Standoff in blackberries leads to arrest

Sweet Home police took a Sweet Home man into custody after a standoff around a briar patch Friday night.

Oscar Elmer Phillips, 66, was taken into custody at 8:36 p.m. following a standoff of more than an hour and a half. He was transported to Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital on a police officer hold and he was held under observation overnight for mental evaluation then transported to Salem for further mental evaluation.

Criminal charges are pending, said Sgt. Jeff Lynn. The Sweet Home Police Department is working with the district attorney’s office on possible charges.

Police received a report at 5:50 p.m. from a female at 1908 Willow St. that Phillips had allegedly violated a restraining order served on him earlier in the day by the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Lynn said.

“When the officer responded down there, (Phillips) had already left the area,” Lynn said. The officer contacted the female caller and learned Phillips had left on foot toward the east into a field and wooded area.

While it was getting dark out, two officers went into the area and attempted to locate Phillips, Lynn said. “Officers actually heard him in the middle of what turned out to be a briar patch.”

The officers attempted to contact Phillips, but Phillips refused to respond, Lynn said. The officers were able to beat back a path into the patch. They located Phillips in the middle of the patch, where he had crawled.

“As they got close to him, they saw what appeared to be a knife in his right hand,” Lynn said. They told him to drop it, but he did not comply, and an officer deployed a TASER electronic stun device. Phillips rolled to his right, but was not completely affected by it.

One of the probes may have become dislodged when Phillips rolled, Lynn said. The second officer deployed another TASER, but there was so much brush it apparently didn’t strike Phillips.

Phillips started screaming unintelligibly at the officers, Lynn said. All they could make out were a few words, like “kill” and “you.”

“We began withdrawing down the single-man path,” Lynn said. Phillips started coming after the officers but appeared to get tangled in the briars. The officers continued to try talking to him while awaiting the arrival of additional units.

In the meantime, Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District blocked foot and vehicle traffic on 18th Avenue while residents lined up waiting to get through.

Arriving and assisting Sweet Home police were three officers from Lebanon, three deputies and Albany Police Department’s canine unit. An Oregon State Police trooper was in the area and assisted a Sweet Home officer who was called in to respond to calls. Seven Sweet Home officers were called to work during the incident.

Sweet Home police wanted more help based on where Phillips was located, Lynn said. They set up a perimeter, and they lost contact with Phillips as he moved northward.

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District sent its aerial truck, and officers debated whether to use a ladder to try to reach Phillips but settled on using the fire department’s pikes to cut back the blackberry briars.

Police moved into the thicket, and Phillips started screaming at them again as he moved away, emerging into a partially open field, Lynn said. He still refused to comply with the officers’ orders, and officers fired another TASER device. He went to the ground but still didn’t drop the knife. Another officer deployed another TASER device, but Phillips allegedly started swinging the knife. Police used several beanbag rounds, and with continued cycling of TASER devices, the canine unit was able to grab the elbow of Phillips’ knife hand. Officers moved in and pried the knife from his hand, taking him into custody at approximately 8:36 p.m.

Eighteenth and Willow streets were reopened about 15 minutes later, Lynn said.