Three Malheur County law enforcement officers appear on leaked Oath Keepers list

The entrance of the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office and County Jail. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

VALE – At least 13 Malheur County residents, including three law enforcement officers, at one point held membership in the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia organization, according to internal records obtained by a national group.

Nationally, the Oath Keepers gained notoriety this year as several members face federal charges for participating in the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol.

But in Malheur County, they might be better remembered as one of the groups that flocked to defend the Malheur Wildlife Refuge during its 2016 occupation by a group of extremists.

Records of participation were disclosed by whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets. The role of two officials in Malheur County was first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

According to a federal indictment issued in Washington in August, “members and affiliates of an organization known as the Oath Keepers were among the individuals and groups who forcibly entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias.”

Federal prosecutors said in the indictment that “some members of Oath Keepers believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”

The indictment said that the group focuses on “recruiting current and former members of military, law enforcement and first-responder personnel.”

One local person identified in the records is Jerod D. Edmondson, a corrections officer at Snake River Correctional Institution since 2007. Prior to his employment at the prison, Edmondson served as a military police officer, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Information Records Inquiry System. 

The Enterprise called and emailed Edmondson using the contacts provided on the list of Oath Keepers, but did not receive a response by press time.

Jennifer Black, Oregon Department of Corrections spokesperson, said that correctional officers had constitutional rights to free speech that were important to protect. 

“The speech interests of our employees, while significant, are not absolute and there are limitations, including for off-duty speech and/or conduct, when, for example, such activity has a connection to the workplace and the employee’s performance of their job duties that may result in an adverse impact to the department’s business interests and mission,” she clarified in an email to the Enterprise. “This intersection, where off-duty conduct could adversely impact the DOC’s business interests and mission, is among considerations the leadership at DOC will closely monitor.”

OPB reported that a Facebook profile appearing to belong to Edmondson had shared inflammatory content, including a racist meme with a picture of the Twin Towers burning accompanied by anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Black said that the Corrections Department had recently completed its first comprehensive social media policy, but that it was not yet ready to share with the media. 

Black said that the agency had imposed no limitations on Edmondson as the result of his membership in the Oath Keepers.

The Oath Keeper records also report a former Nyssa police officer involved. Nick Codiga was a patrol and K9 officer at the Nyssa Police Department from 2019 until about one month ago. Before that, he was a police officer in Warm Springs, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Information Records Inquiry System.

The Enterprise called and emailed Codiga using the contacts provided on the list of Oath Keepers, but did not receive a response by press time. 

Nyssa Police Chief Don Ballou said in an Oct. 22 email to the Enterprise that Codiga had decided to move on more than a month ago, independent of the Oath Keepers investigation. 

“Within (Codiga’s) two years of service, we have not received any complaints regarding his conduct in or outside of employment nor treatment of people of other races,” Ballou said. 

Concerns of racism were raised by OPB’s reporting, which uncovered a Facebook photo of Codiga posing as a Native American in a prison jumpsuit. 

Ballou pointed out that the photo was taken before Codiga became a police officer. 

“As far as the Nyssa Police Department is concerned, we will not tolerate participation in any terrorist organization nor any conduct (on or off duty), to include racially biased conduct, that is unbecoming of a member of the Nyssa Police Department,” Ballou said. 

However, he also stood firm on the point that no formal complaint had been made against Codiga, and he called into question the validity of the data obtained by Distributed Denial of Secrets. 

Also appearing on the list of Oath Keepers is Orson Frates, a Malheur County deputy sheriff.

Frates said in an interview that he had won a membership to the Oath Keepers years ago in a drawing at Oregon Trail Days, the vendors’ event outside the annual Fourth of July Vale Rodeo. 

“I have never attended any meetings or anything like that,” Frates said. “I don’t really know much about them.”

When asked if he thought the ideals of the Oath Keepers were in tension with his role as an active member of law enforcement, Frates said he didn’t think so. 

“I mean, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the state of Oregon and of the United States,” he said. 

Sheriff Brian Wolfe told the Enterprise in an email that Deputy Frates was not really a member of the Oath Keepers. 

“He had been at an event and placed his name in a drawing at a booth. They then considered him a member. Deputy Frates has never paid any fees or donations to the Oath Keepers,” Wolfe said.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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