Closing arguments have concluded in the excessive force trial of former Klamath County Sheriff Frank Skrah.
A six-person jury of three men and three woman has returned to chambers to determine if Skrah is guilty of seven misdemeanor counts including attempted fourth-degree assault, first-degree official misconduct, strangulation and harassment.
Skrah allegedly used unnecessary force against three suspects during his term in office from 2013 and 2017. Skrah is accused of holding a flashlight to the throat of James Johnson Feb. 16, 2013; striking Jason Charles Jan. 4, 2014; and choking Kenneth Bragg Feb. 27, 2015.
While prosecutors said, based on witness testimony, they proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense attacked the credibility of state witnesses and questioned if the alleged crimes ever occurred.
“The only thing worse than being accused of a crime you did not commit is being accused of a crime that didn’t happen,” said defense attorney Rosalind Lee.
Lee told jurors, if Skrah took the actions prosecutors claim he did, more deputies would have come forward to testify. She said this was especially true for the incidents involving Johnson and Bragg as numerous officers were present given the potentially violent nature of the suspects’ arrests.
Lee said testimony in the Johnson and Bragg incidents was supported by one deputy each, neither of whom reported Skrah’s alleged actions until questioned by state investigators. She also said the only other witnesses to corroborate the deputies’ statements were the victims, both of whom have extensive criminal histories.
With the Charles incident, Lee argued that witnesses gave different accounts means their statements are untrustworthy. The three deputies who said Skrah allegedly struck Charles were not in agreement about the events leading up to the incident or how Charles was allegedly struck, and Lee said these are not details the jury should overlook.
“They never tell the same story, and it’s important they don’t,” said Lee. “There is not enough evidence in this case to stamp Frank Skrah with the label of ‘bad cop,’” Lee concluded.
During rebuttal, Assistant Attorney General Daniel Wendel said if the jury was to believe Lee’s argument, they would have to believe the deputies were lying and said there is no evidence any of the witnesses had something to gain from dishonesty.
Wendel acknowledge only one deputy testified about the Johnson and Bragg incidents, but said the scenes during those arrests were chaotic and it is possible only the deputies who testified saw what happened.
He also agreed the victims who testified have long histories of arrests, but said their prior criminal activity does not mean they are no longer protected from excessive force.
And Wendel said, though the three witnesses who testified about Charles’ arrest gave different accounts, they all agreed Skrah allegedly struck Charles while the victim was restrained and posed no physical threat. Wendel said this is enough to find Skrah guilty as the deputies did not disagree about facts central to the charges.
Wendel said it is not a jury’s job to consider Skrah’s reputation or feelings but to consider whether or not the law was broken. He again argued the prosecution has provided enough evidence for the jury to convict Skrah on all counts.
“When he attacked those three men, he violated his oath, he betrayed that trust and he violated his sacred obligation,” said Wendel. “…Now is the time to hold the defendant accountable to his actions.”
The jury was excused for deliberations at roughly 11:26 a.m. Attorneys said they can offer no estimate as far as how long it may take to reach a verdict.