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Sheriff’s son threatens to sue Klamath County over lost promotion

From left to right: Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber, Sergeant Ryan Kaber and Emergency Manager Brandon Fowler at an awards ceremony, December 2022.
Klamath County Sheriff's Office
From left to right: Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber, Sergeant Ryan Kaber and Emergency Manager Brandon Fowler at an awards ceremony, December 2022.

While the Klamath County sheriff is under investigation for a possible ethics violation, his son is threatening to sue the county for being denied the chance at a promotion at the sheriff’s department.

A fight is continuing between Klamath County and its Sheriff’s Office, after county commissioners accused Sheriff Chris Kaber and his two sons of violating an ethics agreement.

Sergeant Ryan Kaber, the sheriff’s son, filed a legal notice with the county last week. Kaber is threatening to sue, claiming he was unjustly denied the opportunity to apply for a promotion last year to patrol lieutenant, one of the highest positions in the department.

Kaber’s lawyer, Sean Riddell, said the county HR director told the sergeant he would be ineligible after a review by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

“It appears that the HR director may have misrepresented whether Mr. Kaber could apply for the lieutenant promotion,” Riddell said.

In an email chain between Kaber and the HR Director Amanda Van Riper, Van Riper said she reached out to the county’s insurance carrier, the county’s labor attorney and the OGEC.

“All three entities have reviewed our policy and agree with my interpretation that you would not be eligible to promote to lieutenant,” the email said.

County policy prohibits the direct or indirect supervision of family members. The county had made a special agreement with the sheriff when he was elected in 2016, that would require other leadership within the sheriff’s department to supervise the sheriff’s sons, including when they were eligible for a promotion.

Kaber was being supervised by Captain Brian Bryson. But, Van Riper said because of the direct supervision of lieutenants by the sheriff, Kaber would not be eligible for the new position.

Riddell said new information found during a separate investigation of the sheriff by the OGEC shows the conversation with the ethics commission was different than what they were led to believe.

“The ethics decision specifically references that they had a different communication with the HR director than what the HR director led Mr. Kaber to believe,” Riddell said.

The OGEC investigation involves a possible violation of ethics laws by the sheriff for a separate matter of reassigning his son Ryan to a different division. The preliminary report mentions the conversation between Van Riper and the OGEC regarding Kaber’s promotion eligibility.

“Commission staff indicated to Ms. Van Riper that there are no ethics laws that prohibit Ryan Kaber from applying for the position,” the May 10, 2023 report reads.

The report also said that there are ethics laws the sheriff should take into consideration if his son applied to the position, including, “...the definition of an actual conflict of interest, what the disclosure requirement would require as Sheriff Kaber is an elected official, the nepotism statutes, and what constitutes a use of office.”

Klamath County declined to comment for this story.

Riddell said their investigation is ongoing, and it hasn’t been decided whether or not a lawsuit will be filed.

If they do decide to sue, Riddell said a lawsuit could force the county to create a new lieutenant position just for Kaber, or pay him at the same level.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.