Public Safety & Health

Sheriff nets two

Saturday afternoon: Mesh netting surrounds playground equipment at Holt Park. Later in the evening the park was vandalized and local sheriff’s deputies arrested a suspect.

CRESWELL – Two men have been arrested and charged with criminal mischief and criminal trespassing – including one who was tased in his carport after running from and failing to comply with a sheriff’s deputy – for allegedly damaging safety netting at Holt Park.

There have been nightly incidents of vandalism at the city’s largest public playground since safety netting was first installed Monday, May 18.

Local governments throughout Oregon are complying with Gov. Kate Brown’s orders and guidelines regarding the first phase of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cities, towns and communities must adhere to the state’s rules, or risk losing insurance policies for public spaces. That factor, City Manager Michelle Amberg said, is why the plastic netting was put in place. 

“We are insured through City County Insurance and they are in the process of releasing an advisory document. We are expected to follow Center for Disease Control guidelines, which means no playgrounds,” Amberg said. 

The petty crimes come with a heavy price, Sgt. Scott Denham said. Public Works employees have to spend time repairing the mesh netting with zip ties and re-string it around public equipment. Sheriff’s deputies are spending time surveilling the park, and then there are potential physical threats that come with arrests, and the paperwork. All while deputies could be handling more important aspects of public safety.

“We aren’t here to be the park police,” Denham said.

The first evening the netting was put up, someone shredded it, pulled it down and stuffed it into portable bathrooms at the park a little after 9 p.m. Denham made a public appeal on social media after the incident, and posted a video of the perpetrator, hoping for an identification.

Every night after that, he said, the vandalism happened later in the evening until reaching a midnight time frame, and the vandalism took place at the picnic table pavilion and the playground equipment areas.

Todd Bader, 52, of Creswell, was arrested May 22 and released from jail May 23. He is charged with Criminal Mischief 3, Criminal Trespassing 2, resisting arrest and interfering with a peace officer. 

Jason Ellis, 42, of Creswell, was arrested May 25 and charged with Criminal Mischief 2 and Criminal Trespassing 2. He was still in jail at press time Tuesday, according to Sgt. Carrie Carver of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. 

Both of the men made statements during their arrest, Denham said, that indicated a distrust of the government, concern about their “Constitutional rights” to access the playground and claimed to be “exercising his freedom.” 

“If someone wants to climb over the fence and play in the park, we’re not going to do much about that. If they come out sick or hurt, at least we’re covered by insurance,” Denham said. “But quit damaging the property. If you want to be in the park, fine, just don’t commit criminal acts. When you start creating damage in the park, then it’s the same as if you egged the basketball court or spray-painted graffiti.” 

Both Denham and Carver said they were not aware of similar incidents in other communities throughout Lane County. 

“They’re thinking it’s insignificant netting, no big deal,” Denham said. “It’s not the roll, it’s the fact once it’s damaged, somebody has to put it back together. The netting is for longer use than just this period. It has monetary value to the city.” More importantly, he said, “people now know this is criminal. Going forward, it’s a crime of intention, not a crime of opportunity.” 

Denham reinforced his team’s objective is to uphold the law, not prevent people from doing anything.

“It’s not about preventing people from using the park and arresting people in the park. It’s preventing people from damaging city property.”

Suzanne Peterson, the daughter of the park’s namesake and a longtime Creswell resident, said the incidents at the park are “a shame.”

“There is always a question of good and evil,” Peterson said, noting her mother Bertha Holt “would not agree with the vandalism at the park. Vandalism is wrong. She taught respect and for children to obey.

“It’s a shame what is happening at the park. It is going to make our taxes go up,” Peterson said. 

“And it’s already so sad that we have to cancel the Fourth of July Celebration, but we just have to obey the law to keep people as safe as possible.”

One tool Denham has to curtail future criminal activity is the “park exclusion” rule.

“It has no monetary value, but bans offenders for extended periods. Violate that ban, then you can be charged with trespassing. Veneta has the same park exclusion.” 

Denham said he helped create that option in the early 2000s. “It’s a way to penalize people without hitting their pocketbooks.”

Areas that are closed under the Phase I guidance are restrooms, courts, playgrounds and tables, Amberg said. People are not prohibited from using the park’s open areas, including grassy areas, walking trails and the bicycle station. 

Denham made one last appeal. 

“People can roll all over the grass and play frisbee at the park for all we care. Just don’t use the equipment right now,” he said.

Vandalism is a criminal mischief offense, punishable by up to one year in jail and $6,000 fine, Amberg said. 

Note: This story was updated to correct the fact Public Works employees, not Sheriff’s deputies, repair and re-string safety netting at Holt Park.





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