News

Guns pulled in drama

A detective and a receptionist prevented a tragedy from occurring at the Oak Harbor Police Station by keeping their cool in a very intense situation involving a mentally imbalanced man with three loaded guns.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Almon presented Receptionist Renee Hammer and Detective Mike Bailey with letters of commendations at the City Council meeting Tuesday night. Almon said the confrontation easily could have turned violent. In fact, he said an officer would have been justified in using deadly force.

“Thank you so much for sticking your necks out,” Mayor Patty Cohen said, “being at the right place at the right time and putting yourself in harm’s way.”

On April 25, Hammer was working at the front desk of the police station — behind the bullet-resistant glass — when she saw through the glass doors that two cars sped into the parking lot, with one car blocking the other in. She guessed that it was an erupting traffic dispute.

A woman with a young child was just walking out the door; Hammer ran to the lobby to help the woman.

“I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t get in the middle of something,” she said.

As Hammer was in the doorway, a large and agitated man came up very close to her and held out a loaded and cocked .45 caliber handgun. The 46-year-old Oak Harbor man was being very loud and yelled at her to take the weapon. Luckily, she had the presence of mind to grab the gun, though she wasn’t exactly comfortable about it.

“It was a big gun and I didn’t want to touch it, really,” she said.

Detective Bailey happened to be walking behind the reception desk and heard the commotion. He looked through the glass and thought that the man was attacking Hammer.

“My thought was, this guy is grabbing Renee with a gun,” he said.

But when Bailey opened the door, Hammer ducked past him holding the gun. The agitated and unpredictable man then approached Bailey. He yelled that he had another gun and started reaching for his shoulder harness, grabbing the butt of the second gun.

“He was a pretty large guy in a sweaty state,” Bailey said, “and he wasn’t making much sense.”

Bailey drew his own gun and ordered the man not to grab the pistol. The man did not immediately cooperate, but eventually let go of the gun and dropped to the ground.

At this point, Sgt. Jerry Baker, Capt. Rick Wallace and Chief Almon had also heard the commotion and ran to help Bailey.

“When you hear someone yell, ‘Drop the gun,’ it gets your attention,” Almon said. He came out of his office to see Hammer hunkering behind her desk, holding a gun with two fingers.

Bailey and Almon handcuffed the man and found two loaded handguns on him.

It turns out, Almon said, that the man was going through a mental health crisis and had become very paranoid and agitated. His family was very worried about his safety and their own. A family member had driven after him in a car and blocked him in at the parking lot.

Almon said nobody’s certain about the man’s motivation in driving to the police station, though officers don’t think he intended to harm anyone. But the man was lucky that nothing terrible happened. As Almon said, it’s just not OK to pull out a gun at a police station.

“It’s one of those incidents in which an officer easily would have been justified in using deadly force,” he said, “but it would have been a tragedy.”

The man was involuntarily committed to a facility for mental health evaluation and treatment. Almon said he wasn’t arrested and won’t be charged with a crime.

Bailey said he’s just relieved that the scary incident ended the way it did.

“It’s lucky Renee grabbed the gun,” he said. “The situation could turned out totally different.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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