From the 'thin blue line' to ICE notifications, the differences were clear
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Even though nearly half of Deschutes County voters have already returned their ballots, Sheriff Shane Nelson and challenger Scott Schaier fought to sway any remain undecided voters during a hard-charging debate hosted by NewsChannel 21 Monday night.
On several hot-button issues, from the thin blue line to cooperation with federal immigration agents and the actions of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, differences were many in the stands taken and views shared by Schaier, a Bend police officer, and Nelson, the six-year incumbent running for another four-year term.
The insider vs. outsider contrast was apparent from the start of Schaier’s opening statement: “Twenty years of home-grown sheriffs have led to corruption, federal indictments, countless lawsuits and no accountability.”
Schaier did not mention that several women who used to work for the agency stepped forward earlier Monday to complain of bias, harassment and a toxic work environment, at an event tied to a firm hired by Schaier for his campaign.
But he did note more than once that Nelson’s agency has had 10 times more grievances filed than all other county departments combined and claimed Nelson “continues to say the policies of his office don’t apply to him.”
Nelson began, “It’s going to be difficult to combat all the untruths misinformation and rumor and innuendo that my opponent is throwing.” But he quickly shifted: “It’s an honor to serve you all, my 200,000 bosses in this community.” He stressed his experience running a $68 million-a-year, 240-person organization that has held steady and even cut property tax rates.
The first question from moderator Lee Anderson asked their position on Measure 9-134, whether to allow more commercial marijuana businesses in the rural county.
Schaier bowed to voters’ wishes, saying if they choose to allow more marijuana businesses, “I will enforce that appropriately, and support that.” Nelson agreed, to a degree: “My political views are not important. I work for everybody in this county.”
But the sheriff went on to say his office has worked to combat black market activity with two dedicated detectives, working with legal marijuana growers “to catch folks are breaking the law.” And Schaier said he’d support continuing that program.
The second question asked if in a diverse, rapidly growing community, should the sheriff voluntarily cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a stance that has brought Nelson some criticism.
Schaier said, “We have chosen that we are a sanctuary state. Whether you agree with it or not, that is the law of this state.” He said law enforcement needs to build partnerships throughout the community and referred to his past duties in Las Vegas, saying it’s “important to build bridges with those who are underrepresented or who documentation differences.”
“I do not think it’s responsible or ethically sound to voluntarily share any information about people in custody in jail,” he said. “However, if there are warrants, or someone in the community is a danger,” they should work to take that person into custody.
Nelson said no one is in the county jail who wasn’t either arrested for probable cause regarding crimes, or held on a court warrant.
“Yes, we do have to inform ICE of foreign-born citizens in our jail,” he said. “My sole mission and goal is to assure the safety of our county and community. If we don’t communicate with federal partners, I would be falling short of my duty as your sheriff.”
But the sheriff said he, too, wants to build bridges and has done so with community groups such as the Latino Community Association and the Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly.
Schaier disputed that the county has to do what the sheriff does regarding ICE notifications. “We have due process,” he said. “If arrested on probable cause, it is not our responsibility to tear you away from your family.”
Nelson, during his rebuttal, said, “You’re right – I choose to do that,” but “not in a vacuum,” working with other partners, such as other county sheriffs.
When it came time to question each other, Schaier asked Nelson why, with 42 deputies in supervisory positions, “you have zero females” in command or supervisory roles.
Nelson replied, “That is one of the things that we’re working hard to do,” noting that the agency has hired nine women as patrol deputies during his tenure and two retired female captains, one from Bend police and one his agency, support his re-election.
The sheriff then asked his question, noting he’ll be posting his entire personnel file on his campaign’s Facebook page this week, and asked Schaier of his supervisory experience. (Schaier noted that Nelson had posted it before but it was removed, to which Nelson said he did so to redact some information on two pages).
Schaier listed his law enforcement in Las Vegas and then in Bend after his family moved to the city in 2013, including his current role as school resource officer, but also his previous, private-sector roles.
“I understand leadership is leading by example,” he said, speaking of approaching the entire community with empathy and compassion.
Nelson pointed to Schaier not having any supervisory experience, but went on to say: “As far as my opponent saying needing empathy and compassion, that’s something he knows a lot about, because the city of Bend paid $800,000 for that issue” – a reference to the city insurance company’s settlement paid to the mother of Michael Jacques, a man who Schaier shot and killed in downtown Bend during a 2016 confrontation (a use of lethal force later deemed lawful by state investigators).
Moderator Anderson then posed his last question: whether removing the “thin blue line” from patrol cars would limit the divide between the community and deputies.
Schaier said, “The thin blue line, unfortunately, has become a politically divisive image,” and when working to serve the community, “it is not responsible for us to have any imagery that could potentially cause divide or create uncomfortable interaction.” But he also said he believes “it’s important to honor those (officers) who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Nelson went through the history of the blue line – all the way back to the Crimean War in the 1850s – and said, “We are not going to remove the blue line off our sheriff’s office patrol cars. … I have not heard anything of that line being divisive.”
The sheriff went on to criticize Schaier for his “close ties” with the Central Oregon Peacekeepers and the Central Oregon Diversity Project, who he said have been “aggressive toward police officers” and were harassing an officer’s family on Facebook: “This is unacceptable.”
Schaier said the blue line’s history “doesn’t speak to us as a community today. We cannot have leaders who are continually dividing the community,” rather than “listen to each other, find commonalities.”
But Nelson said when a group puts itself in the public spotlight, it must take responsibility and answer for its statements actions.
“And as far as sitting down with every group, I will not sit down with the Peacekeepers,” the sheriff said. “They’ve shown they are anti-law enforcement, through posts on Facebook, and it would not be productive. But they can email me any suggestions they have.”
In his closing statement, Schaier said, “The future of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is at a pivotal moment. We need a sheriff who will face these challenges had-on and finally bring (the agency) into the 21st century,” with such steps as a dedicated traffic safety team.
“I think it’s great, what Mr. Schaier said,” Nelson said. “We’re already doing these things.” The sheriff stressed again that he was “born and raised here” and rose through the ranks, learning how to mentor and hold people accountable.
“Please,” the sheriff asked voters, “do your research.”