Judge backs police in 'protective custody' case

A federal judge has recommended dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former Oregon Department of Transportation planner who alleged that local officials violated his civil rights in 2010 by seizing his guns and taking him to a mental ward.

In his May 13 recommendation for dismissal, U.S. District Court Judge Mark D. Clarke said the police and all involved "acted in good faith" to protect David J. Pyles and the public on March 8, 2010, when they temporarily placed him in protective custody at a local hospital and confiscated his guns.

"Based on the information available, the defendants reasonably determined that the risk of doing nothing was simply too great," Clarke wrote. "This Court will not second-guess that decision."

Pyles, who did not return phone calls from the Mail Tribune, has until June 24 to respond to the recommendation.

Pyles' civil lawsuit names as defendants the city of Medford and Jackson County, as well as Sheriff Mike Winters, Deputy Philip Cicero and Medford Police Sgt. Scott Clauson.

Police reports at the time depicted Pyles as a disgruntled ODOT employee prone to verbal outbursts and in "a declining state of mental health." ODOT supervisors cited Pyles' slipping personal hygiene and appearance when they placed him on administrative leave on March 4.

They said Pyles' "somewhat disorderly and uncooperative" exit prompted fears of retaliation.

Pyles was told to work from home until he could undergo a full psychiatric evaluation. But ODOT officials became concerned when the suspended planner bought three handguns, a 12-gauge shotgun and a semi-automatic AK-47 rifle over the next three days.

Reports from OSP Sgt. Jeff Proulx show he called three ODOT managers directly involved in putting Pyles on leave to tell them about Pyles' weapon purchases and to help them make a safety plan if they so wished.

The managers already knew about the guns and "left their residences that evening and stayed with friends or family because of the fear for their lives they felt," Proulx wrote.

A teletype was sent to law enforcement offices across southwestern Oregon on March 7. Officers were told to be on the lookout for Pyles and warned of potential officer safety issues, stating Pyles might be mentally unstable and that he had made "concerning statements." But it also said Pyles hadn't made specific threats and police didn't have a reason to arrest him.

Medford police sent a SWAT team and a negotiator to Pyles' home just before 6 a.m. on March 8. Pyles spoke with the negotiator, took a shower, then voluntarily came out of his house just before 7 a.m. He was handcuffed and agreed to show where the guns and ammunition were in his home so police could collect them, Medford police reports say. Pyles was taken to a Medford hospital for a mental health evaluation and was released about three hours later after being cleared by a psychiatrist.

Pyles' guns were returned to him on March 12.

Pyles' civil lawsuit, which alleges his Second, Fourth and 14th amendment rights were violated, was filed on Feb. 27, 2012.

In his recommendation for dismissal, Clarke said police had reason to believe there was probably cause for a "peace officer hold" on Pyles, and noted that once it was determined he was not a threat, he was released and his weapons were returned.

Pyles now lives in Florida. He is representing himself in the lawsuit, and has filed numerous objections to the court's rulings.

Pyles has argued that his medical evaluation showed he was not a danger to himself or others. Clauson lied to him when he assured Pyles he would not be handcuffed or placed under arrest that morning, Pyles said, adding he was publicly humiliated by the police action. Pyles also has asked the court to require an attorney to handle his case on a pro bono basis.

Clarke noted Pyles' "strong objections to the actions of the defendants, including the large number of police personnel involved." But Clarke also said the information available at the time "clearly presented a serious potential danger to plaintiff and public safety, regardless of whether the information presented turned out to be true or false."

The officers involved "risk their lives every day, and they have to err on the side of safety for themselves and the public. No evidence in the record suggests that the defendants acted with ill will or as part of a conspiracy to target the plaintiff," Clarke wrote, stating he recommended the motions of dismissal filed by the city and county be granted.

"Defendants acted in good faith to protect the plaintiff and the public, and overall, did so in a lawful, fair and courteous manner," he wrote.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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