JOHN DAY, Ore. — An Oregon sheriff repeatedly invoked his right against self-incrimination while being questioned under oath about his email practices.
Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer was questioned twice last week by an attorney representing The Oregonian/OregonLive, which sued the sheriff in an effort to obtain public records.
The news organization reports (https://is.gd/bGyk8S ) Palmer answered questions during the deposition about his knowledge of state law governing public records, his handling of requests for records and his cellphone use.
Questions about his personal email account prompted the Fifth Amendment claims. He declined a follow up request for comment.
Palmer attracted attention earlier this year when he met with those who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He considers himself a “constitutional sheriff” and vows to protect citizens from abusive government.
A central issue in the dispute is Palmer’s use of a personal email account to conduct his public business.
The news organization sought work-related emails dating back to November 2015. Palmer said in court filings his practice is to print out important emails from his personal account, file them and then delete them from his system.
Palmer used his right against self-incrimination and did not respond to questions when asked about whether the emails were public records, if copies existed in his office, where he would file printed versions and why they were not released to The Oregonian.
The Fifth Amendment right is intended at protecting witnesses from giving evidence that could be used against them in a possible criminal case.
Steven Salky, a Washington, D.C., criminal defense attorney who wrote a book on the Fifth Amendment published by the American Bar Association, said witnesses can use the right if they believe they are innocent of criminal conduct but concerned answering questions might lead to criminal charges.
Though the lawsuit filed against the sheriff is a civil case, the Oregon Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation of the sheriff over an allegation he tampered with government records in 2012. That investigation remains active.
Palmer has been sheriff since 2000 and is running for re-election.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com