Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Meet the rural Oregon sheriff trying to keep the peace during armed standoff in Oregon

Ward speaks with Ammon Bundy (Oregonian photo by Beth Nakamura)
While much of the media attention concerning the armed protesters at Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been on Ammon Bundy and his followers, Sheriff Dave Ward has been using his rural values and military experience to hold things together among the community of 7,000 in Harney County, Les Zaitz reports for The Oregonian. "Ward, 42, has made statement after statement calling on Bundy and his crew to quit the occupation that they started Jan. 2. He leads the twice-daily briefings by police as they consider their options."

After leaving a recent meeting with Bundy, he made his way to a gathering of about 50 concerned residents, Zaitz writes. "As the meeting broke up, Ward stayed put in the Diamond School gymnasium. He listened to every last person who wanted a moment of his time. He listened to advice, criticism and kudos, focusing on each citizen as if they were the only person in the room. Two hours later, he was among the last to leave the school, stepping into the dark, icy night to return to the maelstrom that has been his life for two months."

"He has approached this crisis with the discipline he learned in the military, watchfulness that served him well in war zones and the humility from a lifetime of church service," Zaitz writes. "He has not provoked the militants. He hasn't threatened them with arrest. He has admonished them publicly and in private as if they're miscreant juveniles caught out after curfew. 'Go home,' has been his message. 'Your families need you,' he says."

Ward, who was an active outdoorsman and an athlete growing up in Douglas County, Oregon, joined the Army, participating in 'Operation Restore Hope' in Somalia and later did a tour in Afghanistan, Zaitz writes. In 1994, he joined the Oregon Army National Guard and worked a mill job in his hometown of Drain. "He couldn't stand being cooped inside, so he crossed the mountains and worked instead as a ranch hand in remote Lake County—building fence, tending cattle,and working on a haying crew . . . He went back into the Army in 1998, serving a four-year hitch at a Texas base on a crew tending Patriot missiles. He started in law enforcement as a corrections deputy in Lake County in 2002. By the time he applied to become Harney County sheriff in late 2014, Ward had worked as a jailer, a patrol deputy and a probation officer."

In his cover letter, Ward wrote: "I've spent many years of my life serving our country, stateside and abroad, to protect the constitution and believe it is the sheriff's responsibility to protect each person's rights under the constitution of the United States," Zaitz writes. "Ward highlighted his varied experience including 'working efficiently in high stress situations.'"

"He was the one that proposed to other law enforcement the unusual roadside meeting," Zaitz writes. "He wanted to meet Bundy face to face, something that had not occurred since the occupation started. Federal authorities advised against it, but Ward persisted," not wanting to miss any chance at a peaceful ending. "At night, he said, he lays in bed, reviewing the days events, asking himself what more could be done or what could have been done better. When he says 'I don't want anyone to get hurt,' the tone indicates he means it."

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