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Armed confrontation with man who called terrorism hotline

John Ortiz


May 20, 2013

On Sunday morning (5/19/13), at approximately 1:22 A.M., a woman telephoned the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and advised that she had called the County’s Mobile Mental Health Team because her husband was becoming agitated and acting violent.

She requested that a Sheriff’s Patrol come to her house at 20 Haddock Rd. in the Town of Thompson and stand by until the Mental Health Team could arrive. When deputies arrived at the location they encountered the husband, John Ortiz, 43.

Mr. Ortiz told the deputies that he was employed by both the FBI and the CIA. He also advised that he was a former Marine and had served in the Army. When asked by the deputies if the subject had any guns or weapons in the house, Ortiz’s wife told them that there were none. The deputies continued talking to the subject, keeping him calm, while they waited for the arrival of the Mental Health Team.

At one point Ortiz placed a call to the Homeland Security Counter Terrorism hotline, put the call on speakerphone so the deputies could hear and asked to speak to President Obama.

Upon completing the call, Ortiz offered to show the two deputies his “badge” from the CIA. Ortiz reached into a nightstand next to his bed and pulled out a revolver. Deputy Kyle Muthig who was closest immediately drew his service weapon and ordered Ortiz to put the gun down. A brief standoff took place with Deputy Muthig eventually convincing John Ortiz to put the gun back in the draw.

Muthig then moved to arrest Ortiz, who refused to be handcuffed. A struggle ensued between the two deputies and the subject. “A member of the County’s Mobile Mental Health Team who arrived on the scene called the front desk at the Sheriff’s Office for help”, said Undersheriff Eric Chaboty. “Units from the Monticello Police Department responded out to the scene and helped get things under control.”

Deputies recovered the revolver, which turned out to be unloaded, from the night stand. Ortiz did not have a permit for the gun. Deputies also found four rifles, (two of which were loaded), three swords and a machete. John Ortiz was charged with Felony Menacing and other weapons violations. He was sent to the Sullivan County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bail. “Deputy Kyle Muthig showed amazing restraint in this situation”, said Sheriff Mike Schiff. “If it wasn’t for his training and experience, this incident could have ended quite differently.”


From the Sheriff's Office

This incident highlights how the depleted levels of manpower have created a dangerous situation for the deputies on patrol and the general public. There were only two Sheriff’s patrol cars on duty for the entire county that night and one of them was on overtime.

After this subject was arrested, both patrols were effectively out of service until the end of the shift at 8:00 A.M. while deputies took statements, processed the arrest and logged in all the evidence.

This incident follows a similar one that occurred in the fall. On the night of September 28, 2012, the only two Sheriff’s patrol cars working in the county answered a 911 poll of a man in Cochecton threatening to shoot his neighbor. Lieutenant Paul Pratti took up a position in front of the suspect’s residence at 161 Brook Rd. while the other deputy interviewed the neighbor. A short time later, Daniel O’Brien, who had allegedly made the threats, was observed exiting the front of his house and walking toward the neighbor’s residence. Lieutenant Pratti, who could not see in the dark whether O’Brien was armed, ordered him to stop and put his hands up. O’Brien initially complied, but then turned away from Pratti and began to disrobe. Once O’Brien was completely naked, he turned back toward Pratti, let out a martial arts type yell and attacked the Lieutenant. In the ensuing struggle, that lasted over ten minutes, O’Brien tried several times to take Lt. Pratti’s weapon. O’Brien was eventually subdued when the other deputy arrived from the complainant’s house to help. Deputies later confiscated several rifles from O’Brien’s residence.

In the wake of that incident the Sullivan County Legislature in October 2012 authorized the hiring of five temporary deputies for 90 days to bolster patrols. The Sheriff was only able to locate four certified police officers and their employment expired in February.

Last year the Sheriff’s Patrol lost four deputies to other police departments and one who resigned after being arrested in an internal affairs probe.

One replacement deputy was hired in the fall of 2012.

In the 2013 budget the legislature authorized only two positions for the Sheriff’s Patrol.
One recruit is currently in the academy and the Sheriff is waiting for the new civil service list to come out so he can send a candidate to the academy in September. Both new hires will miss the busy summer season.

The Sheriff’s Patrol staffing stands at 35, down ten positions, almost a quarter from its previous staffing level of 45.

The Sheriff’s Patrol took a big hit when two veteran detectives, Don Starner and Robert Clark retired in 2011. They were never replaced. With the current spike in crime, particularly burglaries, it is taking longer to complete investigations and make arrests.
A typical burglar will have time to victimize many more citizens before he or she is caught because of the slower response from law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office has investigated over 70 burglaries so far this year.

In addition to the cuts to personnel through attrition, the legislature cut the Patrol’s “operational overtime” by 80% in 2013 leaving only $25,000 for the entire year. Typically when personnel are cut, the empty holes in the schedule are plugged with overtime. The lack of available overtime has left staffing levels dangerously low. On some shifts, the Sheriff’s Patrol can only put out two deputies for the entire county. This not only presents an officer safety issue but also puts the public at risk.

The lower staffing levels have also made it difficult for deputies to get days off or take vacation.

The Sheriff has stated that if he loses any more personnel that are not replaced, he may have no choice but to eliminate the midnight shift.

The legislature has indicated that it will allow the Sheriff to once again hire 90 day temporary deputies for the summer. A permanent year round solution is what is really required.