Crook County sheriff under investigation

Rodd Clark says he’s looking forward to testifying Friday before a grand jury

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 10. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Crook County Sheriff Rodd Clark plans to testify Friday before a grand jury, which he believes is looking into whether he illegally interfered with the May 2006 primary election.

Clark said a grand jury also held a two-day session in Prineville about three weeks ago.

“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that I’ll prove I haven’t done anything wrong,” Clark said, whether that is in front of the grand jury or in a possible future trial.

According to earlier Bulletin reports, the state Department of Justice has been looking into allegations since October that Clark threatened to fire Sheriff’s Office employees if they ran against him for the position of sheriff.

Crook County District Attorney Gary Williams said that his office is not involved in the investigation, and he has no comment.

A grand jury is a body of citizens that decides whether there is enough evidence in a case to press criminal charges. It could issue an indictment or decline to pursue a case.

Staff meeting

The investigation apparently stems from a Sheriff’s Office staff meeting that all parties agree took place in August 2005. Sam Forney and Frank Avey, former employees who ran as write-in candidates for sheriff last year, said during their campaigns that Clark told people at the meeting he would fire anyone who challenged him in the election.

Forney said Wednesday that he filed a complaint over the incident with the Secretary of State’s Office in March 2006. That complaint was then forwarded to the Department of Justice, which began investigating in the fall.

Forney added that he testified before the grand jury about 2 1/2 weeks ago.

“Rodd Clark talked about anybody who was going to run for sheriff and if anybody were to run against him that they would be looking for work elsewhere because they would be let go or fired,” said Forney, a former seasonal marine deputy with the Sheriff’s Office who left the job in October 2005. He lost to Clark in May 2006’s primary election. “I think it was pointed at me, but there were like 19 or 20 people at that meeting, and he basically, in my opinion, did undue influence to all of them.”

But Clark and his attorney, Greg Lynch, said Wednesday that nothing illegal happened in the meeting.

“I’ve maintained all along that I didn’t do anything wrong, when the allegation was first made way back in ’05,” Clark said.

At issue

Lynch said that, in the August 2005 meeting, Clark discussed a case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the right of a sheriff to fire employees campaigning for themselves or other people while on the job.

“The issue was how disruptive it can be to a law enforcement agency to have deputies running against the sheriff,” Lynch said. “The other thing he did say is if anyone has aspirations of becoming sheriff, there are a number of criteria, not only law enforcement but administration, and anyone that was interested in that as a long-term goal, he was perfectly willing and very happy to sit down with them and help them achieve those prerequisites.”

Tampering with an election is a felony that could carry a fine of up to $125,000 and a sentence of up to five years in prison, according to previous Bulletin reports.

Clark said he is looking forward to appearing before the grand jury.

“This will be the first time I’ll have the opportunity to prove I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “If the grand jury sees it one way then it’s over with, and if the grand jury sees it another way, I’ll get to go to trial and prove I didn’t do anything wrong.”

He added that he would not consider a plea agreement if the grand jury returns with an indictment because “I’ve done nothing wrong to plead over.”

Clark, 63, has been sheriff in Crook County for 21 years and has only been opposed for re-election twice, including this past November. Previously, he worked in the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office in Truckee, Calif., and in the Los Angeles Police Department. He also served in the U.S. Army.

This is not the first time Clark has been the subject of inquiry from the Oregon Department of Justice. The department investigated an incident in which Clark took a county vehicle on a hunting trip, according to previous Bulletin reports.

Lynch said that he does not think the fact that a grand jury was convened indicates that the Department of Justice considers the case to be one that should be prosecuted. He added that he hopes the grand jury will reach a decision Friday.

“I think that when you have a complaint and there was as much publicity as there was early on in the process, and you’re dealing with somebody who is in a position of authority like a sheriff, that the Department of Justice probably believes that that warrants a full and complete investigation, including a grand jury investigation,” Lynch said. “If there was overwhelming evidence or in the opinion of the Department of Justice there was probable cause to believe he had committed a crime, they wouldn’t have to go to a grand jury – they could just charge him.”

But Forney said he thinks it indicates that there is enough evidence to at least proceed to the level of a grand jury. Last fall, Department of Justice investigators conducted interviews with several of those involved in the complaint.

“When I filed a complaint, you know, you file it with the Secretary of State’s Office, they did an investigation on it and found enough evidence to go ahead and forward it the Attorney General’s Office – Hardy Myers – Hardy Myers’ office investigated it and they found enough information to present it to the grand jury,” Forney said. “What is going to happen, I have no idea. It’s like trying to second guess the jury – you can’t do it.”

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