Crook County sheriff indicted

Rodd Clark intends to fight charges of undue influence and official misconduct

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 12. 2007 5:00AM PST

A grand jury on Friday indicted Crook County Sheriff Rodd Clark on charges of undue influence and official misconduct stemming from allegations that he threatened to fire Sheriff’s Office employees who ran against him for his job, according to the Oregon Department of Justice.

After the indictment Friday, Clark’s lawyer, Greg Lynch, said Clark intends to fight the charges and will remain in his position during the trial.

Clark did not return calls for comment.

“There’s not going to be a plea agreement – the only plea agreement would be if they were willing to dismiss the charges,” Lynch said. “The sheriff is absolutely fixed in the position that he did not certainly intend to say or do anything that interfered with anyone’s ability to seek the office of sheriff.”

The crime of undue influence is a Class C felony, and the crime of official misconduct is a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, Clark faces a maximum fine of $125,000 or a sentence of as much as five years in prison for the undue influence charge, and a fine of as much as $6,250 for official misconduct, Department of Justice spokeswoman Stephanie Soden said.

An arraignment has been set for June 6, according to the Department of Justice.

The charges stem from an Aug. 31, 2005, Sheriff’s Office staff meeting, according to the indictment. Some former employees have said that, at the meeting, Clark threatened to fire anyone who challenged him in the 2006 election for sheriff. The indictment alleges that that action constituted undue influence over the election as well as official misconduct because Clark could have benefited from others not running against him.

Lynch said Clark told employees at the meeting about a case in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the right of a sheriff to fire a deputy who was campaigning for himself while on duty. Lynch added that Clark offered to assist employees interested in running for sheriff in the future.

Several former employees of the Sheriff’s Office ran against Clark in last year’s primary and general elections.
Frank Avey, a former employee who ran as a write-in candidate for sheriff in November, said he felt “vindicated” by Friday’s developments.

“Even though this isn’t a guilty verdict, you know, it shows that what was said, like during my campaign, of how we knew he wasn’t telling the truth that, I guess, it shows that what we said all along was true,” he said.

Avey, who was one of 22 people who testified in front of the grand jury, added that he thinks Clark should immediately place himself on administrative leave.

“He has been charged with a felony, and how can a law enforcement officer remain in a position (under those circumstances)?” Avey said.

Soden said there is no state law requiring an elected official under indictment to step down.

Crook County Court Judge Scott Cooper said the county commission has no authority to remove Clark, but he thinks they will talk next week about what comes next.

“The standard of proof for an indictment is a lot lower than the standard of proof for a conviction, so we’re pretty much in the same position we’ve been in all along, which is wait and see how this thing sorts itself out,” Cooper said.

Soden said a trial date will be set at the arraignment. She added that the arraignment will be in Crook County and any trial most likely would take place there as well, with the state Attorney General’s Office prosecuting the case.

Cooper said he does not think law enforcement in the county will be seriously affected.

“Obviously, it’s a position you’d rather not be in, but we’re not talking about a violent crime against people or property,” Cooper said. “As far as day-to-day, on-the-ground law enforcement activity, I don’t see it being that big of an impact on what we do – it’s just a distraction for everybody.”

Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush agreed.

“It’s going to be a difficult time for everyone involved, and we just need to keep doing what we’re doing here in Prineville and do the right thing for the city,” Bush said. “I think the deputies at the Sheriff’s Office are very professional and very competent, and I firmly believe that service will go on regardless of what goes on regarding this issue.”

Clark, 63, has been Crook County sheriff for 21 years and makes more than $73,000 per year.

Lynch, Clark’s attorney, said a trial would offer Clark the opportunity to defend himself.

“The practical reality of a grand jury proceeding is that the person who is the subject of the investigation has absolutely no control over what evidence is presented. … We have no opportunity to cross examine witnesses, we have no opportunity to present witnesses on our own behalf,” Lynch said. “The difference for the sheriff is that he’s a public figure and an elected official and, to some people, the fact that he was indicted is in and of itself an indictment of his character and some indication of his innocence or guilt, which is not true at all.”

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