Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers participated in a virtual meeting earlier this month with representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, tribal and state agencies regarding law enforcement response to threats against members of school boards in Oregon.
Landers was on the call in his capacity as vice chair of the Oregon Task Force on School Safety representing the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association and not because of any threats reported to the local school board, he told the News-Times.
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum Oct. 4 instructing Department of Justice officials to investigate threats of violence against school board members. The memorandum came about a week after the National School Boards Association in a letter to President Joe Biden asked for federal help investigating threats against schools as potential violations of anti-terrorism and other federal laws.
Many tense confrontations, as well as some death threats and assaults, have been reported at schools and board meetings across the country over mask requirements and dubious fears about primary and secondary schools teaching “critical race theory.”
The request was criticized by GOP lawmakers as an attempt to characterize outspoken parents as terrorists or criminals, and a group of House Republicans has suggested the DOJ response is a “pretext to silence parents.”
The association later issued an apology for its letter, saying that while safety was a concern, “there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”
Garland’s Oct. 4 memo directed U.S. attorneys to convene meetings with officials from various jurisdictions in their judicial districts within 30 days.
An email to media from the public affairs officer for acting U.S. Attorney Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon said a virtual meeting was held Nov. 1 and included representatives from the DOJ’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Homeland Security Investigations; FBI Portland Field Office; three tribal confederations; the Oregon District Attorneys Association; Oregon Association Chiefs of Police; Oregon State Police, Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, Portland Police Bureau and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
“What the acting U.S. attorney wanted was to just make sure that we were all coordinating our strategies and that we’re referring any threats, even if they didn’t seem credible, to the right place and that they’re being followed up on,” the Lincoln County sheriff said.
Landers said he could not disclose any discussion of specific cases in Oregon, but the U.S. attorney wanted to communicate to local law enforcement that credible threats were indeed occurring.
“I think what happened, in other jurisdictions, the FBI was having some concerns that local agencies were not taking this seriously,” Landers said, and he noted Gov. Kate Brown mentioned the same issue during a meeting between law enforcement and her criminal justice advisors a few days later.
“There have been a lot of threats,” Landers said. “We haven’t had any locally, I can tell you that, so I’ve just kind of been listening in to what’s happening elsewhere, and it’s like what you’ve seen on the news.”
Landers said the school safety task force on which he serves was originally organized by a Clackamas County sheriff to address the threat of shootings on campus, and it was formally established by the Oregon Legislature in 2014.