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Gresham police officers respond to Harney County's call for help

Two Gresham police officers will go to eastern Oregon on Saturday and Sunday to help Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward during a standoff with armed militiamen occupying federal wildlife reserve buildings near Burns.

Deputies from Multnomah, Columbia and Marion counties are being sent to Harney County to help in the situation. Deputies from other Portland-area counties are expected to join the effort.

"Our officers will provide patrol support and relief for deputies already working in and near the city," said John Rasmussen, a Gresham public information officer. "We will not really be near the 'standoff'. Ultimately, we will help ensure safety and peace within the local community."

Ward has asked for help from all 36 counties through the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and most are sending deputies to Burns. Harney County officials declined to discuss specifics about the deputies’ duties in eastern Oregon.

Officials said Tuesday that deputies would be needed “until we can reach a peaceful resolution” of the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge about 30 miles south of Burns.

The FBI is leading the law enforcement response to the standoff. Sheriff’s deputies would be used for “enhanced patrols,” Ward said.

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton sent three supervisors to Harney County. Staton sent Lt. Joel Wendland, Lt. Steve Alexander and Sgt. Tim Lichatowich to Harney on Monday. While the three are posted there, their salaries will be paid by Multnomah County, for now, said acting the Multnomah acting spokesman Lt. Travis Xullberg.

Wendland and Lichatowich will help staff an incident command center, while Alexander, the usual Multnomah spokesman, will help deal with the press.

It’s not out of the question that at some point the federal government will reimburse Multnomah for its expense, such as if the Harney situation is declared a state of emergency. However, that’s not a consideration in sending help, according to Gullberg.

“It’s about public safety and serving all of the citizens of the state of Oregon,” he said.

He said Multnomah expects its donated staff to return “sooner than later.” If not, it will consider sending others to relieve them.

Undersheriff Matt Ellington will lead a group of 14 from Clackamas County to Harney County. Sgt. Dan Kraus says that in addition to Ellington, the group consists of one lieutenant, three sergeants, one detective and eight deputies. They are expected to be in Burns through the weekend and then replacements will be rotated in as needed.

"It will continue to be re-evaluated based on the operational situation in Harney County," Kraus said.

The move will require the sheriff's office to cover some shifts through overtime and leave others unfilled, he said. Clackamas County will cover costs for now, but Kraus says participating counties may seek federal reimbursement.

The standoff began Saturday, Jan. 2, when militiamen from Nevada and other western states took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge buildings after a march through Burns. The militiamen, who call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, are led by Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose festering 20-year legal battle with federal officials on grazing fees led to an armed standoff with law enforcement in April 2014.

The militiamen said they were supporting Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond, who were convicted in 2012 of setting fires in 2001 and 2006 on federal Bureau of Land Management acreage. The Hammonds lease BLM land near their Harney County ranch to graze cattle. They were supposed to be sentenced to a mandatory minimum five years in prison, but a federal judge balked, sending Dwight Hammond to jail for three months, and Steven Hammond to jail for a year.

Federal prosecutors appealed the decision and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Hammonds had to serve the minimum five-year sentences. They were also ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution.

On Monday, Jan. 4, the Hammonds reported to Terminal Island in San Pedro, Calif., to serve their sentences.

The Hammond family has issued statements saying they were not a part of the militiamen takeover of the wildlife refuge building.

Reporters Tyler Francke, Nick Budnick, Darryl Swan, Kevin Harden, Peter Wong and Jodi Weinberger contributed to this story.