A handgun police said was used by Scott Spangler sits on the floor of the Goodwill store in west Salem on Wednesday, Sept. 18. A detective shot and killed Spangler as they fought and the detective saw the gun coming up at him. (Salem Police Department)
NOTE: This story contains a short passage of profane language.
“He saw us,” Detective Darren Buchholz muttered as he sat in an undercover police van in west Salem.
Another glitch had developed in the plan to arrest a drug dealer who had agreed to sell $200 in heroin.
Scott G. Spangler, 43, had already moved the buy location to the Goodwill parking lot off Northwest Edgewater Street.
Now, the undercover team of five that was readying to handcuff Spangler instead watched him disappear into a fast food restaurant to buy a $5 hamburger meal.
As they waited, the man who drove Spangler to the meeting walked past the police van, looking in where Buchholz and another undercover officer reclined in the front seats, wearing badges and police vests.
For Buchholz, the arrest seemed doomed because he had dealings before with the driver. The investigators had been “burned,” he was sure.
But it wasn’t over. Matters rapidly worsened on that Wednesday afternoon in September.
Within 10 minutes, Spangler was dead, Goodwill employees and customers cowered in terror, and a veteran police officer was left to explain how he was forced to shoot to save his own life.
In an instant, two dozen lives changed, but that moment in Goodwill was set in motion years before as Spangler turned to heroin when his prescriptions for pain medicine ran out.
This account of how Spangler came to die in a thrift store was established through interviews and hundreds of pages of police reports, grand jury testimony and court records.
Drug team at work
The drug case was the work of Polk County’s drug team - the Polk Interagency Narcotics Team. The long-running team was disbanded in 2014 for lack of money but voters two years later approved a tax levy that included money to put the team back in operation.
The team was a priority for Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton, who took office in 2015 after spending his entire career with the agency. He remained concerned about the continuing corrosive effect of methamphetamine and heroin on his county.
The drug team handles about 80 cases a year, with each officer on the team taking the lead on particular cases. The squad uses the normal tools of any drug team – developing informants, using varied forms of surveillance, arranging undercover buys and patiently building evidence to arrest traffickers.
In September, the team was run by Sgt. Mike Holsapple, a veteran of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and included Greg Caudill, a Polk County sheriff’s detective; Jeff Freitag, an Oregon State Police detective; Eric Solberg, an Independence Police Department detective; and Buchholz, a Dallas Police Department detective.
That month, an informant told investigators Scott Spanger was selling heroin.
Spangler’s life traced an arc similar to many drawn into the drug world – an ordinary life turned into misery by addiction.
He had tried shaking drugs and for a time seemed to succeed.
The son of a police officer, Spangler was arrested for drug possession in 1996, when he was 20. While that charge was pending, he was arrested again, accused of using a stun gun on a security guard at a downtown Salem store. He was sentenced to 40 days in jail.
After that, for nearly 20 years, Spangler stayed out of serious legal trouble. He married in June 1998, had two sons and a daughter, and worked as the regional manager in Portland for a pest control company. He cared for his mother after his father died in 2007 in an auto accident.
Spangler’s life changes
In January 2015, Spangler and his wife separated, sending him into a depression. Two months later, he took a gun out of the safe at his mother’s house, went to his Dallas home, and shot himself in the chest in an attempted suicide.
That attempt resulted in a charge in April 2015 of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The arresting officer was Darren Buchholz of the Dallas Police Department. By that time, Buchholz had been an officer in the area for 10 years, including time with Independence and Salem departments before joining Dallas. He also served in the Oregon Army National Guard.
Spangler, despite his prior convictions, was put on probation for the gun charge because a judge found that he had been “conviction free” for a “significant period of time,” according to the court judgment.
Police subsequently caught Spangler with a folding knife and the Polk County judge who went easy on him before - Circuit Judge Sally Avera - on June 14, 2017, sentenced him to prison.
He served about a year at Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland and was released on July 8, 2018. He told relatives and friends that he was never going back to prison.
A little over a year later, in early September, a woman being released from the Polk County Jail told police that Spangler was a source of heroin in the community. She agreed to reach out to him and Spangler struck up a conversation through text messages.
Spangler in fact was communicating with Buchholz, the Dallas officer who had arrested Spangler before and who had now stepped in, texting as the woman. Spangler agreed to sell an “eight ball” of heroin, arranging to meet outside a west Salem grocery store but didn’t show up.
About a week later, on Monday, Sept. 16, the cell phone Buchholz was using to pose as the woman buzzed to life. It was Spangler, asking about trying again on the drug deal.
At the time, the Polk County drug team was in its monthly training, going over how to trap suspects in their cars with police vehicles to contain and arrest them. That tactic would become part of the plan to arrest Spangler at a drug buy set near Safeway.
Spangler reached out again a little after midnight, asking: “You still need?” He added, “Also know anybody who wants to buy my gun?”
Buchholz, still posing as the customer, responded the next morning: “I still need some. What kind of gun?”
Spangler replied he wasn’t sure he would sell the gun.
Errands, then a deal
By then, Spangler had traveled from Dallas to the Salem area with his girlfriend, Lacey Crass, 35, and a sometime roommate, Chris Slyh, 31. Polk County authorities had been looking for Slyh since July to arrest him for violating conditions of his probation on a drug conviction.
The three showed up at Dan’s Pawnshop in Keizer, spending about a half hour looking over sale items. Spangler dug into a discount bin and bought a gun holster and a gun carrying case.
Less than an hour later, they were at Elite Buyers N.W., a pawn shop on Edgewater Street in west Salem. Spangler pawned a gold ring and collectible coins for $95, shoving the receipt in his pants pocket.
After Spangler then bought tar heroin in west Salem, he, Crass and Slyh took turns smoking a small amount as they sat in their car, a black PT Cruiser.
At some point, Spangler tucked a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol into a holster on his belt, hidden by his jacket. He put an extra magazine with five rounds in his front pants pocket.
As Spangler and his friends ran their errands, the Polk drug team gathered in the parking lot of a west Salem church, joined by Polk County sheriff’s deputies, preparing for the arrest of Spangler. They reviewed a threat assessment on Spangler – a step-by-step form that documents a suspect’s criminal record, tendencies when dealing with police, the “propensity for violence” and more. The drug team made note that there was a chance Spangler would show up to the drug deal with a gun.
The plan was for three investigators to operate from an undercover van and two others in an unmarked SUV. Uniformed patrol deputies would be in the area but out of sight as back up.
Just after 1 p.m., Spangler continued texting with what he thought was his potential buyer, learning she was at Safeway and asking, “Can you meet at Goodwill?”
That was six blocks north from the Safeway store where the deal was supposed to happen.
The investigators in the two rigs moved, parking at opposite ends of the Goodwill parking lot, waiting for Spangler.
About 1:30 p.m., the PT Cruiser turned into the Goodwill lot and parked. The team was about to spring its trap when Spangler stepped out of the back seat. So did Crass. Slyh stayed behind in the driver’s seat while Spangler and Crass walked across the parking lot to meet a drug buyer outside Carl’s Jr. All three went inside.
Scott Spangler was inside Carl's Jr. across the parking lot from the Goodwill store in west Salem when a friend alerted him that police were outside on Wednesday, Sept. 18. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
‘We are done’
As the officers considered their next move, Slyh surprised them by getting out of the Cruiser, seemingly scanning the parking lot, and then walking past officers in the SUV. He looked at them and kept moving.
“We are done,” Buchholz told his colleagues.
At 1:38 p.m., he texted Spangler, asking where he was to see if that provoked any response indicating he knew police there.
“Goodwill,” Spangler responded.
But he knew police were in waiting.
Slyh had slipped into Carl’s Jr. through a door the investigators couldn’t see and caught up with Spangler and Crass.
“Dude, there’s a fuckin’ van and the cops and shit out there,” Slyh said.
Spangler, with 41 grams of tar heroin in his coat pocket, seemed startled.
“Did I just get burned?” Spangler asked.
Slyh handed Spangler the keys to the Cruiser and asked that he be picked up a couple of blocks away.
Spangler braced, telling his companions, “If I’m gonna fuckin’ go down, I’m goin in a hail of fire, I’m not goin’ back to prison.”
At 1:40 p.m., after being in Carl’s Jr. for 10 minutes or so, Spangler texted to the would-be buyer: “At Carl’s but walking back now.”
Scott Spangler and his girlfriend walked down this sidewalk past the car police expected them to return to. Instead, they continued into the front door of the Goodwill store in Salem on Wednesday, Sept. 18. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
The officers decided they would close in on Spangler and Crass when they returned to the car and let the other police chase down Slyh.
But that plan went awry too.
Spangler and Crass did head back to the Cruiser – but kept going, with Spangler munching away on his cheeseburger.
Buchholz realized the two were headed for the entry to the busy Goodwill store and didn’t want them getting inside. The police rig backed out of the parking slot, with the plan to intercept Spangler on the pavement outside the store.
Delayed by traffic moving in the parking lot, the investigators were a moment too late.
Inside, shoppers and employees throughout the store were focused on a typical Wednesday afternoon at a Goodwill store. It was Senior Savings Day and a chance for discounts.
At cash register No. 4, an employee on duty just 15 minutes helped a woman check out while measuring an inseam.
A shopper from Corvallis looking for goods for her Etsy business stood in a clothing aisle, looking for her husband. She hadn’t found much that interested her.
A husband and wife from northeast Salem, both 81, were standing at the jewelry counter near the front entrance.
A southeast Salem man was waiting with his 3-year-old daughter along one wall as his wife used a dressing room.
A chase into Goodwill
The police van hadn’t yet rolled to a stop yet when Buchholz stepped out, pulling his service weapon, his eyes locked on Spangler. A “Code 9” police call went out to signal that the arrest effort was underway, just four minutes after Spangler’s last text message.
Spangler, in the store vestibule, paused and turned toward Buchholz.
“Police! Show me your hands,” Buchholz yelled, holstering his service weapon as headed into the store.
“Get on the ground. Get on the ground,” Buchholz ordered.
Spangler turned and bolted into the store, with Buchholz steps behind him. Holsapple, the Polk County sergeant, charged after Spangler too. Crass froze in place in the vestibule, quickly taken into custody by a third pursuing officer, Independence Detective Eric Solberg.
Between racks of clothing near the center of the store, Buchholz caught Spangler by the hood on his jacket, yanking him to the floor.
As he struggled to get Spangler under control with the help of the sergeant, Buchholz saw the man draw his hand out of his jacket, gripping a pistol.
He clamped onto Spangler’s arm but the hand with the gun moved towards Buchholz.
“He’s got a gun,” Buchholz yelled.
He focused on Spangler.
“Drop the gun.”
“I don’t have a gun,” Spangler said.
Buchholz was certain Spangler meant to kill him. He drew his own gun and pointed it directly at the struggling man’s face but Spangler kept moving.
“He’s going to kill me,” Buchholz thought, and fired once.
Spangler stopped moving. The store, for a moment, seemed silent.
Just 21 seconds had elapsed from the “code 9” to the shooting.
Police blocked off the west Salem Goodwill parking lot after shooting inside the store on Wednesday, Sept. 18. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
A drone image shows two police undercover vehicles parked outside the entrance of the Goodwill store in west Salem on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. The black PT Cruiser that ferried a heroin dealer to the scene is parked in the center aisle of the lot. (Salem Police Department)
A map produced by investigating officers shows an aerial view of the parking lot and interior of the Goodwill store in west Salem after Scott Spangler was shot to death inside. The map shows the clothing racks knocked over during a struggle with police and the two police undercover vehicles parked outside the front door. (Salem Police Department)
Police sealed off the store, interviewing employees and shoppers. The president of Goodwill Industries in Oregon arrived, and Goodwill officials said they wanted to be presented with a search warrant before police could process the crime scene.
The Salem Police Department took over the investigation so no agency with an officer participating in the drug case would be involved. The Salem agency subsequently submitted its reports to Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton.
Spangler’s family held a private service for him on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
On Oct. 3, Felton convened a grand jury at the courthouse in Dallas to consider Buchholz’s actions. Fourteen witnesses testified, including four customers and two employees.
Buchholz testified last.
“There was nothing else I could have done,” Buchholz told the grand jury. “If I wouldn’t have done that, he would have shot me.”
The grand jury concluded that Buchholz acted in self-defense and that no prosecution was warranted.
On Oct. 8, Slyh was arrested at his home in Dallas and faces two new drug charges. He remains in the Polk County Jail, awaiting his next court hearing in late November.
On Oct. 5, Buchholz was cleared to return to duty.
He continues to serve on Polk County’s drug team.
Reporter Saphara Harrell: [email protected] or 503-549-6250.
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