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Marion County Sheriff's Office sends deputies to Harney County

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PORTLAND MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: ROB KERR - News reporters from across the West flocked to Harney County Sunday, Jan. 3, after militiamen occupied a federal building about 30 miles south of Burns.Marion County has answered the call for help from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, as his small rural law enforcement agency deals with a group of armed militants who have occupied a complex of buildings in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Lt. Chris Baldridge, public information officer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday that several deputies had been dispatched to Burns on Jan. 3, the day after the group of approximately two dozen self-described militiamen arrived in Harney County.

Baldridge declined to give specific numbers and details of Marion County’s response, citing the sensitive nature of the situation, but confirmed that fresh local personnel have been rotated through on a continual basis.

In fact, he said all 35 other county sheriffs in Oregon had responded to the request for assistance Ward had made through the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association for assistance, which was helping to coordinate the available resources and the response.

“We’ve been part of daily patrol operations, visiting schools and residences, assisting with court security as well as in the jail,” Baldridge said. “We’ve been part of the overall plan of providing additional personnel for Sheriff Ward in Harney County.”

Baldridge also confirmed that Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers had visited Harney County this weekend, met with Ward and offered personal aid.

“He was on hand to support, as well as be a friend to Sheriff Ward,” Baldridge said. “He wanted to offer assistance, suggestions, anything he could to assist the sheriff in his needs.”

It has not yet been determined who will bear the cost of the sheriff’s departments’ assistance. It’s possible the federal government could reimburse counties if a state of emergency were declared in Harney County.

Baldridge said his department is keeping track of its costs, but worrying about who will ultimately foot the bill has not been a consideration in its response.

“When the situation is resolved, we’ll look at that together and decide how it’s going to be paid for,” he said. “Right now, it’s just about the citizens of Oregon and the citizens of Harney County, and making sure they have the resources they need.”

Ammon Bundy, of Nevada, one of the leaders of the group of armed militants, spoke with reporters on Jan. 3, saying their mission is to put federal lands under local control.

Bundy said his group plans to occupy the complex “for as long as it takes.”

Another protester, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, said he plans to stay “until the constitution is upheld.”

Bundy said he hasn’t heard from any law enforcement “since we made the stand.” No officers were visible near the refuge, nor were marked police vehicles patrolling the remote, ice-covered highways near the site.

But Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said federal and local officers are paying close attention.

“They’re following it literally by the minute and that’s why it’s so important that we have this close coordination between the FBI, which of course takes the lead at the federal level, because of the wildlife refuge, and the state police, and the Harney County Sheriff’s Office,” Wyden said.

The Harney County Sheriff’s Office released a statement last week saying that law enforcement was working to make sure citizens are safe and “this issue is resolved as quickly and peaceful as possible.”

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Ward wrote.

Militia members are prepared to use force, said Bundy, but they don’t intend to. “We will not be aggressive. We are here to defend the people.”

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.