Frat house arsenal: Police find more than two dozen weapons, and resentment toward transients

Frat house arsenal: Police find more than two dozen weapons, and resentment toward transients

The Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity at Oregon State University has no shortage of weapons.

After a Corvallis man, Dennis Sanderson, was shot Oct. 14, in the alley behind the house, police searched Alpha Gamma Rho and found more than two dozen weapons including .22-caliber rifles and 12- and 20-gauge shotguns.

Included in the arsenal was the .22-caliber rifle used to shoot Sanderson.

Police reports from the investigation, which include reports of interviews with members of fraternity, reveal ongoing resentment about transients in the alley.

And a willingness of some members to take potshots at transients searching for cans to redeem for money.

Police arrested AGR member Joshua Grimes, 19, of Glide, on Nov. 9 and charged him with second-degree assault and unlawful use of a firearm. But investigation reports say he

wasn't the only one present during the shooting, and he wasn't the only one who had shot at transients over the past year.

"Alpha Gamma Rho doesn't stand for that sort of behavior," said Josh Wackler, director of chapter development for the national fraternity. "Nor tolerate that sort of behavior."

He would not comment further until legal proceedings were complete.

At about 5:45 p.m. Oct. 14, a Saturday, Sanderson was with his dog in an alley that runs behind fraternity houses on Northwest 25th and 26th streets north of Van Buren Avenue.

Sanderson had just climbed out of a dumpster between AGR and Phi Gamma Delta, otherwise known as Figi, when he felt something hit his left thigh. He took a step and it hurt. When he looked at his leg he saw blood and realized he'd been shot.

"It was a unprovoked attack," Sanderson said. "Didn't say anything to anyone."

Sanderson went around to Northwest 25th Street and knocked on the door at Figi. One of the members there called 911.

Police blocked off the area while paramedics took Sanderson to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. Doctors decided to wait to remove the bullet because of concerns about infection around the entrance wound.

Corvallis detectives began to interview members of the fraternities on the alley, focusing on the two nearest to where Sanderson was shot - AGR and Figi.

"Based on the location of the large metal dumpster and the fact the dumpster lid was propped up at the time of the shooting," lead detective Mark Posler wrote in his report, "it is very unlikely the shot could have come from the Theta Chi house."

He also ruled out Kappa Sigma and Sigma Chi because tree branches obstructed their view to the dumpster.

Searching the alley during the daytime on Oct. 16, Posler and police Lt. Tim Brewer found a shell casing and an unfired round that matched the caliber and type of the bullet in Sanderson's leg. They made their find near a dumpster belonging to AGR.

According to police reports, none of the AGR members admitted to shooting Sanderson or knowing who had. Several members also expressed frustration with transients entering the house without permission. At least two members admitted to having shot at transients with BB guns in the past.

Detectives were convinced at least one AGR member in addition to the shooter knew what had happened. One member took two polygraph tests - and failed them both. But until he was willing to come clean, detectives had to pursue other leads.

Two weeks after the shooting doctors removed the bullet from Sanderson's leg. That meant a ballistics expert could probably match the bullet to the gun that fired it - if they had the gun.

On Nov. 9, police got a search warrant and searched AGR. They also asked for consent to search members' cars.

It was then that police found the guns. Some were in a gun safe, but others were in closets and cars. Since police were looking for a .22, they made note of some of the other weapons but didn't focus on them.

According to the report, Grimes had told a friend at AGR that he had shot Sanderson. The friend had Grimes' rifle in his car when police found it.

According to the report, Grimes had been very upset after the shooting. His friend asked him if he had done it.

"Grimes sat down and shook his head," the report reads, "and his eyes got real wide and he said 'Yeah,' and 'That's why every siren, every cop car that drives by' has him freaking out pretty bad."

Grimes was despondent, according to the report. He had already had a traumatic experience during the semester. On Oct. 25, Grimes found the body of a good friend at a neighboring fraternity, an apparent suicide.

Concerned for Grimes' state of mind and welfare, detectives Posler and Mike Wells got a fraternity friend to set up a meeting with Grimes at a nearby MacDonald's.

"Detective Wells and I approached the pickup and spoke to Grimes," reads Posler's report. "Detective Wells looked at Grimes and said, 'We know.' Grimes displayed an immediate emotional release, breathing out heavily and beginning to cry. Grimes pounded the steering wheel with his right hand and said, 'I didn't mean to hit him."

Another fraternity member told police that he was present during the shooting. He told police he was in his room at the fraternity when Grimes went "flying by," saying to get his gun and go with him. He did get his gun and followed Grimes into another room overlooking the alley. Grimes told him there was a "hobo out there." A that point Grimes shot and hit Sanderson.

The friend, who has not been charged, told police he didn't realize at the time the ammunition Grimes used - and which he himself had in his rifle - was so powerful. He thought it was more like a BB gun.

According to the friend, they were both "freaked out" that Grimes had hit Sanderson. They left the house together, Grimes to go to the library and the friend to get some pizza. When the friend returned to the AGR house and saw police at the scene, he "thought it was all blown out of proportion," the police report reads, and "(he) thought the response was bizarre."

Police did not agree and neither did the university.

"This is something of legitimate concern," said Robert Kerr, coordinator of Greek life at Oregon State University.

Kerr said that soon after the incident a meeting was held with Jackie Balzer, dean of student life, and leaders from four of the six fraternities that border the alley between Northwest 25th and 26th streets. They agreed to hold a series of roundtable discussions with members of their fraternities. AGR offered to host the roundtables.

Kerr said the issues are understanding homelessness, understanding hunger in our own community as well as globally, and finding appropriate ways to interact with transients who live with those problems.

"Our objective is to build a safer environment," Kerr said.

The roundtables will take place after the beginning fo the year among AGR, Phi Gamma Delta, Alpha Tau Omega, Theta Chi, Kappa Sigma and Sigma Chi.

Ryan McKee, a member of one neighboring fraternity, said people go through the dumpsters in the alley often, but they never leave a mess and are usually friendly. He's never heard of anyone shooting at them.

"I don't see the motivation for it," he said.

Several people familiar with AGR have said the rural backgrounds of many members, and the fact they are hunters, might account for the quantity of firearms in the house. The national Web site for the fraternity says AGR is not just a social fraternity but also a professional one. Its members often come from agricultural backgrounds and are headed for careers in the "agriculture, food and fiber industries."

Brent Atkinson, president of the Interfraternity Council at OSU, said a lot of guys, not just at AGR, own guns for hunting and trap shooting.

He had been told the fraternity had expelled Grimes. Grimes is no longer listed on the chapter's Web site as a member.

"The chapter (AGR) has done a really good job cooperating with police," Atkinson said.

He also said the IFC has activities designed for chapters to address issues facing them, like dealing with the homeless, but often the students who attend are not the ones who need them.

By Gwyneth Gibby, Gazette-Times. She can be reached at gwyneth.gibby@lee.net.

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