Ore. investigates complaints vs. sheriff who met occupiers
The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training received more than a half-dozen complaints about the sheriff
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon agency that licenses police officers has asked the state attorney general's office to investigate complaints about a local sheriff who met with some of the armed occupiers who seized a national wildlife preserve.
The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training received more than a half-dozen complaints about Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, who was elected to the politically conservative county neighboring Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Most filed complaints on the condition that their identities not be revealed.
One whose name is public accused Palmer of supporting the occupiers and said law enforcement viewed him as a security leak during the nearly six-week-long standoff over federal land policy that ended Feb. 11.
Valerie Luttrell, manager of emergency communications for the city of John Day, said that concern became apparent when federal and state authorities kept local officials out of the loop during a Jan. 26 traffic stop that led to the arrests of the standoff's leaders and the shooting death of Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum.
The group was on its way to a community meeting with supporters in John Day, which Palmer attended in full uniform.
"Even after the chief of police for John Day made calls attempting to get information on what was unfolding, we could not obtain information," Luttrell wrote in a complaint dated Jan. 28.
Once they learned what was going on, a John Day dispatcher wouldn't provide information to Palmer when he sought an update.
"Her words were: 'I felt uncomfortable knowing that I had to relay vital and confidential information to someone who may not be trustworthy,'" Luttrell wrote.
The sheriff did not return messages seeking comment from The Associated Press or The Oregonian newspaper, which first reported the complaints.
If Palmer is found to have violated standards, he could lose his police certification. He belongs to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which describes itself as the "last line of defense standing between the overreaching federal government and your Constitutionally guaranteed rights."
Luttrell wrote that the city's 911 dispatch center was inundated with callers praising Palmer for supporting the occupiers and their demand that the government free two ranchers imprisoned for starting fires. The armed group took over the refuge on Jan. 2, also demanding public lands be relinquished to local control.
The sheriff had lunch Jan. 12 with a group that included two members of the occupation, Jon Ritzheimer and Ryan Payne, who are now both jailed on a federal conspiracy charge. Ritzheimer later told The Oregonian that Palmer asked the pair to autograph a pocket version of the U.S. Constitution.
John Day Police Chief Richard Gray, who joined Luttrell in filing a complaint against Palmer, submitted information showing Palmer spent 3½ hours with the group. Palmer trounced Gray in the 2012 sheriff's election.
Three days later, the sheriff met with a trio that arrived in a pickup with Idaho plates. Gray said he believed they were two male occupiers and Shawna Cox, one of two women charged in the case.
"I have a great public safety concern when the Grant County sheriff is allowed to openly meet with and be part of this group of lawbreakers," Gray wrote.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press