KLAMATH FALLS — A former county sheriff being tried on charges that he used excessive force against suspects heard three of his deputies testify that his actions were unjustified because the men posed no threat.
Frank Skrah, whose term as Klamath County sheriff ended in January, faces up to a year in jail if convicted of misdemeanor charges, including attempted assault, strangulation, harassment and official misconduct. The trial began Monday and is expected to last through Friday.
Deputy Ryan Kaber and former deputies Ruben Jenkins and Jason Weber testified that events they witnessed did not meet the standards necessary for law enforcement to use force. That contradicts defense attorney Rosalind Lee's assertion that Skrah's actions were warranted by dangerous circumstances.
Skrah is accused of holding a flashlight to the throat of James Johnson on Feb. 16, 2013; striking Jason Charles on Jan. 14, 2014; and choking Kenneth Bragg on Feb. 27, 2015.
Jenkins, now a Klamath Falls city policeman, described the Bragg incident, testifying that the suspect was handcuffed and non-combative when Skrah started choking him.
"(Skrah) grabbed (Bragg) by the throat, squeezed him with one hand," said Jenkins, who described hearing Bragg "choke" and "gargle."
Jenkins said he hesitated to report the incident because he was a new hire still in his probationary period.
"It's not every day you write a report to throw your boss under the bus," he said.
Kaber testified about the Johnson incident, saying the suspect was restrained and non-combative when harassed by Skrah.
Kaber said police were searching for a suspect when Skrah took Johnson out of a patrol vehicle, placed a flashlight against his throat and demanded to know the other man's whereabouts.
He explained his decision not to report the incident at the time: "I have a house and a family and I like my job — and it wasn't worth it at that point,"
Weber, now an inspector with Oregon Liquor Control Commission, testified about the Charles incident.
He said the heavily intoxicated suspect verbally sparred with Skrah, but was restrained by two other deputies when the sheriff punched him in the jaw.
"There was no threat," Weber said.
Skrah, according to Weber, admitted losing his temper and said it wouldn't happen again.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Rosalind Lee emphasized the potential dangers posed during Bragg's arrest and pointed out the suspect was believed to be armed, had evaded police during a high-speed chase and had made threats online against officers.
Lee also questioned Kaber's decision to deviate from department policy and not include Skrah's alleged use of force in the incident report.