John Day’s police chief and dispatch manager’s complaints that the Grant County sheriff’s support for the militia occupying the Malheur refuge endangered the public have been sent to the justice department for further investigation.
Chief Richard Gray and Dispatch Manager Valerie Luttrell were among at least eight who filed formal complaints against Sheriff Glenn Palmer with the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which licenses Oregon police officers. The department sent the complaints to the Oregon Department of Justice recommending an investigation.
Palmer said in an email Friday morning he is being represented by an attorney, but he declined to discuss the complaints.
“As of this morning, I have not been contacted by the DOJ but I have received a packet from DPSST,” he said in the email. “Other than that, I am not discussing anything further.”
Luttrell said in her complaint Palmer was openly supportive of the militia and met with members who are under investigation “for numerous felonious crimes.” She said Palmer’s support placed other law enforcement officials and the public at risk, because he was not trusted.
As the FBI and Oregon State Police planned to arrest the leaders of the refuge occupation on Highway 395 en route to a meeting in John Day Jan. 26, she said, they opted not to inform city and county law enforcement officials in Grant County out of concern Sheriff Glenn Palmer might be a “security leak.”
Even though militia supporters and Palmer were awaiting the meeting in John Day, she said Chief Richard Gray was unable to obtain information about the law enforcement action unfolding on Highway 395.
“Sheriff Palmer’s blatant disregard for the potential consequences of pushing his personal agenda over the welfare and safety of the general public that he is sworn to protect is at the very least an ethical transgression,” she said in the complaint. “... This became a serious safety issue for our (Dispatch) Center and local Law enforcement during the events on January 26th.”
After news broke of the arrests and Palmer left the meeting to travel to an Oregon State Police roadblock near Seneca, he requested an update on the situation from a dispatcher who felt uncomfortable relaying “vital and confidential information to someone who may not be trustworthy,” Luttrell said.
She also said she was concerned about the process Palmer uses to deputize special deputies, who have authority “to do and perform any act” Palmer might perform as sheriff. She said Palmer refused to provide a list of his deputies to dispatch to authorize their use of the Law Enforcement Data System. She said she was concerned about “the dates in which they were actually deputized” and whether thorough background checks were being completed before giving them “full arrest and use of force powers.”
Public records obtained show Palmer has deputized seven as deputies, seven as reserve, five as search and rescue, six as corrections, one as chaplain, nine as special deputies, three as land use deputies, 11 as public lands patrol, nine as public lands deputies, one as limited to concealed handgun license and 11 as a natural resource committee.
Gray said in his complaint he was greatly concerned by Palmer’s support of the militia.
In John Day Jan. 12, Palmer met with three people who participated in the occupation of the refuge, including Ryan Payne and Jon Ritzheimer, according to county residents Dave Traylor and Jim Sproul who were also at the meeting. Palmer said he was unaware the occupiers would be at the lunch meeting, but he followed them and others to another location to continue the meeting after leaving the restaurant.
Gray said the dispatch radio log shows Palmer met with them while on duty for about three and a half hours.
“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,” he said in the complaint.
After the meeting, Palmer told the Blue Mountain Eagle the militia members requested he travel to Harney County to “make a stand” for their cause, but he told them he would not without approval from the local sheriff. He described the occupiers as “patriots” but said he did not know if he supported the armed occupation. He did say he believed the government should make concessions to the militia.
“I believe the government is going to have to concede to something,” he said in January. “I don’t think these guys are going to give up without knowing that they’ve done something that benefits the people of our country or our region.”
Payne, Ritzheimer and others have since been indicted by a federal grand jury on felony counts related to the occupation. Payne and others were also charged with felonies related to a standoff with federal authorities in Nevada in 2014.
In his complaint, Gray also said Palmer deleted a public document from a records management system the police department shares with the sheriff’s office.