By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Officers from four law enforcement agencies followed a Havre man carrying a semiautomatic assault rifle for three hours this morning after the man refused to respond to officers' requests that he stop, the Hill County Sheriff's Office said.
Joel Spackman, 19, was pepper sprayed after he began removing the SKS assault rifle from his shoulder after Havre police officers approached him in the city, police said. He was arrested after he walked cross-country from Havre to Beaver Creek Lake, a distance of about 8 miles.
A U.S. Border Patrol helicopter kept track of Spackman during the trek, Havre Assistant Police Chief George Tate said.
"He presented a very critical, stressful situation for law enforcement," Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said.
Tate said Spackman was in custody today on charges of criminal endangerment and assault on a peace officer. He was being held at the Hill County Detention Center without bond.
Spackman was approached by four Havre police officers after the department received a call about 3:45 a.m., Tate said.
"Officers responded to a complaint of an individual marching military style, heading south carrying a rifle," he said.
Tate said the SKS had a round of ammunition in the chamber and additional rounds in the magazine. He said officers are not certain whether the safety of the rifle was engaged at the time.
The officers approached him near Fifth Avenue Christian Church and asked him to stop, and Spackman initially ignored them, Tate said.
"When they finally got his attention he became combative and began removing the rifle from his shoulder," Tate said. "They pepper sprayed him and he began running south on Fifth Avenue."
The officers followed Spackman along Fifth Avenue and tried to engage him in dialogue, Tate said. The officers didn't want to aggravate Spackman because they didn't know what his intentions were, Tate added.
"You just don't know what the thought process is. They may be suicidal. They may want an officer to kill them," he said. "They may just need a cooling-off period and that is what we provided."
About 4 a.m., police requested that the Hill County Sheriff's Office assist in the pursuit, and ater called for assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol and the Rocky Boy Police Department, Tate said.
Szudera said he and two deputies responded, as did three Rocky Boy police officers and four Border Patrol agents, who brought a Border Patrol helicopter. Three Havre police officers also followed Spackman.
Tate said the helicopter was a crucial element because Spackman left the highway when he was south of Havre and traveled cross-country. The other law enforcement officers continued in their cars while the helicopter kept track of Spackman, Tate said.
When Spackman reached Beaver Creek Lake, the law enforcement officers decided to try to take him into custody, Tate said.
Police officers distracted Spackman while Szudera approached him from behind and grabbed him around his arms, Tate said.
Szudera said Spackman was handcuffed and shackled and brought into town.
The incident is under investigation, Szudera said. "We're in the information gathering stage at this time," he said.
Tate said the Havre Police Department and the Hill County Sheriff's Office will file their reports on the incident with the Hill County Attorney's Office, which will decide if charges will be filed.
Possessing an unconcealed SKS is legal. In an unrelated incident, police officers found an SKS assault rifle in a vehicle while the officers investigated a traffic accident Wednesday afternoon on Fifth Avenue. The rifle was legally owned, Tate said.