The Klamath County Board of Commissioners has requested that Sheriff Frank Skrah go on voluntary administrative leave while the Oregon Department of Justice investigates the department.
“We believe it would be best for his office, best for community safety, and best for Sheriff Skrah, if he would go on administrative leave until the DOJ matter is resolved,” Klamath County Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris said in a release Wednesday evening.
The request came a day after seven Klamath deputies asked to be put on administrative leave from their jobs. Eugene attorney Becky Gallagher, who represents the Klamath County Peace Officers Association, said the deputies requested to be placed on leave because they feared retaliation from Skrah.
Gallagher said the deputies were interviewed by the Oregon Department of Justice as part of an investigation of Skrah.
“There were concerns about workplace harassment and retaliation by the sheriff,” said Gallagher. “So for their safety we sought protective leave. They county agreed and those deputies who requested were placed on paid administrative leave.”
The county board said it believes if Skrah took leave, the deputies would return to their posts.
Gallagher said that the DOJ is conducting a criminal investigation into Skrah’s conduct. The DOJ would not confirm that and did not provide details about the case.
Skrah has not responded to OPB’s requests for comment. In a statement Wednesday, the sheriff said he was not consulted about the deputies being on leave. He wrote that he learned about the DOJ investigation in July, but does not know details.
“One month later I still have not been advised as to the specific nature of that investigation nor have I been interviewed by representatives of the Oregon Department of Justice,” Skrah said in the statement.
“I am learning more about the Oregon Department of Justice investigation and learning about an internal county investigation just like the rest of the public, from media reports,” Skrah’s statement continued.
The board is exploring its options for bringing in outside help policing the county during the investigation, but noted that management of the Sheriff’s Office is up to Skrah, who is an elected official.
According to the Klamath County Sheriff’s website, Skrah spent 25 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. He was elected as sheriff in November 2012.
In May, Gallagher filed a complaint with the Oregon Employment Relations Board on behalf of Cpl. Daren Krag, president of the Klamath County Peace Officer’s Association. The complaint alleges that Skrah retaliated against Krag by changing Krag’s schedule and refusing to compensate him for overtime.
Excerpt from complaint:
“His actions were meant to impede Cpl. Krag’s ability to process grievances and to represent KCPOA members adequately. By changing his schedule, refusing to pay him money earned and issuing corrective action the Sheriff hoped to stop Cpl. Krag’s attempts to represent his members. The threat was clear — raise union issues with me … and I will mess with your life and your job.”
Gallagher said KCPOA plans to add additional counts to that complaint. A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for Oct. 6.
Morris could not comment on how long the sheriff’s deputies could be on leave.
“I can only say we that we are following our human resource policies related to the deputies’ request,” said Minty Morris. “We are committed to public safety for our county and of course for the protection of our employees.”