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Jackson County sends four sheriff's employees to Harney County

Four Jackson County Sheriff's Department employees are in Harney County to provide support for law enforcement involved in a standoff with an armed group that has taken over a federal wildlife refuge. 

Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls said he sent a captain, a sergeant and two deputies to Burns Monday to assist in keeping citizens safe and to provide support for Harney County Sheriff David Ward. Falls said the four employees likely won't be involved in any enforcement at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where militants are occupying government buildings, because that is being handled by federal agents.

The Oregon State Sheriff's Association, of which Falls is a member, took a lead in assisting Harney County after Ward sent out a request for mutual aid from other Oregon sheriffs shortly after the standoff began. Falls said it was Jackson County's turn to respond this week.

"It was like, 'OK, it's time for us to fill one of these shifts,' " Falls said in a telephone interview. "This is tough on a small community."

The group of armed protesters, led by anti-government militant Ammon Bundy, took over the wildlife refuge Jan. 2. Bundy has said they want federal lands released to local authorities, according to The Associated Press. Bundy's father, Cliven, was involved in a 2014 standoff in Nevada after refusing to pay federal grazing fees. 

Falls said his employees will be in Harney County through Thursday. Costs related to lodging, fuel and other travel expenses will be reimbursed by the federal government, he said. 

Falls previously voiced concerns about Jackson County resources and personnel being used outside the county during the 2014 election, when he ran successfully against incumbent Mike Winters. Falls said at the time that local resources should be utilized outside the county only if absolutely necessary.

"That's one thing the public will always be concerned about. 'Hey, why are we sending Jackson County (resources)?' " Falls said Tuesday.

Falls said he was referring in the campaign to "self-generated activity" that took a more regional, shared approach to resource use and management. Helping Harney County is different, he said.

"What I'm doing is in response to a request where another sheriff is asking for our help," Falls said. "If people ask for help and need some immediate assistance, we're going to send people to help."

Falls said his deputies will be in Burns, away from the refuge where federal resources are stationed and a majority of the activity is taking place.

"I think there are two completely different locations going on," Falls said. "I don't think there's a buildup of protesters in the community of Burns. Now, if we were sending people around the refuge, I think, yeah, that would probably be a different story." 

This is the second time in a week Jackson County has been connected to the standoff. One of the armed protesters, 62-year-old Crescent resident Kenneth W. Medenbach, has been in the Jackson County Jail since Thursday after a federal judge ruled he violated the conditions of his pretrial release from an arrest during a November protest at the Sugar Pine Mine near Galice. Medenbach was released from custody Nov. 13 on charges of unlawful camping and unlawful occupation of federal land — both misdemeanor charges — during the standoff.

He was arrested in a grocery store parking lot in Burns Jan. 15 for allegedly driving a stolen refuge pickup. 

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Ammon Bundy, left, speaks with FBI agents Friday at the Burns airport. Bundy is the leader of an armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge to protest federal land policies. AP Photo/Keith Ridler
Demonstrators gather near a national wildlife refuge to protest against a group occupying the land Saturday near Burns. AP Photo/Keith Ridler