Body cam: IRS guard defends holding sheriff’s deputy at gunpoint

Posted at 4:55 AM, Jul 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-30 06:55:11-04

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    Toledo, Ohio A security guard who held a Lucas County Sheriff’s deputy at gunpoint at the Internal Revenue Service office in Toledo believed no one should be above federal law, not even law enforcement.

Body-camera footage captured by a Toledo police officer shows Seth Eklund, who was working security in the office on May 31, repeatedly defending his decision to point his gun at Deputy Alan Gaston, who was in uniform, following an exchange over whether the deputy could carry his duty weapon in a federal office.

“You gotta be here on official business,” Mr. Eklund, 33, told a Toledo police officer who responded to the 911 call.

The exchange between Mr. Eklund and Deputy Gaston is portrayed in police body-camera footage obtained exclusively by The Blade. That footage has become the center of a lawsuit in which Deputy Gaston claims he was discriminated against based on his race when Mr. Eklund pointed his gun at him for being armed in a federal office, causing “severe emotional and psychological distress” to the deputy.

“I completely felt like I was going to be killed,” Deputy Gaston previously told The Blade. Mr. Eklund’s employers, Paragon Systems, Inc. and Praetorian Shield, Inc., are also named in the lawsuit.

Deputy Gaston, 57, said he went to the IRS office, 422 N. Summit St., to ask a question about 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, at which point Mr. Eklund asked him to remove his gun.

When the deputy declined after other options weren’t available, Mr. Eklund reportedly drew his weapon and tried to detain Deputy Gaston while another office employee called 911, telling the dispatcher that there was a man in the office with a gun who was refusing to leave. The caller didn’t mention Deputy Gaston’s position with the sheriff’s office.

The Toledo police officers’ confusion about the call is evident on the bodycam video.

Responding to Mr. Eklund’s claims that law enforcement officers cannot carry their weapons in the building unless acting in an official capacity, an officer asks him: “Even if he’s an officer?”

“You’re not allowed to have your weapon on federal property,” Mr. Eklund responds.

“Even us?” a second officer asks.

“Even you, unless you’re here on official business,” Mr. Eklund says.

Who is right?

The U.S. General Services Administration, which sets the rules and regulations governing conduct on federal property, says: “Federal law prohibits the possession of firearms or other dangerous weapons in Federal facilities and Federal court facilities by all persons not specifically authorized by Title 18, United States Code, Section 930. Violators will be subject to fine and/or imprisonment for periods up to five (5) years.”

Who is “specifically authorized” to possess firearms in federal buildings? Federal, state and municipal law enforcement officers in the “lawful performance of official duties,” federal officials and armed forces, and everyone else “incident to hunting or other lawful purposes.”

Though Deputy Gaston was on duty and in full uniform, he said he was running a “personal” errand, at which time Mr. Eklund said he treated him the same as any other citizen — citizens cannot carry firearms into federal buildings.

The Federal Protective Service, which regulates security for all federal buildings under the General Services Administration, did not immediately respond to requests for clarification about when law enforcement officers may be armed in federal buildings.

An IRS spokesperson also did not respond to questions. An official with Paragon Systems, Inc., could not be immediately reached.

In at least one federal building in Toledo, the rules are clear: officers who are visiting the federal courthouse are required to secure their firearms in a lock box while conducting business, said Alex Rutter with the U.S. Marshal’s Office, which oversees security in federal courthouses.

During the exchange, Deputy Gaston did ask if there was a place where he could lock his gun while in the office, but there was not. Mr. Eklund told him to take the weapon outside and leave it in his vehicle, which Deputy Gaston said he could not do.

The Lucas County Sheriff’s office said it does not have a specific policy for removing a weapon while on duty, but Cpt. Richard Grove with internal affairs said deputies “are not going to leave an unsecured weapon in our vehicle.”

The vehicles are equipped to secure a rifle, but not a handgun, Cpt. Grove said.

Mr. Eklund also told Toledo police that he saw Deputy Gaston’s hand on his gun during the interaction, which caused him to draw his own firearm. During his interview with police, captured on body camera, Deputy Gaston can be heard in the background describing to another officer Mr. Eklund screaming at him to “Get your hands off your weapon.”

Mr. Eklund says he asked Deputy Gaston not to touch his gun “no fewer than three times,” and said the deputy moved his hand from his gun to his taser to his baton.

“He wouldn’t listen to me; still had his hand on his weapon; I drew my gun,” Mr. Eklund told police. “He should not have that weapon in here. He did not listen.”

Deputy Gaston previously told The Blade that he was resting his forearm on his duty belt, including his holstered gun, as part of a comfortable stance.

Mr. Eklund, through his attorney, previously declined to comment on the incident.

Though the lawsuit does not allege that Mr. Eklund’s actions were racially motivated, Deputy Alan Gaston, who is black, told The Blade that he believes it “absolutely” was, because the guard, who is white, didn’t acknowledge that he was a uniformed deputy on duty, and the 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.”

Mr. Eklund was reportedly terminated, and is facing two counts of aggravated menacing. He pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for pretrial Aug. 26 in Toledo Municipal Court.

Deputy Gaston has not been charged related to the incident.

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Taylor Freyer