MALHEUR COUNTY — An Idaho man was conditionally released from Malheur County Jail on Thursday, where he had been lodged for multiple charges, including two felonies, related to a theft in a rural area of the county on Dec. 31.
Joshua Christoffersen, 40, of Caldwell, was not released on bail. Rather, he was let out of jail on a conditional release OK’d by Malheur County Circuit Court Judge Erin Landis, according to court records.
According to Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe, the theft occurred near the Harper area, and was first reported at about 3:42 a.m. Tuesday morning.
A man called in to say he believed a theft was occurring at his neighbor’s property, which was about a mile and a-half away, according to Wolfe.
When he first noticed the suspicious activity, the witness armed himself and went “close to where the theft was occurring and fired one shot in the air with his gun to scare the person off.”
The witness claims that the suspect then “fired a shot in his direction,” so he went home and called 911.
Wolfe says from there, the witness went to Highway 20 where he believed he had last seen the vehicle heading west.
The pickup truck the man was pulling has a fifth-wheel flatbed trailer with a John Deere tractor and polaris UTV on the trailer; all items were thought to be stolen from the neighbor.
After catching up with the vehicle, the witness “ordered the suspect down at gunpoint,” but the man got in his vehicle and drove off. As he did so, he was weaving back and forth on the highway and the tractor and UTV fell off blocking both lanes of travel.
The witness pushed the UTV off the road to open one land of travel and continued toward Juntura, but was never able to find the man.
Oregon State Police were assisting the sheriff’s office, as was Harney County Sheriff’s Office due to the proximity of the county line and the direction of travel. A helicopter and airplane were even deployed, according to Wolfe.
Late the morning of Jan. 1, the sheriff states a deputy found the suspect vehicle abandoned near the Eagle Picher mine, near Drewsey.
It turns out the pickup was also stolen, out of Owyhee County, Idaho.
Two deputies went up to the Eagle Picher mine to search buildings there and ensure it was safe for employees, according to Wolfe. Deputies saw a man in a building who started walking away as soon as he saw the deputies’ pickup.
After a short chase, deputies caught up with Christoffersen, and arrested him.
As far as the neighbor who followed the suspect, and even held him at gunpoint, there will be no charges.
“It’s kind of hard to find fault with what he did,” Wolfe said. “The complainant was willing to involve himself and take care of his neighbor.”
In addition, he believed the suspect had already shot at him.
The witness knew the response time from the Sheriff’s Office was going to be delayed because of the distance “so he took matters into his own hands.”
Furthermore, Wolfe credited the man for “doing things the right way,” which included not shooting at Christoffersen when he walked away from him at gunpoint.
Most law enforcement would recommend staying a safe distance away, giving updates to dispatch via phone — especially in areas where response time would be quicker, Wolfe said.
In the area the theft occurred, he said, there was no cellphone service for about 30 miles in any direction.
Before OK’ing the release, Landis arraigned Christoffersen on aggravated theft in the first degree, a class B felony; unauthorized use of a vehicle, a class C felony; and unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a class A misdemeanor. At this time, he has not been charged for firing a gun.
When asked why Christoffersen was released, Malheur County District Attorney David Goldthorpe said he did not know that answer right away and would have to check with his deputy district attorney to find out.
However, he said “that shocks me,” adding that it looks like Christoffersen had a bit of criminal history.
Goldthorpe also clarified that the release means Christoffersen did not have to post bail.
Court records state that day reporting is a condition of his release.
Christoffersen is slated to be arraigned on indictment charges on Jan. 28.