on June 12, 2016 at 7:00 AM, updated August 05, 2016 at 4:21 PM
JOHN DAY — A deputy protected his relatives from blame in a random shooting by arresting the 911 caller who reported it, resulting in a foul-up that raises fresh questions about embattled Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer.
The district attorney didn’t pursue a case, instead rebuking Palmer and his deputy. The county quietly paid the caller $12,000 from its insurer to fend off a lawsuit.
“This incident is the most egregious abuse of power I have ever seen,” said attorney Edie Rogoway, who represented the arrested man.
The botched arrest comes to light as Palmer faces a state criminal investigation for allegedly tampering with official records. He also faces a state administrative investigation into whether he’s fit to retain his police certification.
Palmer gained national notice earlier this year for his sympathy for militants who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He considers himself a “constitutional sheriff” and vows to protect citizens from abusive government.
In the shooting case, Palmer approved the arrest and later promoted the deputy to undersheriff, his second-in-command. This is the latest in a series of questionable actions by Palmer to come to public attention in recent months. He faces 10 complaints that he violated standards for police officers. The complaints, including two from John Day city officials, list accusations that Palmer put the county at risk through of his association with the militants, that he’s a law enforcement “security leak” and that he has improperly deployed civilian deputies.
Palmer and Undersheriff Zach Mobley didn’t return telephone messages or respond to written questions. On Friday, Mobley’s attorney didn’t address the questions but wrote that “Mobley’s reputation is very important to him personally, and also is vital to his ability to work in his profession.”
Police records, video and audio recordings and dispatch logs show that Jim Koitzsch, 57, was at home with his two dogs, watching television, when the gunfire started. A neighbor heard it, too.
Koitzsch had stepped onto the front porch of his isolated Grant County home the evening of Jan. 26, 2015, to see who was shooting. Out of the dark, he said, a round whizzed past his head.
“I almost got hit,” Koitzsch told the dispatcher, according to a recording. “I need an officer up here.”
Mobley, with the sheriff’s office since 2006, responded to the call, telling dispatchers he knew the people along the gravel lane that threads up a small canyon on John Day’s west side. Just four homes line Terrance Road.
Recorded on police video, a shaken Koitzsch described the shots – four, a pause, and then four or five more. He pointed up the hill toward the house across the road as the source. He said he couldn’t see anybody.
“Are you’re absolutely positive it came from right here?” Mobley asked, gesturing toward the home.
“100 percent,” Koitzsch responded.
It was the home of Terry and Leann Coalwell. Leann Coalwell is the sister of Mobley’s wife. As he responded to the call that evening and before meeting Koitzsch, Mobley talked by phone to his 15-year-old niece, who told him she had heard no shots, according to the deputy’s report.
After questioning Koitzsch, Mobley excused himself to talk to a neighbor who heard the shots.
But before reaching the neighbor or going to the Coalwell house, Mobley called Palmer.
According to his written report, Mobley told the sheriff that only kids were home at the Coalwells, though he didn’t say how many or their ages. He said they didn’t have access to guns, which were kept in a safe. His report doesn’t say how he established this.
“Sheriff Palmer told me to go ahead and arrest Mr. Koitzsch,” Mobley wrote in his report. “I told Sheriff Palmer that I was checking with him because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a conflict since the Coalwells are my family.”
He would later arrest Koitzsch for initiating a false report, a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to a year in jail.
Despite the arrest approval, Mobley still interviewed the neighbor, Dorothy Thexton, 66. He didn’t tell her he intended to arrest Koitzsch on an accusation of fabricating the “shots fired” incident.
On police video, Thexton echoed Koitzsch’s account – a series of gunshots that seemed to come from the Coalwell property.
Her grandson chimed in, saying it sounded like a rifle.
“Like a machine gun?” Mobley asked.
The grandson said yes, and mimicked the sound as Mobley continued recording.
Mobley recounted in his report his conversation with Thexton but didn’t mention the grandson or his account.
He told Thexton he was going to the Coalwell home.
When she said she didn’t know the deputy, he responded, “I’m Deputy Mobley.”
“Are you their brother-in-law?” Thexton asked.
“Yeah,” Mobley responded.
“Holy crap,” she said.
In his report, Mobley wrote that he next went to the Coalwell home and interviewed his niece. He reported that she said no one had been shooting, no guns were out, and all the guns were in the safe. He later told Koitzsch he personally checked the safe and found it locked.
He did the questioning and the safe inspection in about two minutes, according to the dispatch logs and the police video.
He didn’t include a video of that interview in his official report, though he had recorded the interviews with Koitzsch and Thexton with a body camera. His report makes no mention of entering the Coalwell home or verifying the gun safe was locked.
“To hide the fact that his relatives were allowing their minor children to have access to loaded firearms while home alone, Deputy Mobley arrested and jailed an innocent man,” Rogoway said in a notice filed with Grant County that she intended to seek damages.
Document:Attorney’s claim for damages
In the later settlement, Palmer, Mobley and the county all denied any liability.
Koitzsch spent the night in jail, and three days later the local prosecutor said there was no case.
Document:District’s attorney memo
District Attorney Jim Carpenter cited Thexton’s statement in deciding not to prosecute Koitzsch.
“It is clear that shots were fired in the area, which is what Koitzsch reported,” Carpenter wrote in a memo to Palmer.
“Investigations of relatives and close friends will be reviewed with a skeptical eye,” Carpenter wrote. “Every precaution should be taken to avoid this situation.”