Sheriff Frank Skrah was advised to take voluntary, administrative leave this week after the Department of Justice opened an investigation into allegations that the Oregon sheriff mistreated both employees and suspects. Seven deputies under Skrah staged a walkout; out of fear of reprisal the deputies asked to be put on leave after testifying to Klamath County Commissioners about the alleged incidents of physical abuse and employee harassment.
Reports Oregon Live on Aug. 25: “The Oregon Department of Justice confirmed it is investigating the department. Three other sources said the department is investigating Skrah for use of excessive force, including allegations the sheriff punched a handcuffed suspect.”
Becky Gallagher, a lawyer hired by the deputies’ union, said: “The Klamath County Peace Officers Association went to the county and asked for some protection for its members. They were concerned about retaliation and a hostile workplace.”
The DOJ has opened a criminal investigation into the sheriff’s conduct, but little information has been made available. Skrah, who spent 25 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before being elected as the Klamath County sheriff in 2012, says the DOJ investigation supposedly began over a month ago, but he has yet to hear a peep from anyone.
“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, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “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.”
In May, a complaint filed with the Oregon Employment Relations Board by Cpl. Daren Krag alleged that Sheriff Skrah retaliated against Krag, who is the president of the Klamath County Peace Officers Association, because he had voiced concerns over the sheriff’s treatment of prisoners. The complaint claims Skrah arbitrarily changing Krag’s tour of duty and refused to pay him for overtime worked.
An excerpt from complaint, filed by Gallagher, reads:
“[Skrah’s] 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.”
Sheriff Frank Skrah voiced concern that seven out of his thirty deputies were placed on “non-disciplinary” paid leave.
“Placing these individuals on paid leave was done without consulting with me or my command staff,” the sheriff remarked. “I will do everything possible, together with my command staff to keep patrols operating for the benefit of the citizens of Klamath County.”
The county board however believes that by placing the Sheriff on leave, it will urge the deputies to return to their posts.
“We believe it would be best for his office, best for community safety, and best for Sheriff Frank Skrah, if he would go on administrative leave until the DOJ matter is resolved,” Klamath County Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris said.