A so-called “constitutional” sheriff helped one of his deputies shield some relatives from blame by approving the arrest of a 911 caller who reported gunfire.
One of those militants, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot and killed while trying to flee a traffic stop for Grant County, where he believed Palmer would protect him from federal and state authorities who were trying to arrest him.
Palmer is currently under investigation for allegedly tampering with official records, and state officials are also investigating whether he should be allowed to retain his police certification.
Now, a new report by The Oregonian sheds light on an incident from last year that cost the county $12,000 to avoid a lawsuit.
Deputy Zach Mobley responded to a report of shots fired on Jan. 26, 2015, and told 911 dispatchers he knew the residents who lived in an isolated part of the town of John Day.
Jim Koitzsch had called 911 to report gunfire, which another neighbor heard, and said he was nearly shot in the head when he went outside to investigate.
The 57-year-old Koitzsch told Mobley the shots had come from the home of Terry and Leann Coalwell — the deputy’s in-laws.
Leann Coalwell is the sister of Mobley’s wife, and the deputy called the home on his way to investigate, and his 15-year-old niece said she heard no gunshots.
Mobley went to interview another neighbor after speaking to Koitzsch — but first he called his boss.
The deputy told Palmer that children were home alone at his in-laws’ house, but he said they did not have access to guns because the family kept the weapons locked in a safe.
His written report did not explain how he knew the guns were locked away at the time of the reported gunfire.
Mobley wrote in his report that the sheriff ordered him to arrest Koitzsch for making a false report.
“Sheriff Palmer told me to go ahead and arrest Mr. Koitzsch,” Mobley wrote in the incident report. “I told Sheriff Palmer that I was checking with him because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a conflict since the Coalwells are my family.”
Another neighbor and her grandson backed Koitzsch’s claims about gunfire, and the neighbor asked the deputy if he was related to the Coalwell family — and Mobley admitted he was.
“Holy crap,” sad the neighbor, Dorothy Thexton.
The deputy still arrested Koitzsch on the misdemeanor charge, which carries a possible one-year jail term.
The 911 caller spent one night in jail, but prosecutors dropped the case three days later.
The district attorney admonished the sheriff and Mobley, whom Palmer later promoted to undersheriff, for their actions in the investigation.
The county later paid Koitzsch through its insurance carrier to avoid a lawsuit, and the man’s attorney also rebuked the sheriff and deputy.
“This incident is the most egregious abuse of power I have ever seen,” said the man’s attorney, Edie Rogoway.
Palmer was named “lawman of the year” in 2012 for Richard Mack’s Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which promotes the legal fallacy that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the United States and authorized to evaluate which laws are constitutional.
Watch raw video of Koitzsch speaking to Mobley posted online by The Oregonian: