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Klamath sheriff asks court to force deputies back to work

KLAMATH FALLS — Klamath County Sheriff Frank Skrah is asking a court to force seven deputies who are on non-disciplinary leave back to work.

Skrah's court petition for a preliminary injunction against the county and the deputies' union alleges the deputies are conducting an illegal strike and seek to force him out of his job.

The county placed the deputies on leave on Aug. 20, at the deputies' request, in light of an ongoing state criminal investigation of Skrah. The county later asked Skrah, an elected official, to go on paid administrative leave so the deputies could return to work. Skrah did not comply.

In the court petition, Skrah says the patrol division is "dangerously understaffed," forcing remaining deputies to work overtime and putting public safety at risk.

Skrah also says the Klamath County Board of Commissioners isn't allowed to place patrol deputies on indefinite paid leave without the consent of the sheriff. He said he was not consulted about the matter, and he has not been told when the deputies will return to work. He also says the union encouraged other deputies to seek a leave from work, though no others agreed to take it.

The board said it's reviewing the sheriff's lawsuit.

"Ensuring that our citizens are safe is very important and we will continue to make sure that the public safety needs of our county are being met," Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris said in a written statement.

According to the Klamath County Peace Officers Association, the deputies' leave has to do with "retaliation and workplace harassment by the sheriff." The union's lawyer, Becky Gallagher, said the union had gone to the county asking them to put the deputies on leave.

Gallagher said those deputies were interviewed by the Oregon Department of Justice as witnesses in the criminal investigation of the sheriff. The union also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the county because of the sheriff's actions, Gallagher said.

The Oregon attorney general's office won't say why it's investigating Skrah. The Klamath Falls Herald and News reports that the investigation of the sheriff has to do with allegations of violating the civil rights of inmates. In one specific instance, it was alleged Skrah had struck a handcuffed prisoner.

Skrah's court petition was filed on Monday with Klamath County Circuit Court.