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Sheriffs respond to Harney County's call for help

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PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: ROB KERR - Militiaman Jon Ritzheimer, 32, shows a photo of his wife and children and a copy of the U.S. Constitution while sitting guard in a Ford pickup truck Monday morning Jan. 4, at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 30 miles from Burns. He is part of a group of armed protesters occupying the wildlife refuge buildings.Portland-area sheriff’s deputies are in eastern Oregon 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.

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.


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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.

Staton responded to a request for help Ward sent through the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association. “It's not uncommon at all to help other agencies in need,” Gullberg said. “When a sheriff reaches out to all the sheriffs in the state, our state’s sheriff’s step up and provide assistance if they can.”

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.

Marion County also answered the call for help from Harney County. Lt. Jeff Stutrud, acting public information officer for the Marion County Sheriff's Office, said Tuesday that his agency has sent four officers to assist Harney County: two lieutenants (including regular PIO Chris Baldridge), one sergeant and a deputy.

Stutrud said two were dispatched Jan. 3, and another two the following day. According to Stutrud, none of the Marion County personnel is dealing directly with the standoff.

"Lt. Baldridge is helping with PIO duties and the others are helping handle calls for Harney County,” Stutrud said. “There is a lot going on, a lot of calls."

He was unsure how long Marion County personnel would remain on hand to assist the large and sparsely populated eastern Oregon county. Different officers could be rotated to Burns if the standoff continued, Stutrud said.

Two deputies from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office will head to Harney County this week to assist with the ongoing militia standoff near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson said Tuesday that two deputies from his office headed to Burns Thursday. Both are expected to return Sunday.

“We are sending some resources along with many other sheriffs around the state to help Sheriff [Dave] Ward with the temporary, increased demand for public safety in his county,” Dickerson wrote in an email.

The deputies will head to the rural eastern Oregon county on their days off, which means they'll be paid overtime by Columbia County, Dickerson said.

“This is part of the mutual aid between sheriffs that we frequently benefit from,” he stated.

Dickerson said his deputies most likely will conduct two-man patrols during their time in Burns.

Yamhill County Sheriff Tim Svenson said his office is not sending deputies due to limited resources.

The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association held a conference call to discuss what kinds of resources were available and what would be useful to the county in need.

“A lot of local citizens are feeling threatened by this group of militia that has come in from outside the state,” Svenson said.

Deputies who have traveled to Harney County have been asked to help with courthouse security, additional patrols and simply getting out into the community and talking with local citizens.

“We have made it clear that whatever is going on out at the refuge is the federal government’s dealing,” Svenson said. “The sheriffs are just assisting with making citizens feel safe.”

While it’s possible more resources could be requested in Harney County as the situation progresses, Svenson said he believes the need will be met.

Mandatory sentences

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.

‘A safe resolution’

COURTESY PHOTO - Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward asked sheriffs across the state to send help as he dealt with an armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns.Meanwhile, Ward and county officials plan to discuss the situation with Harney County residents during a town hall meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6, at the county fairgrounds.

Ward said he wanted to discuss citizens’ “security concerns and the disruptions that the behavior of the militants on the refuge are causing for our people. It is very important that Harney County citizens who feel strongly about getting these militants out of our county join with me in this effort.”

Schools in Burns were closed this week because of security concerns, but expected to reopen Monday, Jan. 11.

Ward said the standoff could hurt the county’s economy if it drags on.

“If this goes any longer it will have an even greater impact to our tourism and economy,” he said. “Community schools, government and some businesses are shut down. They (the militiamen) have promised to leave if our community wants them to. We want to see them go home to their families and consider how their actions affect this community. We all want a safe resolution to this situation, and to go back to our peaceful way of life.”

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