Klamath County Sheriff Frank Skrah filed a legal complaint Monday against the county commissioners with the circuit court. The complaint regards the county's decision to grant a request for paid administrative leave to seven sheriff's deputies.
Skrah asked for a court injunction to force the deputies to come back to work. The legal complaint alleges that Klamath County commissioners usurped the sheriff's authority by granting the paid leave. It also says that with seven of 16 deputies on leave, the sheriff's patrol division is "dangerously understaffed."
The Oregon Department of Justice is currently conducting an investigation of Skrah.
Eugene attorney Becky Gallagher, who represents the Klamath County Peace Officers Association, said the deputies were interviewed as part of the DOJ investigation.
Gallagher said they requested to be placed on leave because they feared retaliation from Skrah.
"There were concerns about workplace harassment and retaliation by the sheriff," Gallagher said. "So for their safety, we sought protective leave. They county agreed and those deputies who requested were placed on paid administrative leave."
The DOJ would not confirm that and did not provide details about the case.
The county commissioners requested that Skrah go on voluntary leave during the DOJ investigation.
“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 last week.
The county board said it believes if Skrah took leave, the deputies would return to their posts. Skrah is currently still in his post.
Minty Morris would not comment on Skrah's legal complaint because it is pending litigation. She also said she hasn't heard if Skrah would step away from his job during the investigation.
"We have not received word from the Sheriff as to whether he plans to take administrative leave," Minty Morris said. "I would like to point out that it is common practice and procedure in this case for somebody to be on administrative leave."
Despite the board's desire for Skrah to step aside, the commissioners cannot force him, according to Minty Morris.
"The sheriff is an independently elected official of the state and answers to the public, not to the board of Klamath County Commissioners," she said.
Skrah has not responded to OPB's requests for comment.
In the complaint, the sheriff said he was not consulted about the deputies being on leave. In a statement last week, Skrah wrote that he learned about the DOJ investigation in July, but doesn't 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.
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.
Commissioner Minty Morris could not comment on how long the sheriff's deputies could be on leave. They requested to remain on leave while the DOJ investigation is ongoing.
"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."