6 threats investigated during Oregon Gov. Brown’s 1st term
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Saturday before Thanksgiving 2015, two men showed up unannounced at Gov. Kate Brown’s bungalow in southeast Portland.
Nolan Scott Ashby, a rug cleaner from Milwaukie, and Darrell Lynn Snook Sr., a homeless man, had wanted to talk to the governor about homeless veterans’ issues. They were disappointed but cooperative when a member of Brown’s security detail told them she was unavailable.
“I saw her go in the house,” Nolan told The Oregonian/OregonLive this week . “We saw her pull up right before we got there.”
Though the impromptu visit to Brown’s private residence ended without incident, Oregon State Police would open an investigation three weeks later. That’s when troopers were notified that Ashby had “intended to blow up the home,” documents show.
The encounter was one of six perceived threat investigations opened since Brown took office in February 2015. By comparison, there were eight in the preceding 12 years of her two predecessors, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Gov. John Kitzhaber.
In evaluating hostility toward a governor, state police have to differentiate between protected political speech and potentially criminal behavior. Troopers also have to contend with individuals struggling with mental illness.
The Oregonian/OregonLive requested information about threat investigations tied to the last three governors in an effort to learn more about the frequency and seriousness of such incidents. In May, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Tyrone Waters should not have been committed to psychiatric care for six months for the June 2015 death threat he made against Brown. Waters has schizophrenia and his mother — former state Sen. Avel Gordly — has spoken publicly of his struggles.
Records and other information released by state police showed more anecdotal accounts of threat assessments than actual files opened. In half the recorded cases involving Brown, the individuals exhibiting hostility toward the governor had documented histories of mental illness. One man was in the custody of Oregon State Hospital; two others were inmates at an Eastern Oregon prison.
A special unit of the Oregon State Police protects the governor. According to spokesman Capt. Timothy R. Fox, the troopers protecting Brown believe the rise of social media has fueled an increase in threating speech toward her. However, they’re unable to quantify it because state law prohibits law enforcement from keeping records of anyone’s political views unless it is directly relates to a criminal investigation and there is reason to believe the person may be breaking the law.
The most disturbing incident report involved Kulongowski, who in 2007 had a .50-caliber machine gun pointed at him during a Veterans Day parade in Ontario. It was the only threat investigation tied to Kulongoski or Kitzhaber involving someone in close proximity, state police said.
The machine gun owner, Tony William Kleve, had mounted the weapon on a pivoting stand in his Jeep Wrangler — custom painted with “Rat Patrol” on the hood and bearing Idaho license plates. After the parade, records show, Kleve parked directly across from a group that included Kulongoski, first lady Mary Oberst and other officials.
“The barrel of the gun was pointed directly at the dignitaries,” police wrote. “The gun had an ammo box attached to it which contained what appeared to be a linked belt of 50 caliber ammunition loaded into the chamber of the gun.”
When a plainclothes trooper approached Kleve and struck up a conversation, Kleve said he was not a veteran, just “interested in guns,” according to the police report. Kleve “used the term ‘hot’” in describing how he pieced together the fully automatic machine gun over the years.
The trooper, who had not identified himself to Kleve as law enforcement, called for uniformed officers to ask Kleve to move the Jeep. Although police said Kleve became argumentative, he drove away within 10 minutes.
Oregon court records show no charges were filed in incident. It is illegal in Oregon for anyone older than 12 to purposefully point a loaded firearm at another person, except in self-defense.
Troopers in Oregon’s Dignitary Protection Unit estimated they looked into more than 100 possible threats against Brown without documenting the investigations; they provided no equivalent estimate for Kulongoski and Kitzhaber. Troopers even checked on a journalist who worked for The Oregonian/OregonLive, after someone else emailed Brown’s office impersonating the reporter.
Brown’s state lawyers have cited safety concerns as justification for not releasing an advance copy of her calendar to news organizations, though her communications team occasionally shares details about upcoming public appearances in press releases.
“Releasing the Governor’s future calendar would expose sensitive and personal information such as which residence the Governor would be staying in overnight” and it would compromise state troopers’ ability to keep the governor safe, Brown’s Government Accountability Attorney Emily Matasar wrote in an email.
“A bold statement”
In December 2015, state police records show, Snook told his parole officer that Ashby had been planning to blow up the governor’s home. Snook claimed he talked Ashby out of it.
The Portland Police Bureau’s bomb squad immediately checked the property and found no explosives.
Snook later told state police the two had met when Ashby was talking to people and filming with his phone in the area of southeast Portland where Snook’s van was parked, according to police notes.
Ashby asked Snook if he wanted to go to the governors’ home to talk to her about homeless veterans’ issues, to which Snook agreed. Ashby had served in the Oregon Army National Guard.
When interviewed by state police, Ashby said he went to Brown’s home primarily because he had concerns about her decision to accept Syrian refugees into the state and “wanted to make a bold statement.” When reached by The Oregonian/OregonLive on Wednesday, Ashby said it didn’t seem right for the government to help refugees get housing when there are homeless veterans in Oregon.
“My point was, take care of our own,” Ashby said.
Ashby told police he never talked to Snook about blowing up Brown’s house or discussed explosives. Snook also told police he did not recall such a conversation, nor did he remember telling his parole officer about it. Snook, meanwhile, claimed he went to Brown’s house about his 1995 rape conviction, which he claimed was based on a false accusation.
State police closed the case without taking further action.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com