By John Taft
Grants Pass, Oregon – Five of them carefully crawled over a gate and proceeded along a 200 foot graveled drive towards a house and barn. Probing flashlights illuminated the night while they searched for their objective. The temperature was a chilly 40 degrees, cold enough to make a man shiver if he wasn’t dressed warmly. Their mission, to get a chicken. These men were the elite of the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office Chicken Swat Team. They always get their chicken. Some say they received special OP training from Col. Sanders. Midnight had come and gone on the morning of March 24th, 2004, and careful planning and strategy were ready to be set in motion. It was the beginning of the famous chicken raid at the home of a Good Samaritan, Nick Gombos.
A Short Synopsis of the Events
Prior to the Raid on the Hen House
The following is a short synopsis of the events leading up to the infamous chicken raid. The story published in the US~Observer (usobserver.com) in May of 04 gives more detail. Nick Gombos is a good-hearted fellow and was on his way home at night from working out at a spa. He stopped at Ray’s Market in Murphy, Oregon, to pick up a free advertiser newspaper and found Speckles the hen huddling next to a box for the night. Thinking the hen wasn’t safe from predators Nick took her home, and the store was later advised where the hen was. It wasn’t a secret; there was no intent to steal a $2 dollar chicken, only compassion for the welfare of the bird. The manager of Ray’s Market realized this and shortly after the chicken raid by deputies said, “Mr. Gombos’ heart was in the right when he took the chicken.”
Nick’s wife had called the sheriff’s office with a complaint regarding a threatening phone call. No action was taken on this complaint, but the complaint did set in motion one of the most bazaar arrests and prosecutions in Josephine County (JoCo) memory. A deputy then talked to the store manager who asked that the chicken be brought back as customers were asking about the hen. In the confusion it appears that someone at the store initially told Nick he could keep the Barred Rock hen.
Nick Arrested: Clad in Briefs,
Forced Down Long Drive,
After 1 A.M. at 40º
Nick was under heavy medication prescribed by his doctor the evening of the chicken raid. Between midnight and 1 a.m. Nick and his wife were awakened by activity outside their home. Nick went outside to confront the intruders, dressed only in his red speedos (briefs). A short time later Nick would be under arrest and forced by five JoCo deputies down his long drive to the road where the patrol cars were parked on the other side of a locked gate. The time of the arrest was 1:08 in the morning on March 24, 2004. Nick was charged with interfering with a police officer and third degree theft. Nick had no clothes on other than his red briefs to protect him from the cold 40º night air, and no shoes. The deputies didn’t allow him to get dressed. Nick is a diabetic and walking barefooted on sharp gravel could easily cause bleeding cuts that are dangerous to a diabetic. That was of no interest or concern to these deputies. With no clothes and no blanket it was a cold 30-minute trip in the patrol car to the Grants Pass, Oregon, county jail. Nick’s wife later told me it broke her heart to see him being forced down the gravel drive with no clothes and bare feet by these brown uniformed Josephine County deputies. Sheriff Daniel didn’t comment on this alleged Gestapo type police action during a radio interview.
Speckles Neck Wrung
The deputies returned the chicken to the store, and in a matter of days Speckles’ neck was wrung by a man alleged to be intoxicated. He was fined and ordered to do community service. But that didn’t stop the prosecution or persecution of Nick Gombos. The former District Attorney Clay Johnson seized the case with a convulsive death grip. I understand Johnson wanted to come back and try the case from retirement but wasn’t allowed to do so. Nick hired Attorney Foster A. Glass to defend himself from this publicly funded attack. Deputy Matt Tripp’s chicken arrest brought Sheriff Dave Daniel under intense heat from the public laugh factor. One story I heard was that at a meeting of sheriffs from around the state of Oregon Daniel’s representative at the meeting was given a rubber chicken to take home to the sheriff. Daniel was the butt of many jokes and snide remarks during the initial outrage over the chicken prosecution. Speckles the hen has seriously affected Daniel’s credibility and reputation with residents of Josephine County.
This past October Sheriff Daniel was on a KAJO talk radio show and was asked about the chicken story. Nick Gombos called in with a dramatic rebuttal to the sheriff’s comments.
It Hasn’t Gone to Court Yet
Announcer: “Sheriff, a lot was made of the chicken thing … do you want to comment on that?”
Sheriff: “I can’t go into real particulars because it hasn’t gone to court yet. But I’ll give you a general synopsis of it. A fellow took some property that didn’t belong to him. A deputy went out and asked him, one deputy went out to this fellow’s home and said hey, return the property and we’ll call it even it’s all over with because the store didn’t really want to prosecute at that time.”
Announcer: “So you’re saying it could have been over right there.”
Sheriff: “That’s right, everything could have been handled right there. This fellow not only said no to the deputy, he made some threats against the deputy. The deputy came back to the office followed standard procedure he got a search warrant signed by a judge (The deputy woke Judge Gerald Neufeld at midnight to get the search warrant signed) and uh it just so happened at the time that the search warrant was signed it was uh the change of shifts between swing shift and graveyard shift. There were a number of deputies there, there were no calls pending. One of those nights it was just quiet, nothing going on. So four deputies and one sergeant went out to this fellow’s house uh recovered the chicken um tried to give the fellow a citation to appear. That’s the way we normally handle these type of cases. The fellow refused to take it. By his refusing to take it the deputies were forced to take him to jail. So it’s a case first of all that could have been handled at the very beginning, it wasn’t. Now could the deputies maybe waited until the next day to taken care of it? Could three deputies gone out or two deputies? That’s all possible, however I stand by, I stand behind the deputies and the procedures they followed.”
My Name is Nick Gombos and I Want You to Tell the Truth, Sheriff Daniel
Announcer: “Let’s go to our first caller, good morning.”
Gombos: “Yes, hi, I wanted to comment to Sheriff Daniels. My name is Nick Gombos, and I’m the one that was arrested for the chicken issue. First, what Sheriff Daniel is talking about is absolutely false. Ah there are sheriffs that came out to my property and threatened to arrest me if I would not give back the chicken. I told them they had no proper right to come onto my property. I’m going to make this long story very short. Also in Ray’s Market in their report itself said they did not want anything done whatsoever and that I could have the chicken. Now the sheriff’s department, because I told them to get off my property because they had no right, woke up Judge Neufeld, which is another good old boy of this town, woke him up at twelve o’clock in the morning to get a warrant to come onto my property to arrest me to get a chicken. And they are lying after a writ about a citation that was read to me. Now, Sheriff Daniel, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And I want you to tell the people the truth, and I want the people to know that if you are voting for a levy that he needs more money he is manipulating the situation and we are going to be paying money for nothing. (This was the November Jail levy that failed.) Now let me tell you something, he had seven police officers five patrol cars out there for a chicken. Absolutely ridiculous! Of course he will tell you something else because he wants his money….” (Money for the jail.)
Announcer: “Gentlemen, comments?”
Sheriff Daniel: “You know all I can say is Mr. Gombos has a trial upcoming and uh let’s wait and hear the results of that trial. I’m not going to come on and justify any of his remarks, certainly we have a disagreement. I can tell you that the people that run Century Market (Ray’s) did want to prosecute. There wouldn’t have been any reason for our officers to go out and contact him if they didn’t.”
Is the Sheriff Confused, or is He Lying?
The fact is at no time did Ray’s Market want to prosecute Nick Gombos for taking the chicken home. I got that information directly from a manager at Ray’s Market on February 14th, 05. Daniel is either deliberately lying or is confused on the facts. On April 12th, 04 a representative for Ray’s Market stated in a victim impact statement with a touch of humor, “We at Ray’s believe this whole mess was the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. … We think that Mr. Gombos’ heart was in the right when he took the chicken. Therefore, we would like to say, ‘no harm, no fowl.’ We do not favor jail time. In fact, the charges against Mr. Gombos should be dropped.” That contradicts Daniel’s last statement as to the store wanting to prosecute. Daniel needs to read that last sentence very carefully, “Charges against Mr. Gombos should be dropped.” The search warrant that allowed JoCo deputies to invade the ranch where Nick and Speckles were was signed March 24th, 04, and the victim’s statement was signed 19 days later.
I recently spoke to the manager at Ray’s Market and asked him if the store had ever wanted to prosecute Nick Gombos and he replied without hesitation, “No.” The chicken mess the deputies and the DA’s office personnel stepped in was of their own creation. A fowl waste of public resources, money, and a public relations nightmare.
Hypothesis: DA Never Intended
to Take Chicken Case to Trial
Sheriff Daniel made the statement, “You know all I can say is uh Mr. Gombos has a trial upcoming and uh let’s wait and hear the results of that trial.” Fact, the case the JoCo prosecutors feverishly pursued against Nick Gombos, for nearly a year, was simply unplugged. The case was dropped along with all the charges by using a legal term, “civil compromise” that saves the new DA from looking like a fool. Former DA Clay Johnson is gone. The new DA Steven Campbell didn’t want the specter of Speckles the chicken hanging around his neck, like an albatross, stinking up the office, and affecting his persona. He did what Johnson wouldn’t do, he got rid of the chicken and Gombos by pulling the plug. This should have been done last March, and wasn’t. It was a smart move by Campbell. I called DA Campbell at the time I received information on the dropping of charges to confirm that the case was over, however he didn’t return the call. At this time how can our justice system explain the 91 court registry entries, waste of DA employees’ time, judge’s time, postage, paper work, etc? All this to prosecute over a $2.00 chicken and the store management wouldn’t sign a complaint. What about the thousands of dollars citizen Nick Gombos will pay to his defense attorney? How can all this be justified when the DA dropped the charges? Weren’t the charges as valid at the time of dropping them as when the DA’s office filed them? In this case justice has not been served. Discovery evidence was reportedly suppressed by the DA’s office, when requested by Nick’s attorney. One tape turned over to the defendant had missing or deleted segments. This and other aspects of the case lead to the conclusion that, the former DA (Clay Johnson) never intended to take the case to trial!
Deputies Get Hundreds of Dollars in Overtime
Five deputies (Gombos claims seven) made the one o’clock hop out to the ranch to secure Speckles the hen. As a chicken Speckles was worth a couple of dollars. Some deputies were on their regular shift and others were on overtime. The overtime is reported to have cost taxpayers around $300. The sheriff never mentioned this information on the radio. Also, the several patrol vehicles on location that night suck expensive gasoline like a thirsty sheriff who recently cost the taxpayers well over a hundred thousand dollars in two lost lawsuits arising from Daniel’s wrongful firing of two deputies.
Did a Deputy Come Out to Investigate
Burglaries are rampant in Josephine County, which can be verified by checking the daily police reports in the local paper. I talked to a fellow recently, and he complained that thieves had hit his place and got off with $1,000 worth of tools and personal effects. A deputy did return his call, but none came to his place to investigate and gather evidence. However, deputies did turn out in force for a $2.00 chicken that was being well cared for. The reality is, it’s a rare burglary in JoCo that gets investigated by the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office. They will tell you they don’t have the manpower, resources, or funding. But who can forget Matt Tripp and four other Jim-Dandy deputies and Speckles the hen. The JoCo sheriffs office’s inefficiency is known to many and articles describing this problem can be found on newswithviews.com. and usobserver.com The taxpayers are the ones that get stuck with the bill (chicken bill) and have poor protection from Dave Daniel’s sheriffs office, while getting the boot.
Why the Voters Say No to Increasing the Criminal Justice System’s Budget
The following is a listing of who’s who in the Josephine County Criminal Justice System that signed documents that went into the case registry and took legal action moving the chicken prosecution forward toward a trial date that never happened. The prosecution of Nick Gombos by the DA squawks of duplicity, inefficiency, and the wasting of time and money on a grand scale. It indicates this case may not be an isolated one in which taxpayer dollars are used to punish without going to trial to promote a personal or political agenda within the criminal justice system. There are no whistle blowers in the local CJS to tell. Judge Neufeld signed the search warrant that gave Deputy Matt Tripp the authority to set up the legal dominos that would later collapse. Tripp is the deputy that Gombos refused to allow to enter the ranch property without a search warrant. In obtaining the search warrant it wasn’t the midnight ride of Paul Revere; this was the midnight ride of Deputy Matt Tripp who woke a slumbering Judge Gerald Neufeld to sign a search warrant. Tripp showed up at Gombos’ home less than an hour later with four more deputies in tow to help snatch Speckles the sleeping hen. When these human foxes got in the hen house, they reportedly injured a hen not involved in the snatch. Five members of the DA’s office spent time and money pursuing this case. They are: Plaintiff for the State of Oregon Linda Marie Wingenbach, Lisa Marie Turner, Scott K. Titzler, Michael Sanchez OSB # 95159, and Cynthia Zamorski OSB # 04461. These names all appeared on various documents in a failed attempt to convict Gombos. The judges that signed documents are Judge Gerald Neufeld, Judge Michael Newman, Judge Allen Coon, and Judge Lindi Baker. Baker signed the civil compromise document to drop the charges against Gombos. And the last on the list is none other than Sheriff Dave Daniel. Although he took a rear seat in this melodrama, Daniel applauded and said, “I stand behind the deputies and the procedures they followed.”
Credibility is Everything
The public relations (PR) aspect of arresting and prosecuting Nick Gombos by the JoCo Criminal Justice System has been an absolutely miserable PR failure. This will no doubt hamper the full effectiveness of law and order in this county for the foreseeable future. When these folks ask the voters for additional funds to fight crime, how can the voters possibly trust their credibility? The good and responsible people within the JoCo Criminal Justice System who find their jobs tougher to do can remember the deputies, prosecutors, and judges whose names are listed in this article. These public servants helped make this county the laughingstock of the Oregon, sheriffs and the nation. It all comes down to what kind of people do you have running the store? All they have to show the public for the arrest and prosecution of Nick Gombos is a fistful of worthless feathers.
Editors Note: John Taft has written one more, in a long list of award winning expository articles on Josephine County’s incompetent sheriff. In all fairness to Josephine County’s new District Attorney Stephen Campbell, he did drop the false charges and the Observer is aware of other cases in which Campbell has acted fairly…Something that a worthless Clay Johnson would never do. As for the Deputy District Attorneys listed above, the public should realize they did not initiate the chicken case and that they were directed by and working at the pleasure of DA Clay Johnson, a permanent member of the Observer’s Hall of Shame. In the future the Observer would encourage Mr. Campbell to return phone calls, we commend him for not pursuing questionable and ridiculous charges and we wish him the very best at his new and often strenuous job.