ONTARIO - With his freedom in jeopardy, Mark Casterline looked out from his home last year at lights emanating from the Snake River Correctional Institution.
Casterline was afraid, he said, standing on the brink of a juncture that could have landed him in prison.
“Once they charge you with something, you don’t know what the outcome will be, even if you’re innocent. Once they stick a hook in you, you don’t know if you’ll get off it,” Casterline said Wednesday.
Casterline’s saga started June 9, 2006, with a vehicle abandoned in a ditch.
The case culminated in Casterline’s arrest, after his home was entered by a team of police without a warrant.
He was indicted on felony and misdemeanor charges including: unlawful possession of a short- barreled rifle, unlawful use of a weapon, obliteration of identification marks on firearms, driving under the influence of intoxicants and menacing, Malheur County Circuit Court records show.
It all ended May 24, when a jury found Casterline not guilty of the DUI charge. Prior to that, prosecutors dropped all the other charges against Casterline because of “insufficient evidence,” court records show.
Casterline, 50, said he was traumatized by the incident.
“All of a sudden I was shunned. I still am. My whole life has been turned upside down and inside out. I don’t know how to explain what they did to my life, it’s a traumatic event,” Casterline said.
Abandoned vehicle sparks
Casterline crashed his vehicle in a ditch and left the scene, according to police reports.
So, an officer attempted to contact Casterline at his home on Oak Road near Ontario, but first encountered a neighbor. The neighbor, who had not seen Casterline that day, told police Casterline was drunk or using drugs and should not be contacted without backup, according to an Oregon State Police report.
Then, according to a police report, the officer and neighbor were threatened by gunfire coming from Casterline’s yard.
“The shot was fired well after shooting light and was presented as an intimidating and menacing gesture from Mr. Casterline’s front yard … The shot was fired dangerously close to our position,” according to a report from the Oregon State Police.
However, 80 acres of property bordering Casterline’s property is a “private shooting reserve,” owned by the neighbor who spoke with police, according to court documents from Casterline’s attorney, Foster Glass, Bend.
Casterline said he did not fire his gun, and according to the police reports, no one actually saw Casterline fire a gun.
Casterline also said he has a long-standing problem with the neighbor who told police he was drunk or using drugs.
About four hours after the gunfire was heard on June 10, and without a warrant, a team of Malheur County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Oregon State Police officers entered Casterline’s home.
Casterline said his doors were kicked in and he was awakened from bed.
Then, Casterline said police with guns drawn bullied, bruised and arrested him.
“They came in and I thought they were going to kill me … I kept telling them to calm down and take it easy,” Casterline said.
Police referred to at least part of the incident as a “stand-off,” according to a report from the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office.
Casterline, however, says that is nonsense and calls the incident an “illegal invasion.”
“They (police) are the ones who were breaking the law … The only laws broken are the ones they broke,” Casterline said.
“We follow the letter of the law … That’s his (Casterline’s) opinion and this is mine,” Oregon State Police Lt. Rich Pileggi said.
Oregon State Police Sgt. Mark Duncan said officers were concerned about the safety of everyone at the scene. He said police had probable cause necessary to enter the home.
The Malheur County District Attorney’s Office was also consulted concerning the situation, Duncan said.
“The search of the residence in this case was lawful … In this case officers had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed and (had) legitimate officer safety concerns,” according to a court document signed by Malheur County Chief Deputy District Attorney Erin Landis. Malheur County Sheriff Andy Bentz also stands behind how police handled the situation.
“Taking actions with probable cause … That’s what the community expects law enforcement to do,” Bentz said.
“An agency needed and requested a (Special Emergency Response) team, and with us providing that, that was the appropriate thing to do. The community expects that,” Bentz said.
Glass, however, disagreed.
He argued there was no probable cause to believe Casterline was even at his residence, and no probable cause to believe a crime was committed, court records show.
Even though prosecutors dismissed most of the charges against Casterline because of insufficient evidence, police say that does not impede on the probable cause they had to enter the home without a warrant.
“Police operate on probable cause at the time of our actions. Prosecutors and court systems work on an even higher level for their charging decisions and rendering judgments in criminal cases … beyond a reasonable doubt,” Bentz said.
Casterline paid $3,000 to get out of jail the day after he was arrested, he said, and that money has apparently been reimbursed.
When he returned home, though, Casterline found doors broken or left open and the lights of his house still on. Some of his belongings, he said, were also stolen.
“I do want an apology. They think I’m a guilty slimeball,” Casterline said.
That request, though, is apparently not going to come from police.
“We don’t apologize for doing our jobs,” Pileggi said.
Casterline says he has lost trust in local police, he does not feel safe and is considering moving out of the community.
“It’s too dangerous to be here. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel comfortable calling police for help,” Casterline said. Casterline said there was one positive thing that came from the incident.
“I’ve learned who my friends are. A lot of people don’t know I’m innocent yet. But the damage is done. I hope this information helps,” he said.