Sheriff’s office used new gun seizure law twice in past six months

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but he also believes there are times when a new state law, called an extreme risk protection order, is vital for public safety. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe believes in the Second Amendment.

Yet he was one of the first in the state this year to use a new law that allows police to take firearms away from citizens. 

Gun law: How Oregon’s law is being used. See story here.

Wolfe, though, felt he had no choice and the move didn’t affect his views on the sanctity of the Second Amendment.

“I am opposed to restricting gun rights.”

However, not everybody should have a gun. If there are people who are demonstrating mental health issues, they’re probably not the best ones to be in possession of a gun,” said Wolfe.

In April, Wolfe approved a move to issue an extreme risk protection order on Vale resident Billy Joe Waddell.

Waddell was no stranger to the sheriff’s office.

In July 2017 Waddell was lodged in Malheur County Jail on a mental hold after deputies were called to his home where he was shooting a .357 revolver into the attic. Waddell told police he thought people who lived in his attic were trying to poison him.

The new law allows a judge – under narrowly-tailored conditions – to issue an order against a person considered to be at risk of committing suicide or harming others. The order allows the individual up to 24 hours to hand over their guns to police, a third party or a licensed gun dealer. The weapon is confiscated for a year, but the individual can petition the court earlier to regain possession.

Wolfe decided to seek the extreme risk protection order in April after his deputies arrested Waddell for disorderly conduct.

“He was yelling and banging on things and it appeared as if Waddell was yelling at people that were not there,” said Wolfe.

When Waddell was arrested, according to police, he was wearing the gun and claimed he needed the weapon for protection against invisible terrorists.

Wolfe said he decided to seize Waddell’s weapon based on his belief the Vale man was unstable. He said that under specific conditions an extreme risk protection order is the right tool.

Wolfe said he doesn’t believe such an order conflicts with his support of the Second Amendment.

“There are several things about it. One is a cop just can’t say, ‘Hey, this guy should not have guns,’ and then go take them,” said Wolfe.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, said he is also a strong Second Amendment advocate. He said the fact a judge – and not police – must approve such an order preserves due process.

“There are situations where you have someone who is unstable and who has weapons and showing they may use their weapon in a dangerous way. So, you go to the judge and see if they agree with you,” said Goldthorpe.

Wolfe agreed.

“It goes before a court and then the judge, based on testimony from family members, neighbors, law enforcement, determines if that person can have a firearm. Those people that say, ‘I am not giving it to the cops because I will never see it again,’ well they don’t have to. You can give it to other people. They just can’t have it,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said his office “rarely” seeks extreme risk protection orders. So far, he said, his office sought only two – one for Waddell and the other for county resident Jacqueline Williams.

“It is not a situation where law enforcement is out to grab guns. In fact, we would just as soon that everyone be responsible and be able to possess guns,” said Wolfe.

Waddell was arrested again in May after police said he made threatening statements to the owner of an Ontario motel. In that case, Waddell, who was staying at the Economy Inn on North Oregon Street, got into an argument with Krishna Bagha, the owner of the motel. Lifeways, a county mental health provider, paid for Waddell to stay at the motel for a week. But Waddell refused to leave after the week was over and then, according to police, told Bagha that “white people were going to kill her and her family because they were brown.”

He was charged with three misdemeanor crimes – second-degree intimidation, menacing and second-degree disorderly conduct – from the May incident.

Waddell still faces a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct from the April incident.

The sheriff’s office issued an extreme risk protection order to Williams in June after a domestic dispute where, police say, she fired a 20-gauge shotgun at a relative. The extreme risk protection order for Williams, though, was the last in a long line of incidents involving her and the sheriff’s office, said Undersheriff Travis Johnson.

“In our opinion, she displays some mental health issues,” said Johnson.

Williams was charged with assault, menacing and the unlawful use of a weapon from the May incident.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.