Police were called earlier this month on a report of a man walking around with a mop, with a pistol visible on the front of his belt. In a rarity, the responding officer took the man’s gun.
When The Dalles Police Officer Kyle Cozad responded, he found the man mopping the pavement by Community Meal, by Third and Pentland streets, and the man appeared to be talking to the mop.
Knowing the man had a history of suspected mental illness and a history of violent interactions with both his family and community members, and that he was exhibiting what appeared to be delusions, Cozad wrote in a police report that he was concerned the man might hurt someone “for reasons that didn’t actually exist.”
After talking with the man, Cozad confiscated his weapon, which the man had disassembled and put into his pocket.
Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley said officers can remove weapons under their “community caretaking” function, a law that’s been on the books since at least 1991 and allows law enforcement to engage in acts to serve and protect the public, including to prevent serious harm.
He said officers remove weapons from people maybe five or six times a year.
The law gives officers “the ability to protect people, and that can be the person involved or the public,” Nisley said.
It’s common in attempted suicides, for example, to seize guns, he said. Or, if someone is arrested on a felony, and they have guns, the guns will be seized.
“It happens occasionally,” Nisley said. “It’s not a routine practice. The officer on the ground who’s faced with a crisis situation has to make an on-the-spot judgment on whether it’s safe to leave that firearm where it is. In their judgment if it’s not, they will seize the firearm for community caretaking purposes.
“This does not mean the person loses their right to own firearms. It doesn’t mean they lose their ownership of the firearm, and it doesn’t mean we go to their home to search for other firearms. It’s an immediate assessment of the situation. I would call it a common sense approach to making a community safe.”
He said officers must “balance that person’s right to own a firearm with the inherent danger that firearms represent to other people.”
Nisley said, “The police are not out there rounding up guns from people. These are circumstances that are presented to the police.”
The handful of times a year officers take guns includes all circumstances, including when someone dies alone at home of natural causes and they have weapons in the house. Officers will often secure the firearms because they don’t want someone coming in and stealing them. And they always return them to family members, he said.
It is more common for police to seize knives, because they are more commonly found on people.
When Cozad found the man, he located the weapon, a Smith and Wesson Walther P99, in pieces in the man’s jacket. It was the lower receiver, a black slide, and a 15-round magazine with seven rounds loaded in it.
The man said he knew Community Meal was private property so he wanted the gun in his pocket in pieces. He told Cozad his brother bought the gun for him years ago. Cozad queried the man and the gun with various police databases and learned the man was not a convicted felon and the gun was not reported stolen.
“However,” Cozad wrote in a police report, he knew from the man’s “many contacts” with the police department that he had a “history of suspected mental illness” and a “history of violent interactions both with his family and members of the community.”
The man told Cozad “he sees things that ‘circumvent the fabric of space and time.’ He stated he was not delusional, but that he was suffering from bad ancestry and slander,” Cozad wrote.
The man also accused an officer of flipping him off, but then admitted that maybe he was imagining things.
Those were among the “nonsensical statements” the man made to Cozad.
“I explained to [the man] that I was concerned, specifically because of his mental health, that he was walking around the community with a loaded firearm,” Cozad wrote. The man told police people were consistently stalking him and giving him chloroform.
“I explained to [the man] that the things he was saying were not making any sense and that I didn’t feel comfortable with him carrying a loaded firearm in the community. I specifically addressed his concern that his mother wasn’t his mother.”
The man told Cozad he believed his mother might be part of a “splinter cell …counter-terrorism” operation based in her apartment.
Cozad told the man that he “feared, based on his statements to me, that [the man] would experience delusional behavior involving members of the community and potentially kill or hurt them based on his delusional behavior.”
The man said if the police took his firearm, he wouldn’t have means to protect himself.
He said people put leaves in his pathway and had given him “ruffees” daily. He said he was angry that people were doing that to him.
“These statements furthered my belief that [he] would get so angry, that he would misunderstand an interaction with a member of the community and intentionally hurt or kill someone for reasons that were not true.
“I then advised [him] that I would be taking his firearm for safekeeping.” He took pictures of the handgun at the man’s request and gave him a receipt for the weapon.