Right-wing Oregon sheriff tried to cover up talks with Bundy militants on night of fatal shooting
A so-called “constitutional sheriff” tried to hide the fact that he spoke to anti-government “patriots” the night armed militants were arrested — and one of them fatally shot — after taking over a federal nature reserve in Oregon.
Sheriff Glenn Palmer contradicted himself in a recent deposition about his office’s policies on deleting emails and releasing records of some phone calls from his Grant County-issued phone, reported The Oregonian.
He admitted that he had never reviewed a state policy he’s cited to justify his destruction of government emails, and he contradicted previous claims about directing employees to print emails and then delete the electronic copies.
Palmer has testified under oath as part of a public records lawsuit filed by the newspaper against his office, which has refused to turn over police reports, cellphone records, emails, the sheriff’s calendar and handgun licensing records related to the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The sheriff was set to speak in uniform at an event that drew Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with other militant leaders, away from the occupied refuge and into an ambush by federal and state authorities — who arrested all but one of them.
One of the armed militants, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, attempted to drive around a roadblock set up by law enforcement and tried to drive on to Grant County, where he hoped Palmer might help him avoid arrest.
Finicum was shot and killed by state troopers after jumping out of his SUV, which had become stuck in a snowbank, and apparently reaching toward a handgun in his jacket pocket.
The Bundy brothers are currently standing trial in federal court for their roles in planning the armed occupation.
Cell phone records obtained as part of the lawsuit revealed Palmer used his personal cell phone to make or receive 12 calls on Jan. 26, the night of the arrests and shooting, and he described 10 of those as personal.
The sheriff testified that he would consider calls to anyone associated with the occupation as personal.
At least one of those calls was with a friend of his, Brooke Agresta, who described herself as an intelligence officer for an Idaho militia group.
Agresta said on Facebook that she told Palmer of Finicum’s shooting and kept him updated about the situation by phone.
Palmer said he generally redacts personal phone calls from his cell phone records, but he didn’t say whether Agresta’s number had been deleted. However, her number doesn’t show up on records for a government-issued phone whose records he released without redactions.
Attorneys for the newspaper asked Palmer whether he learned of Finicum’s shooting in his role as sheriff, and he testified that was “kind of a gray area — I don’t know whether to say yes or no.”
Palmer told the attorneys he was confused when they asked him to explain how he redacted phone numbers before releasing those records.
The sheriff, who is under criminal investigation for allegations that he destroyed an electronic copy of a police report in 2012, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights 51 times during the deposition about his email practices.
He also faces potential charges for violating a state ethics law prohibiting personal use of government equipment — in this case, using his county-issued phone to make “many” calls not related to government business.