A Clackamas County sheriff’s deputy was placed on administrative leave Saturday after a video was posted online of the deputy claiming anti-fascist activists had been starting fires in the area.
The patrol deputy’s statements in the video are in direct conflict with efforts by law enforcement to dispel false rumors that antifa is responsible for wildfires burning in Clackamas County.
The deputy, whose face and name badge are not fully shown in the video, is recorded saying: “Antifa motherfuckers are out causing hell, and there’s a lot of lives at stake. And there’s a lot of people’s property at stake because these guys got some vendetta.”
The sheriff’s office said in a statement Saturday that the on-duty patrol deputy was tasked with ensuring residents knew of wildfire hazards in the area. The agency said he has been placed on administrative leave while its Professional Standards Unit investigates a potential policy violation. The deputy has not been publicly identified.
“As soon as I was made aware of this incident, I moved swiftly to place this deputy on leave while we investigate,” Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said in a statement. “The Sheriff’s Office mission is to provide calm and safety especially during unprecedented times such as these. I expect nothing less of our deputies, and apologize to all in our community.”
Law enforcement officials across the state, including with the FBI, are attempting to dispel rumors that political groups, including antifa — a loosely defined leftist group that is a frequent focus of far-right conspiracy theorists — are behind the unprecedented wildfires that have burned more than 1 million acres in Oregon. One plea law enforcement has made is that conspiracy theories take resources away from law enforcement who are attempting to keep the public safe.
One arrest was made Friday involving a fire in Southern Oregon. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office charged Michael Jarrod Bakkela with two counts of first degree arson, after residents reported seeing him light a fire in the city of Phoenix. Bakkela is referred to as a “local transient” by the agency. The sheriff’s office said that case is separate from the larger Almeda Fire investigation.
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara also told OPB his agency’s investigation into the Almeda Fire is ongoing. O’Meara stressed for the second time this week that antifa is not suspected in this arson investigation that so far has destroyed more than 600 homes and killed at least two people.
Even in areas where there are no active fires or evacuation orders in place, law enforcement have reported residents taking action, spurred by rumors.
Hours after the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office had tweeted Friday about a small brush fire in Corbett caused by fireworks, the agency said groups of Corbett residents had set up checkpoints in the city and were stopping cars.
Deputies have contacted several groups of residents in Corbett who have set up checkpoints and are stopping cars. While we understand their intent is to keep the community safe, it is never legal to block a public roadway or force other citizens to stop.— Multnomah Co Sheriff (@MultCoSO) September 12, 2020
“While we understand their intent is to keep the community safe, it is never legal to block a public roadway or force other citizens to stop,” the sheriff’s office tweeted. “This type of action increases the risk of injury to everyone at one of these roadblocks. We have had extra deputies patrolling Corbett all day and will through the rest of the weekend. Please report suspicious activity to us and do not take action yourselves.”
On Facebook groups in communities hit hard by wildfires, residents have made frequent posts about forming patrols to look for looters or anti-fascist activists.