By Maxine Bernstein The Oregonian/OregonLive 8-16-17
A judge Wednesday revoked Oregon refuge occupier Darryl Thorn’s release and sent him to jail immediately to undergo a mental health evaluation, concerned about repeated threats he made to his girlfriend that he was going to hang himself or commit “suicide by cop.”
Thorn, who was convicted of federal conspiracy, possession of a firearm in a federal facility, trespass and other charges at a trial this year, suffered an “emotional crisis” after moving to the small eastern Oregon town of Monument, his defense lawyer said.
Thorn, 32, moved there from Spokane in late June on the promise of a job and a residence, only to have both fall through, said Jay Nelson, Thorn’s third defense lawyer in the case. He ended up living in an RV park and searching for odd jobs while his girlfriend often was away traveling for her job in road construction.
“He began to feel very isolated,” Nelson said.
He never meant to harm himself or others. Thorn’s threat of suicide “was a cry for help, directed privately to his girlfriend,” his lawyer said. He urged the court to show compassion toward Thorn and place him in a halfway house while he can get a mental health assessment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said Thorn’s behavior wasn’t an isolated incident.
“It’s part of a larger pattern,” Gabriel told the judge.
On Aug. 6, Thorn’s girlfriend called 911 from Salem, concerned about him. She told a dispatcher that Thorn was at the Monument Motel and had threatened he was going “to hang himself on Facebook Live” at midnight if she didn’t return home.
He was sending her text messages nonstop, demanding her return and telling her to quit her job, she told dispatch.
“I want you and the Tahoe home (expletive) now!” he texted her, while she was on the phone with an emergency dispatcher, according to the prosecutor.
As police headed to Monument Motel, the girlfriend called 911 a second time.
She alerted dispatch that Thorn was now talking about a suicide-by-cop scenario.
“He just said, ‘Death by cop will look good in the history books,”’ she told dispatchers, according to the prosecutor.
“He’s blowing up my phone. I’m terrified,” she continued, before her phone suddenly went quiet in an eerie end to the emergency call, according to Gabriel.
Other supporters monitoring Thorn’s Facebook posts also called emergency responders, expressing their concerns, the prosecutor said.
When police arrived at the motel, Thorn didn’t come to the door of his room. Thorn had passed out, his lawyer told the court. The officers left and had no contact with Thorn that night.
A week later, last Saturday, the girlfriend’s sister called 911 seeking a welfare check on Thorn, concerned that her sister was in distress. When Oregon State Police responded, Thorn appeared very emotional and asked the officer to just arrest him so he could start serving his sentence in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Gabriel said.
Considering Thorn’s prior criminal record, with multiple domestic violence-related convictions for fourth-degree assault and malicious mischief, Gabriel argued that Thorn represents a danger to himself, his girlfriend and the community. He urged the court to order Thorn’s detention.
Thorn is set to be sentenced in late November and is expected to face prison time.
Earlier this year, the government offered Thorn a plea deal on a misdemeanor trespass charge in exchange for probation. He rejected the offer and went to trial instead.
During the course of his pretrial release, he was ejected from a political rally, lost a job, was associating with militia members and “skirting the edge” of compliance with his court-ordered conditions, Gabriel argued. A release officer said Thorn most recently had neglected to report that he had gotten a room at the Monument Motel, failed to verify he found work and neglected to report in by phone.
Thorn’s lawyer said his client went to the Monument Motel for air conditioning and its wifi connection and wasn’t sleeping there. He initially moved to Monument hoping for a job clearing brush to assist Grant County firefighters but that fell through. He then started putting up a cattle fence but that job was cut short because of wildfires in the area, his lawyer said.
Thorn, his head shaved, stood before U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown and said he was sorry.
“Your honor,” Thorn started, his head bent as he looked down at the defense table. “I apologize for my actions. I sincerely do. I know they look extremely egregious here in court. … Literally life happened, and I sincerely apologize for the way I acted. … If you give me a chance to show you who I can be, I will guarantee, I won’t disappoint you.”
Brown pointed to Thorn’s past criminal record, his felony and misdemeanor convictions this year in the refuge takeover case and a disturbing video presented in the case that featured Thorn.
It showed Thorn, dressed in camouflage with the word “militia” visible in block letters across the front of his jacket, sitting on a stool with several assault rifles between his legs. He and others were gathered at the bunkhouse, debating what to do next, on the night of Jan. 26, 2016, after the occupation leaders were arrested and occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot and killed by state police.
“We came here for one (expletive) reason, and that’s to fight!” Thorn said. “I’m here to fight. I’m not here to run.”
Brown told Thorn, “When you’re under stress you can say and do things that can really escalate” and not only put himself but others in harm’s way.
“I don’t think this record allows me to let you go out the door,” the judge said.
She ordered Thorn to be taken into custody right away and recommended he undergo an expedited mental health evaluation while being held in jail.
Thorn removed his camouflage cap and emptied his pockets before a deputy U.S. marshal took him into custody. The marshal handed over Thorn’s belongings — his cap, wallet, Bible — to Thorn’s girlfriend who came to his hearing Wednesday.
Thorn will be held unless he can prove at a future hearing why he’s not a risk of danger to the community. The judge tentatively set another hearing for next Tuesday.