likely isn’t even applicable as this publication maintains that even the first minute or more of the conversation with Grewe-Powell was obviously being recorded, as the recording quality was the spoken conversation was fairly consistent throughout the entire conversation.
The majority of the conversation took place after we acknowledged the question about recording, which Grewe-Powell still repeatedly claimed– incorrectly– was illegal without consent.
Grewe-Powell also went on to claim she was not a “public official” despite being the head of one of the few Oregon’s public corporations.
Threats to ‘call the governor‘ and State Police over recording and questioning
Towards the very end of the conversation, Grewe-Powell appeared to become more defensive and agitated by our questioning, and again questioning the recording of the conversation because we didn’t have consent and because she asked not to be recorded.
She was also clearly upset when it was pointed out that she is considered a public official who is the director of a State public corporation in public, which we pointed out was a position that is appointed by the council.
“I’ll have a conversation with the governor about this then,” said Grewe-Powell in an apparent effort to try and intimidate and/or retaliate against this publication.
Grewe-Powell went on to state she was not going to talk with us if we were “not going to play fairly”.
“This is on my grounds… you did not get my permission, you’re in big trouble if you did that, so I hope you did not,” said Grewe-Powell, referring again to us having been recording the conversation.
The Oregon State Fair Council’s next public meeting, which will include a public comment period, is being held October 26th at 1:30pm in Cascade Hall at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. It is available for in-person attendance as well as remote attendance. For information about the meeting you can visit this link.
Unfortunately, the situation prevented Equestrian Media Group from providing sufficient coverage of the rodeo finals or having any access to rodeo competitors for interviews.
Note: This story was updated after publication to include new details that Vaughns (Henry) is currently a wanted fugitive in Louisiana according to brand enforcement officials.