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  • Anatomy of an Incident: Guns seized in Medford

    Police reports detail events leading to controversial case of ODOT worker who bought multiple weapons
  • Police reports on a disgruntled Oregon Department of Transportation planner who surrendered to a police negotiator and SWAT team early March 8 indicate that the man hadn't made any threats, but people who worked with him were increasingly concerned that violence could erupt.
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  • Police reports on a disgruntled Oregon Department of Transportation planner who surrendered to a police negotiator and SWAT team early March 8 indicate that the man hadn't made any threats, but people who worked with him were increasingly concerned that violence could erupt.
    Incident reports from Medford police and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department describe verbal outbursts and "a declining state of mental health" seen in slipping personal hygiene and appearance, and a "somewhat disorderly and uncooperative" exit when the man was placed on administrative leave on March 4.
    Fears of retaliation prompted electronic surveillance that notified authorities when the suspended planner, David J. Pyles, 39, bought three handguns, a 12-gauge shotgun and a semi-automatic AK-47 rifle over the next three days.
    The purchases only heightened police concerns, prompting additional meetings, surveillance and, finally, in the pre-dawn hours of March 8, the intervention of a negotiator and SWAT team, who took Pyles into protective custody for a mental-health evaluation and seized his guns. He was released in about 3.5 hours and his guns were returned March 12.
    "Given the circumstances, we decided to react to be on the safe side," Jackson County Sheriff's Lt. Rich Fogarty said. "I think we did what was necessary."
    The seizure of the guns and Pyles' trip in handcuffs to Rogue Valley Medical Center for a mental-health evaluation sparked controversy among gun-rights and civil-liberty advocates.
    "If the cops have an explanation, they should give it," Oregon Firearms Federation Director Kevin Starrett said in the days following the incident, which he called "chilling."
    The Mail Tribune requested reports from Medford police, the sheriff's department and Oregon State Police in an attempt to piece together the details. The OSP hasn't provided its report yet.
    Oregon Department of Transportation officials asked state police to stand by at ODOT offices at 100 Antelope Road on the afternoon of March 4 while supervisors informed Pyles he was being put on paid administrative leave. The troopers also warned him that if he returned without supervisors' permission, he would be trespassing.
    Pyles, who was a shop steward with the Association of Engineering Employees — a union representing ODOT employees — said he had an ongoing conflict with supervisors and he had filed a variety of complaints since the middle of last year. ODOT Communications Director Patrick Cooney confirmed there was a personnel issue but said he could not disclose details.
    However, he said, the department routinely calls on Oregon State Police to handle security at its facilities.
    While the OSP report hasn't been finished and released, Medford's report includes information that was passed between agencies.
    Deputy Chief Tim George wrote that officers who attended a meeting with OSP and the sheriff's office about Pyles on March 7 told him that "Pyles was somewhat disorderly and uncooperative with supervisors and staff" at the ODOT offices when he was escorted out. "There was fear among the employees of ODOT that Pyles could cause them harm," George wrote.
    Medford police Sgt. Scott Clauson wrote that he was told Pyles had left the building, but went to the back door and began banging on it before eventually leaving. Clauson's report also notes that Pyles had become "increasingly disgruntled over the last six months" and that coworkers said he was prone to frequent outbursts.
    Pyles declined to discuss with the Mail Tribune any outbursts or other aspects of his behavior at work, which he said was part of his dispute being handled through the union. He denied having returned to bang on a door after being escorted out of the building on March 4.
    He said he collected boxes of his belongings and union paperwork, but a supervisor accused him of taking department property. He refused to let administrators look at what he said was union material, but said they could look through one of the boxes that belonged to him before his supervisor and two troopers helped him load the boxes into his Jeep and he drove away.
    Jackson County Sheriff's deputy Phil Cicero said in his report that he was told about the incident at the ODOT offices and concerns about possible retaliation and advised to attend a meeting about it the next day.
    On March 5, he, Undersheriff Rod Countryman, ODOT's District 8 Manager Jerry Marmon and a private security firm employee ODOT had hired temporarily met at the ODOT offices.
    According to Cicero's report, Marmon described "a declining state of mental health" that included declines in Pyles' personal hygiene and appearance and verbal outbursts.
    Marmon told the officers that Pyles hadn't made any specific threats of violence, but he was concerned about "possible retaliation or workplace violence," Cicero's report said. Marmon said Pyles was frustrated primarily with a supervisor who worked in Douglas County, but he worried that the retaliation could be directed at him and the White City office.
    Cicero monitored the ODOT property and contacted the OSP division that does background checks for gun purchases and asked it to notify him if Pyles underwent a background check to buy firearms.
    Oregon Administrative Rule 257-010-0055(2) authorizes law enforcement agencies to access information from the OSP Firearms Instant Check System during an ongoing investigation, OSP spokesman Gregg Hastings said. Agencies only have to confirm that they are law enforcement and have an open case, usually by sending a written request on agency letterhead referencing an ongoing criminal investigation, he said.
    Pyles' name was flagged after a phone call but the written request, usually sent right away by fax, apparently wasn't sent, Hastings said.
    "That was an oversight and we will take steps to make sure that doesn't happen again," he said, noting that the process is rare.
    Over the past eight years, he estimated that police statewide have made about two dozen similar requests. During that time, roughly 1.2 million background checks for firearm purchases have been done, he said.
    Hastings said the flag doesn't block a purchase if the person otherwise qualifies to buy a gun legally.
    On March 6, Cicero was notified that Pyles had bought a Heckler & Koch .45-caliber pistol and a Remington 12-gauge shotgun March 5 at Sportsman's Warehouse in Medford. He sent that information up the chain of command.
    By March 7, the sheriff's department had been notified of the purchase of a second H&K pistol at Sportsman's Warehouse on March 6 and the purchase of a Walther .380-caliber handgun and an AK-47 rifle at Black Bird Shopping Center on March 7.
    Pyles, who owned a Ruger 30.06 rifle prior to his recent purchases, said he had been considering buying additional guns and had just gotten his tax refund.
    "It was an unfortunate coincidence," he said.
    Amid growing concerns in the wake of the gun purchases, OSP, the sheriff's department and Medford police met at 6 p.m. March 7, sheriff's Detective Charley Retzer wrote in his report. A dozen officers reviewed the case and Marmon offered an account of Pyles' deteriorating relationships and performance at work over the past year.
    Retzer and Lt. Rich Fogarty went to the ODOT office on Antelope Road at about 7:45 p.m. to examine Pyles' desk and computer. Retzer's report said he found no papers about workplace conflicts. The computer's hard drive had documents in which Pyles discussed harassment happening at work and a worker's compensation claim about "anxiety, depression and physiological aliments caused by his workplace stress."
    Retzer said he didn't find any threats toward Pyles' coworkers or supervisors or any indication that Pyles would harm himself.
    At around 9 p.m., Medford police started surveillance at Pyles' Effie Street home, Detective Bill Ford, one of the officers conducting the surveillance, wrote in his report.
    Medford police officer Tom Ianieri, who had attended the 6 p.m. briefing, wanted to have Pyles' home watched "in case he left his residence to cause harm," Ford wrote.
    Clauson's report says that based on Pyles' weapons purchases, some ODOT employees were leaving their homes to stay in motels.
    At 9:24 p.m., state police sent a teletype to law enforcement across southwest Oregon asking officers to be on the lookout for Pyles and warning of potential officer safety issues. It warned that he might be unstable and had made "concerning statements."
    "There is no PC (probable cause) for arrest and no specific threat," it read.
    At 9:50 p.m., a second OSP teletype reported that "there is now probable cause to detain for a POH (police officer hold)" and a hand-written note on Medford's copy of the bulletin notes it is a mental health hold by OSP. The available police reports don't indicate what the probable cause was.
    At 11:45 p.m. on March 7, George summoned SWAT team members to assist with surveillance at Pyles' house and sent Ford to call other ODOT employees for additional information.
    Upon reviewing the Mail Tribune's request for the Medford police reports, Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston determined that several pages of Ford's report recounting those conversations were exempt from public release to protect the privacy of the involved individuals. Other private information and details doctors at Rogue Valley Medical Center provided to Ford after examining Pyles also were redacted from the reports.
    George's report explains that based on "the totality of the circumstances," he decided to continue surveillance through the night. Then, the SWAT team would surround the house as a security measure and Clauson, a trained hostage negotiator, would call Pyles at a normal awakening time to try to convince him to come out, so officers could take him into protective custody for a mental health evaluation at RVMC and to have him hand over his guns for safekeeping.
    Clauson's report indicates he was called at 4:21 a.m. March 8 and briefed on the plan at 5 a.m. He called Pyles' cell phone at 5:46 a.m., but got no answer on that or a subsequent call. On the third call, one minute later, Pyles answered.
    Clauson explained he was a police officer and "was concerned for his safety based upon information that I had received about him and his employment situation." Pyles asked whether he was from the union and hung up.
    Pyles has since recounted that he thought the early-morning calls might be pranks, then briefly confused Clauson with a union representative with a similar name. Pyles said he called a union rep and talked about half an hour about the situation, while police continued to try to reach him.
    Pyles has released messages Clauson and a police dispatcher left him, and the Mail Tribune has obtained a copy of a 9-1-1 call Pyles made to reconnect with Clauson. (To hear the messages, go to www.mailtribune.com/policevoicemail and www.mailtribune.com/pyles911.)
    Pyles sought assurances from police that he wouldn't be arrested, handcuffed or taken from his home if he came out. He also asked whether he could take a shower before coming out to talk and was permitted to do so. He called Clauson at 6:48 a.m. and said he was ready to come out.
    He emerged from his home and was handcuffed. Ford's report describes Pyles as "extremely argumentative," as officers tried to explain their involvement and asked for permission to go into his house and get his firearms.
    Ford's report notes that Pyles asked for an attorney twice. "We explained that this was not a criminal case and that we wanted to seek his cooperation in obtaining his firearms for temporary safekeeping," Ford wrote.
    Pyles said that officers told him he could get an attorney and they could get a warrant. Ultimately, he agreed to accompany police into his house to point out his weapons. All six guns, magazines to the pistols and ammunition stored separately were seized and Pyles asked that a receipt for the property be mailed to him later.
    He was then taken in handcuffs in a marked police car to a psychiatric care unit next to RVMC's emergency room, where the handcuffs were removed, reports say.
    Ford and Clauson briefed an ER doctor at 8:35 a.m. after a mental health nurse examined Pyles. The doctor then examined him and called for a psychiatrist to evaluate him. Pyles was released at 11:30 a.m. and Clauson and Ford gave him a ride home.
    The story rocketed to prominence across the Internet and talk radio, outraging advocates of gun rights and other civil liberties. Pyles said he was seeking legal counsel, but said this week that he hasn't retained an attorney yet.
    On March 11, he sent an e-mail to the city asking for his guns back. They were returned March 12.
    On March 15, he called on city officials to investigate and address what he called civil rights violations. Mayor Gary Wheeler said that was unlikely as he and the City Council aren't involved in day-to-day police operations and have full confidence in the department.
    Pyles said he had talked with the FBI about the incident. FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele confirmed that he had contacted them, but declined to say whether they were investigating.
    The Jackson County Sheriff's Department reports indicate they will keep the case open, but Medford said its case is closed.
    Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.
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