GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Locals in Murphy, Ore., are scratching their heads over a series of events that led to five sheriff deputies arresting a man at his home in the wee hours of the morning and hauling him off to jail in his bikini briefs for allegedly stealing a chicken from outside a country grocery store.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel

Some observers wonder if the deputies of the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office have a bit too much time on their hands after getting a midnight search warrant so the alleged thief could be picked up before endangering any other local fowl.

The saga of Speckles the hen began when Nicholas Gombos, 51, of Williams, Ore., stopped by Ray’s Food Place in Murphy late on March 18 to pick up a copy of a free classified newspaper from outside the store. He noticed Speckles in an open crate near the newspaper racks and, assuming she had been abandoned, took her home. Gombos reportedly was concerned the bird might become a wild animal’s late-night snack in the rural area.

Gombos’ wife, Kathy Dean, called the store the next day to report the chicken had been rescued and that the bird “now had a wonderful home,” reported the Grants Pass Daily Courier.

Dean claims two employees at the store, where Speckles had been an unofficial mascot living off the handouts of patrons, told her she could keep the chicken. Another employee later said the bird belonged at the store and demanded it be returned.

The Sheriff’s Office became involved when Dean reported a woman had called her saying Gombos had stolen Speckles and threatened to “come after” her and Gombos.

Though ownership of the chicken was in dispute, Deputy Matt Tripp concluded the hen belonged at Ray’s and said in a report that Dean and Gombos refused to give up the hen.

According to the Courier, deputies told Gombos they would not charge him if he gave the chicken back, but he refused, “forcing us to take it to the extreme,” Lt. Lee Harman told the paper.

The extreme included going to Circuit Judge Gerald Neufeld at midnight last Wednesday, waking him up, so a search warrant could be obtained. Neufeld wondered why such a measure was needed in the case of a homeless chicken.

“Basically I’m the on-call judge,” Neufeld explained to the Grants Pass paper, “and you just kind of have to deal with what comes along.”

Reinforced by four other deputies and armed with the warrant, Tripp went to the Gombos property around 1 a.m. According to the deputy’s report, the cops had to hop the fence because Dean refused to open the gate leading to the home.

According to Harman, because Gombos refused to accept a citation to appear in court, they were forced to take him to jail.

Dean’s account is quite different than Tripp’s. She claims the deputies broke into her property, refused to show the search warrant and broke a brand-new gate on the way out, the paper reported.

“They then took my husband, who happens to have diabetes, and shoved him through the partially opened gate,” she told the Courier.

Dean says the cops took her husband away naked, while Tripp says he was wearing underwear, by some reports red bikini briefs, and that Dean refused to provide Gombos more clothing. Gombos spent the night in the Josephine County Jail.

Sheriff Dave Daniel defended his deputies’ actions.

“We respond to all calls for service,” he told the paper, “and we treat every call as important for the person who called it in.”

Regarding the issue of ownership, the Medford Mail Tribune reported the manager of the store admitted Speckles and other chickens outside the market “are not owned.” Critics of the sheriff, then wonder how a man can be arrested for stealing something that was not officially owned by anyone.

Columnist Carl Worden defended Gombos:

“Now you have to consider the environment this chicken was living in. She was living on scrap food tossed to her irregularly by passersby, and she was dodging parking cars all day in the parking lot of this small grocery store. The chicken was not held in a pen, and was allowed to freely wander around anywhere it wanted, including the next county. The chicken was an abandoned fowl on her own, and she was not purchased by Ray’s Foods for the entertainment of the patrons.”

Worden decried the actions of the Sheriff’s Office.

“We have to ask ourselves, what in the world is going on here in Josephine County, Oregon?” he wrote in “Over a chicken, Deputy Tripp gets a judge out of bed at midnight to sign a search warrant, and then uses the resources of four squad cars loaded with armed deputies to arrest and deliberately humiliate a harmless guy at 1 a.m. in the morning?”

According to the Courier, patrons at Ray’s are glad to see the bird back.

“The day she turned up missing, we had tons of customers asking, ‘Where’s the hen? Where’s Speckles?'” market manager Nate McCully told the paper. “Everybody’s just super-happy to see her back here.”

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