One of Grant County’s newest deputies is awaiting trial on felony charges.
On March 1, Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer deputized Roy Peterson, who was set to begin trial March 28 in Grant County Circuit Court on theft charges stemming from the acquisition of equipment for a fire district. However, state prosecutors requested a continuance for a family emergency, and the trial is now scheduled to begin Aug. 22.
The state’s attorney, Senior Assistant Attorney General Daniel P. Wendel, mentioned that Peterson had been deputized at a pretrial conference March 24. Wendel said he wanted an order prohibiting Peterson from arriving to court with a firearm or in uniform.
Peterson’s attorney, D. Zachary Hostetter of Enterprise, said if such a motion were filed, he would want a hearing on the matter, because Peterson was part of the county search and rescue team.
Palmer’s official deputy appointment of Peterson mentions “Search & Rescue” and “Radio Tech/Communications,” though the document also says Peterson is appointed “to do and perform any act which (Palmer) might perform as Sheriff.”
At a hearing March 18, Wendel brought up a potential conflict of interest in that Hostetter’s firm represents Palmer, who was also listed as a potential witness in the case. Wendel said he did not plan to call Palmer to the stand as a witness, as the Oregon Department of Justice is investigating a complaint filed against the sheriff.
Hostetter said he did not intend to call Palmer as a witness and that there was no possibility of a mistrial due to a conflict.
At the same hearing, Wendel said the state’s case against Peterson was down to four counts, instead of the original 10 in the grand jury indictment Feb. 18, 2015.
At a hearing Aug. 6, 2015, Peterson pleaded not guilty to all of the original charges: two counts of first-degree aggravated theft and one count each of first-degree theft, unauthorized use of a vehicle and possession of a stolen vehicle — all felonies — as well as five misdemeanor counts of making a false statement in a title application.
The four counts the state still intends to pursue accuse Peterson of first-degree aggravated theft of more than $10,000 in cash, first-degree aggravated theft of vehicles and equipment worth more than $50,000, possession of stolen vehicles worth more than $50,000 and first-degree theft of more than $5,000 in cash. The indictment states the alleged incidents occurred between March 5, 2012, and Feb. 21, 2013.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Justice that began in May 2013. Police served a search warrant in October 2013 at property in the Monument area and seized fire vehicles and evidence for the case.
The indictment count for possession of a stolen vehicle lists “a 1970 Ford, a 1974 Freightliner, a 1983 Ford L9M, a 1993 Ford F350, a second 1993 Ford F350, a 1965 Western States, a 1966 Ford 900, a 1974 Western States, a 1986 Ford Econoline, and a 1988 International.”
For about a decade, Peterson was a vocal advocate for establishing a rural fire protection district in the Monument area. He was chief of Monument’s city department at one time and also acted as chief of the rural district that was yet to be formalized.
After the rural district was formed by voters in November 2012, the newly installed board and Peterson differed on its management and operation. Noting challenges with meeting procedures, operations, equipment and leadership, all of the board members resigned in December 2012. The board was re-established in January 2013 when the Grant County Court appointed new members.
In May 2013, Peterson notified the board he intended to sue them. His attorney at the time, Brett J. Hall, asked the board, the new district’s fire chief and the Oregon Department of Forestry to stop harassing Peterson.
Hall’s letter mentioned Peterson’s efforts to obtain grants for fire equipment for a rural district. Hall said Peterson believed both the original and the new board members held private, unlawful meetings, and when Peterson raised concerns, they began retaliating against him.
“This includes demands that he return the equipment and machines that he had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in, accusing him of theft, initiating multiple criminal investigations, and a general continuing campaign of harassment,” Hall wrote.
Hall also released an April 25, 2013, letter from Palmer to Oregon Department of Forestry State Forester Doug Decker, in which Palmer said he started investigating “an alleged criminal case” in 2010 between the city of Monument and the rural fire district over equipment obtained “legally and lawfully through ODF” by Peterson.
Palmer said “there was a dispute as to who lawfully owned what equipment and how some of the funding was channeled through the City’s Federal Tax ID number and their (Dun & Bradstreet number).” He said Ryan Joslin, the district attorney at the time, informed the parties the issue was a civil matter.
Palmer’s letter indicated the fire district board believed it rightly owned the equipment, because it was procured with grants in the name of “Monument Rural Fire District.” However, Palmer said “the grantee” — Peterson — obtained the equipment legally and still possessed it.
Palmer also said the equipment was on private property, and there was no probable cause a crime was committed, nor justification for a search warrant.
“As it stands right now ... I do not have enough evidence, nor do I believe I have the authority to intervene in this dispute,” he wrote.
In Oregon law, it is a defense against prosecution for theft “that the defendant acted under an honest claim or right, in that ... the defendant reasonably believed that the defendant was entitled to the property involved or had a right to acquire or dispose of it as the defendant did.”
When Palmer deputized Peterson, he joined a long list of Grant County deputies. The sheriff has deputized 69 people in a variety of categories, including deputy, corrections, reserve, search and rescue, chaplain, special deputy, public lands patrol, public lands deputy and natural resource committee.
Oregon law says sheriffs are responsible for the conduct of their deputies.