CANYON CITY — A Grant County grand jury has indicted U.S. Forest Service burn boss Ricky Snodgrass on a Class A misdemeanor count of reckless burning.
Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley arrested Snodgrass on Oct. 19, 2022, while the fire he was supervising was still burning. It is believed to be the first time a Forest Service firefighter has been arrested in the course of doing their job.
On that day, the Forest Service was conducting a prescribed burn just north of the Izee-Paulina Highway and west of Highway 395. Embers from the planned burn area blew across the Izee-Paulina Highway and charred about 20 acres of timbered ground belonging to an adjacent private ranch before the blaze could be put out.
The case was presented to the grand jury for consideration on Friday, Feb. 2, according to Carpenter.
An arraignment has been scheduled for March 4 at 1 p.m. in Grant County Circuit Court.
“It is anticipated that this case will proceed through the court system like any other class A misdemeanor,” Carpenter said in a prepared statement. “While this case remains pending, the state will have no other comment on the matter.”
In the days following Snodgrass’ arrest, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore vowed he would “not stand idly by” and would defend the agency’s employees. Others, including the head of a union representing more than 100,000 federal workers, suggested that the sheriff could be arrested on a felony charge of interfering with a federal employee in the course of their duties.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon could not be immediately reached for comment.
As of October 2023, the agency confirmed that no federal charges had been filed against McKinley but declined to say whether it had investigated the incident or might be contemplating charges in the future, citing department policy.
McKinley said on Monday, Feb. 5, he’s seen no indication that charges might be filed against him.
Chad Holliday, a co-owner of the impacted ranch, said he and his family deserve an apology and financial compensation after the incident, “but I believe we’ll never get that compensation.”
Holliday said he hopes the criminal case against Snodgrass helps landowners in the future “because this isn’t the last time it’s going to happen.”
Jacqueline Buchanan, regional forester of the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest region, said in an official message shared with the Blue Mountain Eagle that Snodgrass has the full support of the agency’s leadership.
“I want to express my steadfast and unwavering support for Rick, his family, the Malheur National Forest team, and the fire community,” Buchanan said. “USDA and Forest Service leadership, including (U.S. Forest Service) Chief Randy Moore, continue to fully support Rick through this process.”
Snodgrass is being represented by private attorneys who are paid by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Buchanan.
“Ultimately, I believe the courts will get this case right and will not single out a federal employee for carrying out his official duties,” Buchanan wrote. “Our agency is committed to standing behind Ricky and all our team members who responsibly carry out their official duties in accordance within agency protocols. We are committed to ensuring that accountability in these types of situations be held by the agency, not by an individual employee.”