A former Jackson County psychiatrist who set booby traps on mountain-biking trails outside Ashland apologized to his victims and the community Wednesday before being sentenced to 30 days in jail.
"I apologize to each of you," Jackson Tyler Dempsey said, adding he still was trying to understand why he strung nylon cords between trees and dragged woody debris across paths used by mountain bikers in the Ashland Creek watershed last summer.
Dempsey, 57, said his actions were extremely thoughtless and unethical. He violated his oath as a physician and his own personal values, he added. "I was obligated to be trustworthy and consistent, and I didn't live up to that," Dempsey said. "I am very sorrowful that I let (everyone) down."
Dempsey appeared before Jackson County Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia and pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree assault charge stemming from an incident on July 22, and a recklessly endangering charge related to a July 11 incident. He also pleaded no contest to another charge of recklessly endangering another in an incident that occurred June 27.
Mejia sentenced Dempsey to 30 days in jail on each charge but stipulated the sentences will run concurrently. Dempsey has until May 20 to report to jail. He also must pay $2,450 restitution and stay off the trail system in the Ashland watershed for two years while he is on bench probation, Mejia ruled.
Mejia characterized Dempsey's actions as "shocking." The judge expressed dismay that a man with Dempsey's background and training would "take such huge risks with other people's health and safety."
Bill Roussel, 47, one of the mountain bikers injured by Dempsey's actions, spoke at Wednesday's sentencing. Roussel, the owner of Ashland Mountain Adventures, a biking shuttle service, said he encountered Dempsey, whom he described as an older man with a trimmed white beard who always had a small white dog with him, at least four times before he ultimately hit debris maliciously dragged onto the trail by Dempsey on the morning of July 22.
"I think he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Roussel told Mejia.
The trees were carefully placed in a way that riders could probably recover from hitting or dodging a piece of log, and then begin to accelerate again before the next obstacle. It took several riders over a half-hour to remove all the debris from the pathways, he told the Mail Tribune last summer.
"There were more than 60 pieces of deadfall covering a 40-yard area," Roussel said Wednesday, adding he was bruised, scraped and suffered a sprained wrist in the fall.
Roussel said when he finished his ride, he called an officer with the U.S. Forest Service, who headed up to the watershed and arrested Dempsey.
"There has been no trail sabotage since Mr. Dempsey has been arrested," Roussel said.
Jordan Daniels, 22, of Ashland, also was a victim of Dempsey's sabotage. Roussel and Daniels expressed their fear and dismay that someone would intentionally set booby traps on the trails.
"It's terrible," Daniels said, adding he was glad that "the man who made (him) so afraid" had been arrested and brought to justice.
The Southern Oregon University student and frequent mountain biker was riding down an unauthorized trail in the Ashland watershed when he came around a blind corner. Something had been strung across the trail about 100 feet ahead of him, Daniels told the Mail Tribune in March.
Daniels was going too fast to avoid a nylon cord strung several feet off the ground, striking it with his neck. His body hit one tree, his bike another. A protective neck brace may have prevented serious injury to his body, but his bike frame was destroyed, he said.
A report from the Forest Service arresting officer said that Dempsey, who originally was charged with fourth-degree assault and three counts of reckless endangerment, admitted to sabotaging trails in the Ashland watershed on at least five different days in June and July because he "did not like downhill mountain bikers."
Dempsey admitted to laying nylon cord, nails and vegetation along several trails, the report said.
Calling his client's actions "galactically stupid," Dempsey's defense attorney, David Corden, nonetheless stated the behavior was out of character for the psychiatrist. Dempsey has been a well-respected mental health professional in the Rogue Valley for 23 years, he said. Corden urged Mejia to consider a packet of letters sent to the court from Dempsey's colleagues.
The Mail Tribune obtained 11 letters written by local mental health care professionals to the court expressing support for Dempsey. They wrote of their shock and dismay over the allegations against Dempsey and pleas for leniency.
One letter was written by Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director for Health and Human Services. He said he had worked alongside Dempsey for the past three decades.
"He is steady, caring, knowledgeable, honest and open-minded," Shames wrote, adding Dempsey has worked hard for the poor and disenfranchised.
"(Dempsey) has helped thousands of patients in our community over the years," he wrote, urging the District Attorney's Office to "consider the shame, loss of income, and loss of prestige, as adequate punishment for Jackson Dempsey."
"He does not need to be broken any further. It will not serve our community, the larger society, or the legacy of his service to the needy in Southern Oregon, for him to be incarcerated or to lose his medical license," Shames wrote.
Shames told the Mail Tribune Wednesday that he wrote the letter on his home stationery. Shames stressed he was speaking as a colleague, and not in his capacity as the county's medical director.
"I was speaking as someone who has known him for 30 years," Shames said. "I have a sense of him."
Dempsey's actions have altered his life, and the life of his family, forever, Shames said, adding Dempsey did not discuss details of the case with him but expressed great remorse.
"He did something wrong," Shames said. "I have to assume it was a significant lapse of judgment."
Dempsey stopped working for Jackson County Mental Heath on Oct. 19, but county officials would not say whether Dempsey was fired or resigned.
Dempsey has a current, active license with the Oregon Medical Board, first issued in 1989, and shows no negative action nor malpractice, according to an OMB spokeswoman.
OMB Executive Director Kathleen Haley told the Mail Tribune that any open cases against Dempsey would not be public record, but added the OMB does investigate criminal charges brought against its physicians.
"Part of what we look at is whether it affects their ability to safely practice medicine, which is what our focus is here," she said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.