PORTLAND, Ore. — Ammon Bundy, the jailed leader from the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge, has come to the defense of a sheriff who is being investigated by the state.
The state agency that licenses police officers is looking into complaints that Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer twice met with occupiers who traveled to visit him during the 41-day standoff that ended Feb. 11. If Palmer is found to have violated standards, he could lose his police certification.
The occupiers and their defense attorneys have portrayed the standoff as a peaceful protest in which the group was exercising its right to free speech.
Ammon Bundy said in a recording posted Sunday on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page that Palmer was the only Oregon sheriff who didn’t get caught in the “political deception” that the people of Burns were in danger during the occupation.
“Sheriff Palmer went to the source and found out the truth,” Bundy said. “He found out that we at the refuge stood for the Constitution,” and the protesters “love this country and would not hurt another person.”
The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training received nine complaints about Palmer, sheriff since 2000 of the politically conservative county that neighbors the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
One was filed by Valerie Luttrell, manager of emergency communications for the city of John Day. She said federal and state authorities viewed Palmer as a security leak, and therefore kept local officials out of the loop during the Jan. 26 traffic stop that led to the arrests of the standoff’s leaders and the shooting death of occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
The group was on its way to a community meeting with supporters in Grant County, which Palmer attended. In a video from the traffic stop, Finicum yells to police: “Just shoot me. I’m going to meet the sheriff. The sheriff is waiting for us.”
Luttrell wrote that the 911 dispatch center received many calls during the standoff from people praising Palmer for supporting the occupiers and their demand that the government free two ranchers imprisoned for starting fires. The group also wanted public lands relinquished to local control.
Palmer belongs to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which describes itself as the “last line of defense standing between the overreaching federal government and your Constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
He did not immediately return a phone message Monday. He has previously declined to speak about the investigation.
Bundy was one of 26 people arrested in connection with the occupation. All are charged with conspiracy, and some are accused of additional crimes. He, along with his father, Cliven Bundy, and brother Ryan were among those indicted by a federal grand jury in Las Vegas on Feb. 17 in a 2014 standoff with federal law enforcement in Southern Nevada.
Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy is embroiled in a legal dispute with the Bureau of Land Management over more than two decades of federal grazing fees in Southern Nevada.
The elder Bundy was brought to Las Vegas last month by U.S. marshals from Portland, where he was taken into custody on his way to support his sons, in the takeover of the wildlife refuge.
Cliven Bundy, 69, refused to enter a plea in federal court on Thursday to criminal charges stemming from the armed standoff with law enforcement near his Nevada ranch. The confrontation aimed to force federal officials to abandon 400 cattle they had rounded up under court orders, according to the indictment. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Hoffman entered “not guilty” pleas on Bundy’s behalf to 16 felony counts, including extortion, obstruction of justice, and assault on a federal officer.
Hoffman set a May 2 trail for Cliven Bundy before U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, but continued his detention hearing until May 17 so his lawyer could have more time to prepare. Bundy will remain in federal custody until then.
The Review-Journal contributed to this report.