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Vigilante Activity Persists After Oregon Fires, Leads To Citations

Sheriff Mike Reese.JPG
Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Twitter feed
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, in a screenshot from a video posted to Twitter, reminding rural county residents that it's illegal to set up civilian roadblocks and demand identification from drivers on public highways

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office reported Thursday that it issued criminal citations to three men accused of setting up illegal roadblocks in the rural community of Corbett, Oregon.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has issued criminal citations to three men accused of setting up illegal roadblocks in the rural community of Corbett, Oregon.

Deputies responded Tuesday to calls from a driver who said they had been followed and blocked at the intersection where East Larch Mountain Road splits from East Historic Columbia River Highway.

The sheriff’s office reported Thursday that it has issued second-degree disorderly conduct citations to 36-year-old Michael G. Meier of Sandy, as well as Joshua D. Smith, 36, and Travis Lucky, 18, both of Corbett.

“The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office will not tolerate this type of illegal activity,” Sheriff Mike Reese said in a statement. “If you see this activity or are stopped by a civilian, call 911, and a deputy will respond and investigate.”

The incident occurred as hysteria over looters and false rumors of politically-motivated arsonists spread on social media following the widespread and devastating wildfires that began sweeping through Oregon on Labor Day.

Similar reports of vigilantes carrying weapons and stopping people they perceived as suspicious occurred in rural Clackamas County and other parts of the state.

Tuesday’s vigilante activity was not the first time Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies had responded to illegal stops in Corbett. Reese put out a statement Sept. 12, saying deputies had responded Sept. 11 to armed people demanding identification from drivers trying to enter the community.

“We told people engaging in this behavior that roadways are open to all users, and that their actions are illegal,” Reese said at the time, adding that community members had become alarmed by a small fire that started from an illegal firework.

More details of the traffic stops surfaced this week as The Guardian reported Latoya Robinson, an African American woman, was among those stopped. Robinson is a resident of Sandy and had evacuated to a friend’s home due to the Riverside Fire.

Robinson told the newspaper that heavily armed men stopped her with her children and questioned: “You’re not from around here, are you?”

The Guardian also first reported on a community meeting about the vigilante patrols where a sheriff’s deputy advised people to take pictures of license plates and to not have their firearms visible.

Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Deborah Kafoury condemned the vigilante patrols Thursday.

“I will absolutely not tolerate vigilantism of any kind in Multnomah County, especially when it further traumatizes people escaping a disaster,” Kafoury said in a statement.

She recalled that vigilantism had not been an issue in 2017 when the Eagle Creek Fire burned through the Columbia River Gorge and threatened the town of Corbett.

Kafoury asked Reese to review allegations that the deputy’s actions at the community meeting may have encouraged further vigilantism.

“If that turns out to be true, it is categorically unacceptable,” she said.

Multnomah County is not alone in experiencing threatening actions by armed community members. Clackamas County deputies also gave statements to the public and county leaders as fires quickly spread, claiming “antifa” and other political extremists might be to blame for some of the catastrophic wildfires.

Those claims fueled vigilante activity in rural parts of the county, where people – including journalists – were stopped and questioned by armed men. Fire officials say there’s no link between the blazes and political activity, pointing instead to extreme winds and downed powerlines as significant factors in fires along the western Cascades.

Some arson arrests have occurred since the fires, but those have not been linked to any political causes.
Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ryan Haas has been with Oregon Public Broadcasting since 2013. His work has won numerous awards, including two National Magazine Award nominations for the podcast "Bundyville." Prior to working at OPB, Haas worked at newspapers in Illinois, Florida, Oregon and the Caribbean.