Police bring safe end to dangerous incident in Joseph

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer December 02, 2013 10:00 am

JOSEPH — A combination of readiness and grace under pressure led to the peaceful end to an armed conflict last weekend in Joseph.

Greg Bales of rural Enterprise said he and family members were building a garage for his father in south Joseph when he heard someone screaming profanity. Bales said he looked in the direction of the incident through binoculars and saw a man yelling and pounding at the entry of a house.

The incident continued for approximately an hour when Bales said he saw Wallowa County Sheriff’s deputies and an Enterprise police officer arrive at the scene.

“The man came out of the entryway with a gun in his right hand,” Bales said. “The officers told him to drop his weapon and lie down, but then he drew his gun up to his own head, completely ignoring their orders.”

The armed man was identified as Dennis Sands, Jr., 45, of Joseph.

Bales said he was amazed that in the time Sands raised his gun that the officers didn’t shoot him. 

“I asked them, ‘How did you make that decision to not shoot?’ If he would have been anywhere else he would have been shot,” Bales said.

With the gun still at his own head, Sands turned around and walked across Highway 82, Bales said.

Bales said he then heard a pop and saw something hit a chain link fence in Sands’ direction. He said he heard a second pop and saw something the size of a golf ball fly through the air. The third time he heard a pop a bean bag hit Sands between the shoulder blades.

Sheriff Steve Rogers said he was off duty at the time of the Nov. 23 incident, when he received a call from Deputy Neil Rogers. He said he was headed home to get his gear when Rogers called back and said, “No time.” Rogers said he accessed gear available from a deputy’s vehicle and went to back up the officers at the scene.

“We saved (Sands’) life by hitting him with a bean bag gun,” Rogers said. “Once he was down, we were able to get his weapon away from him.”

The bean bag gun is a converted 12-gauge shotgun painted flame orange so officers do not confuse it with a shotgun which uses ammunition, according to Rogers. 

“The rules are you never mix bean bags with ammo,” he said.

Rogers said after Sands was contained, the officers checked on the neighbors and people in the street.

Bales said he had been watching the incident with his brother, son and nephew, and when the officers arrived he told the teenage boys to get inside. 

“Those officers did everything right,” Bales said. “They maintained control, as high as their adrenaline must have been. They kept their heads and saved that man’s life. It was pretty impressive.”

Rogers said he’s never had to use a bean bag gun in his law enforcement career, which spans more than 20 years.

Sands was arraigned Nov. 25 and was charged with third-degree disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, and three counts of attempted menacing and criminal trespassing. He is lodged at the Union County Jail. Steve Rogers said bail was set at $50,000.

Contact Katy Nesbitt at 541-786-4235 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Katy on Twitter @lgoNesbitt.