‘All he saw was color’: Sheriff’s deputy held at gunpoint

Posted at 12:02 PM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 14:02:07-04

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    Toledo, Ohio (The Blade) — A Lucas County Sheriff’s deputy is suing for “severe emotional and psychological distress” after a security guard held him at gunpoint while at the Internal Revenue Service office in Toledo.

The lawsuit does not allege that Seth Eklund’s actions were racially motivated, but Deputy Alan Gaston, who is black, told The Blade on Wednesday that he believes it “absolutely” was, because the guard, who is white, didn’t acknowledge that he was a uniformed deputy on duty, and an IRS office employee who called 911 didn’t mention his position to the dispatcher.

“I felt like he didn’t even see the uniform,” Deputy Gaston said. “All he saw was color.”

Deputy Gaston went to the IRS office, 422 N. Summit St., on May 31 to get a phone number to call regarding a letter he had received in the mail. Though he was on duty and in full uniform, he said he told Mr. Eklund he was there on personal business, which prompted Mr. Eklund to ask him to remove his duty belt and gun.

Eklund later told police he informed Deputy Gaston that “it was a federal building and he wasn’t allowed to have his weapon on him, regardless of his status or position, if he was there on personal business,” a Toledo police report said.

The deputy refused.

“I said relax,” Deputy Gaston said, adding that he’d been allowed in the office with his duty weapon by other guards in the past. But he did offer to store his gun in a locker or locked desk instead. The conversation made Mr. Eklund, 33, “visibly angry” and he started to raise his voice, which prompted an office employee to threaten to call police if the deputy continued to “give the security guard a hard time.”

The employee did call 911, telling the dispatcher: “We’ve got a taxpayer … that has a gun and won’t leave the premises.” A man can be heard yelling in the background before the caller says something indistinguishable and appears to hang up.

At one point, Deputy Gaston, 57, said Mr. Eklund yelled for him to take his hands off his duty weapon, despite holding both hands visible at his front.

That’s when Deputy Gaston said he decided to leave the office, which he thought would de-escalate the situation, but when he moved to exit, Mr. Eklund told him he was being detained. As Deputy Gaston turned to leave, he said he saw Mr. Eklund raise a gun toward him.

Surveillance video of the encounter, shared by Deputy Gaston’s attorney, Chad Tuschman, shows the deputy walking through the door and Mr. Eklund following with his gun raised and pointed at the officer’s back.

Deputy Gaston said he was mentally preparing himself to be shot.

“I just said, ‘Well, if he’s going to shoot me he’s going to have to shoot me in my back,’ ” Deputy Gaston said. “I knew had I turned my body and faced him, he would have seen that as a threat.”

Mr. Eklund didn’t fire the gun, but he did follow Deputy Gaston into the elevator, where he grabbed his arm and shoulder in an attempt to detain him.

Mr. Gaston, a deputy for 34 years, said it was the first time he’s ever been at gunpoint.

“I completely felt like I was going to be killed,” he said. “And even though I’ve been in dangerous situations before — fights and things of that sort — I’ve never really felt like I was going to die, like in that moment.”

The incident also led the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office to charge Mr. Eklund with two counts of aggravated menacing, to which he pleaded not guilty Monday in Toledo Municipal Court. He is next scheduled for pretrial on Aug. 26. His attorney, Anthony McGeorge, declined to comment on the criminal charges and the lawsuit, which also names Mr. Eklund’s employer, Paragon Systems Inc. and Praetorian Shield Inc.

The IRS office and Lucas County Sheriff’s Office also declined to comment.

After the encounter, Deputy Gaston said he went back to work, and he continued to work through the next week before going on sick leave June 7 to seek “extensive psychological and emotional counseling,” injuries that the lawsuit says are “permanent and partially disabling.” Today, he “continues to suffer from shock, nervous reaction, inconvenience and emotional and psychological distress,” the lawsuit said.

Deputy Gaston said he’s seeing a therapist for post-traumatic stress disorder and often struggles to sleep. “Emotionally, sometimes I don’t know what to think, but I do find myself going back to ‘what if’ a lot,” he said.

He said he would like to return to duty eventually, but first he wants justice, which includes holding the security firm accountable for how it trains its guards, because pulling a weapon, he said, means the person plans to use lethal force.

“Me asking a simple question because I received a letter in the mail I don’t think is a crime,” Deputy Gaston said.

Mr. Tuschman called the case “unique in terms of the shock value” and said the security firm must also consider Mr. Eklund’s actions wrong, because the guard was fired that same day.

“There was no justification for what he did … If it were justified, why was he terminated immediately?” Mr. Tuschman said.

A spokesman for the security firm has not responded to questions about Mr. Eklund’s employment.

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