As the Washougal mayoral race heads to a primary election on Aug. 3, several community members have voiced concerns about past lawsuits involving one of the three candidates.
“I’m concerned that he’s not going to be out there protecting us,” Camas resident Ryan Hill recently told The Post-Record. “I work (in Washougal), and I have for a long time. I don’t want someone with that track record in that position of power.”
Hill was referring to Derik Ford, the co-owner of 2 Rivers Bar and Grill in Washougal, who is running against longtime Washougal City Council member Paul Greenlee and the founder of Washougal’s Lunchmoney Skatepark, Rochelle Ramos, to be Washougal’s next mayor.
Ford lists his experience as a franchisee with Massage Envy for 14 years and as a former law enforcement officer in his candidate statement.
Both of these professional experiences, however, seem fraught with controversy.
According to news articles published by Oregon newspapers and television stations between 2014 and 2019, Ford, as the owner of several Massage Envy franchises in Oregon, was connected to a sexual abuse scandal involving therapists he employed and charged with shutting down a Medford massage clinic without giving advance notice to his employees or clients — some who claimed they were still paying monthly fees for their Massage Envy memberships.
In 2019, Ford closed his Medford, Oregon, Massage Envy location without notifying employees — and while still collecting fees from clients — according to a March 5, 2019 news report by KTVL that noted the Medford Massage Envy was registered to Derik Ford of Washougal, and that the Massage Envy Franchising company said they also had not been notified in advance of the sudden closure.
According to Nov. 27, 2017, KGW report, the Oregon Board of Massage Therapists revoked the licenses of Massage Envy therapists at Massage Envy franchises in Bend, Springfield and Portland from 2012 to 2017 after clients accused them of sexual abuse. The Better Business Bureau lists Ford as the owner of the Bend and Springfield Massage Envy franchise locations during that time period when the alleged sexual abuse occurred.
The KGW report states that civil lawsuits claimed the Bend Massage Envy location allowed one accused therapist “to continue working at the spa and assault more women. That massage therapist was later charged with criminal counts of sex abuse, unlawful sexual penetration and sodomy related to the assaults at Massage Envy.
A May 29, 2014 article published in the Register Guard newspaper out of Springfield, Oregon, also notes two women who said they were “sexually groped by a local massage therapist” and had “provided credible information as part of an investigation” by the Oregon Board of Massage Therapists, sued Ford, the owner of the Massage Envy franchise that employed the therapist, and sought nearly $100,000 in damages.
The KGW article says the Springfield Massage Envy therapist was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the massage clinic in 2012, arrested on sex abuse charges and then allowed to return to work at the Massage Envy location, where he was accused of groping another woman the following year.
Hill said the allegations against Ford’s massage businesses are alarming.
“He didn’t have any sort of substantive protection for clients at businesses he owned, and that concerns me about someone who wants to run a small city and be involved in our small business culture here,” Hill said.
Several Washougal residents also have questioned Ford’s time as a law enforcement officer.
Ford lists law enforcement background in his candidate statement and recently told the Camas-based Lacamas Magazine that “as a former law enforcement officer,” he would “ensure the Washougal Police Department is fully funded and has the resources it needs to properly train staff.”
But according to a January 2005 article published in the Sweet Home News newspaper, Ford, who had been fired from his role as an officer, filed a lawsuit against Sweet Home Police Chief Bob Buford and the city of Sweet Home for defamation, accusing the city of publishing “reports to prospective employers that he had been terminated for making false statements, for cheating, stealing and lying, all of which were false, malicious and defamatory, (attributing) to Ford want of skill and integrity, lack of business judgment, dishonesty and collusion.”
Ford’s lawsuit was later dismissed for lack of evidence.
“It’s weird that he’s campaigning as a former police officer as part of his platform,” Hill said of Ford’s mayoral campaign. “It’s pretty easy to see that his track record there has also been (tarnished).”
Ford responds to residents’ concerns
Ford responded on Tuesday, June 29, to The Post-Record’s requests for comment regarding the Massage Envy franchises and his experience as a Sweet Home, Oregon, police officer.
“It was a toxic environment, a toxic department, and I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me within literally weeks of being there,” Ford said of the Sweet Home police job. “I was a probationary employee, didn’t fit it, and they terminated me off probation because I was a non-union-represented employee. I filed a lawsuit because I heard some things that were being said that I wanted to make sure (people) knew weren’t true, because obviously they weren’t giving me any information, and I wanted to get a little bit more. They refused, and obviously the city has deeper pockets than me to continue.”
Regarding the Massage Envy franchises connected to the sexual abuse allegations, Ford said: “I had a couple of allegations at a couple of my locations. As a franchise, or franchisee, anytime there’s an allegation we immediately suspend the employees. It’s a common practice for me. I’ve always contacted the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and the local police department, depending on what the allegation was, to let them handle an investigation and see what needed to be done.”
He added: “We’re independently owned and operated, but I do have a policy for franchisees that we must follow. So anytime there is an incident, we do write up an incident report, gather up as much information as we can and let the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy know about it, because they have investigators that do take care of these things, and depending on (the nature of the incident), we contact the local police officers. Obviously, we’re not trying to tell people to do anything that they’re not trained to do. We do conduct very extensive background checks.”
Of the sudden closure of the Medford Massage Envy location, Ford said: “The Medford location was a very difficult location. The Massage Envy corporate dictates pricing, and the pricing model that was in effect for Oregon was not very effective for Medford due to the demographics and employment situation.”
“I was working with Massage Envy corporate for about a year, trying to get prices raised so I could attract more employees, but Massage Envy corporate wouldn’t allow this to be done,” Ford said. “Without this, I was losing substantial amounts of money and it was affecting my other businesses as well. Without a price increase, it was an absolute business decision.
Ford said he did tell some of his Medford employees the business was closing and disputes news reports that clients were still being billed for their monthly memberships.
“Some employees were made aware. Others had the day off or were on vacation,” Ford said. “The ones (who said they were not aware of the closure) were trying to promote their own businesses. And no, there were no people still being billed. Massage Envy corporate runs the billing system, and I’m sure they would’ve been talked to legally (if that had been the case).”
The KTVL report painted a different story, with employees saying they had received a text the night before the location’s closure informing them they should not show up to work the next day and one client saying they had received confirmation of a massage scheduled for the same week the site closed and were still being billed for their $60 monthly Massage Envy membership after the site’s closure.