BURN BOSS: Charge dismissed

The criminal case against Ricky Snodgrass resulting from a prescribed fire on the Malheur National Forest has ended, according to. a report by OPB, after the court dismissed the charge brought by the Grant County, Oregon District Attorney Jim Carpenter.

Todd McKinley

County Sheriff Todd McKinley arrested Snodgrass, the burn boss on the Starr 6 fire, in the midst of a dispute with adjacent landowners.

A Grant County grand jury back in February indicted Snodgrass, 41, on a misdemeanor charge of reckless burning. In part because Snodgrass and many of the firefighters he was supervising, on a federal agency operation on federal land, were federal employees, the case was moved from the rural Oregon town of John Day to federal court in Pendleton. Defense lawyers asked a judge to dismiss it and Carpenter did not oppose the motion. The judge in the case dismissed it this week.

Mr. Snodgrass was charged because the State — or more precisely, the local sheriff — took issue with the Forest Service’s decision to conduct the prescribed fire,” defense attorneys wrote last month in court documents. “But the State cannot charge Mr. Snodgrass with a crime simply because it disagrees with the Forest Service’s decision.”

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution means that Snodgrass was  immune from prosecution.

Supremacy Clause

OPB reported that in February of 2024 front of the grand jury, McKinley testified that the arrest got “huge national exposure.”

“I don’t know if you guys want to know how many hundreds of phone calls I got over this,” McKinley testified. “Either I was a pariah, the enemy, or they’re trying to make me a hero out of it.”

👮🏼‍♂️   Seriously, McKinley, no one thinks you are a hero.


Statement issued by Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley)

Regarding the recent dismissal in Federal Court of the arrest of the Burn Boss at the Starr 6 uncontrolled burn in Grant County Oregon on October 19th 2022, I have the following to say: 

The United States Federal Government chose to use the “Supremacy Clause” as their basis for the request of dismissal. 

My interpretation of the use of this clause is such, that the State Law was sufficient for the charges, and the only way to circumvent this was to appeal to the Federal Court. 

I am saddened that our own Government, which was established, “of the People, by the People, for the People”, would to not “do the right thing” and make the damaged party whole, for fear of assuming responsibility for their actions. 

The hope out of all of this, is in the future, that more care will be taken, guidelines followed, and the United States Forest Service will heed their own motto: “Caring for the Land and Serving People”. 

Todd McKinley 
Sheriff 

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7 thoughts on “BURN BOSS: Charge dismissed”

  1. It’s commendable the legal issue brought by the Grant County Sheriff, Todd McKinley, when he arrested Mr. Snodgrass, has been dismissed. The threat of legal prosecution for doing one’s job is being watched by many young people who are working in wildland fire control. More than 20,000 souls, by some accounts. Mr. Snodgrass if in having faced a legal prosecution was found guilty of some sort of malfeasance, it would result in our national force of firefighters being becoming disaffected and turning away from the hard, dirty work of handing wildfire. The Windy Point Cattle Company is now representing the private lands once owned by Clyde Holliday. If Clyde Holliday were still alive this whole mess would never have happened.
    John Aschim

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  2. I am Tony Vergnetti, the president and founder of FEDS Protection; I was glad to hear that Ricky’s case got dismissed, and obviously, it was the right result. It is for this very reason, and many others, that I founded FEDS Protection — to protect hard-working federal employees. The wildland firefighting community is a group that is near and dear to me; I have personally represented firefighters involved in Thirtymile, Cramer, Esperanza, and the Twisp fires. They are some of the hardest working and most dedicated civil servants you will find, real salt of the earth people.

    As most in fire know, the whole investigative landscape changed in the wake of Thirtymile; no one in the wildland firefighting community should go to work without professional liability insurance. We are honored to be the preferred provider of PLI for wildland firefighters.
    fedsprotection.com

    Tony Vergnetti

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  3. As a now-retired federal law enforcement officer who began his federal career for a number of years in the wildland fire community with NPS, the dismissal was very much anticipated once the case was removed to the jurisdiction of the federal court system.

    Over the years, I as a member of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) and also for law enforcement officers within my former agency more generally, I was involved in securing such dismissals for a number of agency employees when overzealous state or sheriffs and/or other local law enforcement arrested or cited federal law enforcement officers who were acting within the authorized scope of their official duties when they were arrested or cited.

    There have been a number of instances afterward where these same overzealous state, sheriffs or local law enforcement officer was sued after the underlying case dismissal occurred against the federal employee. The lawsuit by the federal employee is for a violation of one’s civil rights and has been successful, to the point where the awards have gotten the attention of both the employing governing body and the person who was responsible and involved in the false arrest — as both can be on the financial hook for the damages awarded.

    Nothing stops this kind of grandstanding nonsense that occurred in Grant County Oregon better than their having to write a check with multiple zeros to the right of the first number for a damage award.

    As was noted in another comment in this matter. It is also absolutely imperative that all wildland firefighters secure PLI coverage, such as FEDS for wildland firefighters, to help protect their own interests when situations such as what Snodgrass experienced happen — until such a case is resolved. Roughly 1/2 the basic level of coverage cost of such insurance is mandated to be paid by the employing agency for those who qualify for the PLI coverage as provided by federal law.

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  4. If I was an up and coming employee I would think twice about being a Burn Boss. I was a Type 1 BB for several years before I retired. For those that are I would get Personal Liability Insurance.

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  5. “All Politics are local”. I do think there are some people in the local community feel as if Sheriff McKinley was a hero for “standing up” to the government. I disagree, but I suspect that’s due to my background. I do think we need to make sure we get better protection for those in charge of prescribed burning or this will be repeated.

    I wasn’t there, so I don’t truly know how it played out. My own feeling is that the situation on the ground played into the escape, the suppression of the escape, and the actions of the Sheriff’s office. It’s unfortunate that we had to spend the money on dealing with it in the Courts. I am glad the charges were dismissed, although I think that going through the trial would have most likely done a more thorough job of setting precedent (I assume Mr. Snodgrass would have been found not guilty).

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What do you think?