Thayres, in red, volunteered as a cadet adviser while in Gulfport, Fla. Thayres was hired by Salem Police Department in 2014. (Courtesy of Seth Thayres)
Once Salem police officer Seth Thayres handcuffed Daniel Jimenez Jr., he sat in the driver’s seat of his police cruiser and cranked the air conditioning. His adrenaline coursed.
Officers outside bagged evidence, including a loaded, .45-caliber Springfield Armory 1911. Thayres asked Jimenez, who sat calmly in the caged rear seat, what he would have done had Thayres and other officers not stopped him from pulling that handgun from his waistband.
“I’m not going to lie,” Jimenez said, according to police reports. “I was going to use any means necessary to get you away from my mom.”
Only later did the veteran officer realize how easily he could have been killed that evening in spring 2017.
“If I’d done one thing different, or not been on top of my game that day, it could have gone much differently,” he recently told Salem Reporter.
But the aftermath frayed his work relationships and marriage. And within two years, he found himself in handcuffs and surrendering his police career.
In early February, while on leave from the Salem Police Department, Thayres was arrested in Portland in connection with a string of burglaries and sale of tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of property. The arrest generated news coverage across the state.
Thayres is now talking publicly about his path to professional ruin. He wouldn’t discuss the pending criminal charges, but he described stresses of police work that he doesn’t face alone. Policing is a stressful career, with its exposure to risks and to trying circumstances.
For Thayres, a fight with Jimenez left him with post-traumatic stress and triggered an underlying bipolar disorder.
“I wish I would have taken notice and talked to somebody,” Thayres said. “I wish I would have gotten diagnosed sooner.”
Thayres, 31, spent more than a decade around law enforcement. He grew up in Florida and sought refuge from a complicated childhood by enrolling in a youth police program at age 14. By 18 he was a 9-1-1 dispatcher enrolled at a police academy.
He remembered academy instructors talking about stress in police work.
“They talk about being healthy, and about talking about things,” he said. “But when you’re going through it, you just don’t see it.”
In six years as a dispatcher with the Gulfport Department of Public Safety and three years as an officer with the University of South Florida, he was often evaluated as earnest and smart, according to records obtained by Salem Reporter.
His record, however, was not without question.
In 2008, an anonymous caller to the Gulfport department claimed to see Thayres using “illegal narcotics” at a party. Then 20 years old, he denied the allegations. He refused to take a urine test, according to agency records. Investigators couldn’t locate the caller to ask more questions and eventually dismissed the case because the allegations “have not been proved or disproved.”
In 2014, Thayres faced an internal affairs investigation at the University of South Florida Police Department. A memo shows investigators looked into claims of “untruthfulness,” “conduct unbecoming a public employee,” and “association with criminals.” Eventually, investigators called each claim “unfounded.”
Five months later, Thayres resigned to move to Portland. He had once vacationed there, drawn by its laid-back image, and learned police there earned more money. By August, the Salem Police Department hired him as a patrol officer.
“They were the first place to call me for an interview and the first place to hire me,” he said. “It wasn’t too far. It was commutable.”
By the end of his tenure he earned more than $70,000 annually.
Salem city officials wouldn’t release most records of Thayres’ time with Salem police, saying disclosing such records under Oregon Public Records Law would invade Thayres’ privacy and intrude on attorney communications.
Thayres said he was “really successful” in Salem.
“I’d never had a sustained complaint as a police officer. I was well respected. I did my job. My co-workers liked me,” he said.
Seth Thayres while patrolling West Salem. (Courtesy of Seth Thayres)
And then he encountered Daniel Jimenez Jr.
Thayres was on patrol March 28, 2017, the day warm enough he kept the windows rolled down in his police car.
Around 5 p.m., a call came in of a man robbed at gunpoint behind the Blue Willow Restaurant on Lancaster Drive. Thayres responded and police reports show he called for backup from Officer Jesse Rios and Sgt. Donald Vidrio.
The victim identified the robber as Jimenez, who stayed with his mother at the corner of Sunnyview Road and Greentree Drive. He wasn’t home and his mother was uncooperative, according to police reports.
While canvassing the neighborhood, one neighbor spotted Jimenez pulling up to the house in a gray pickup truck. “There he goes right there,” a neighbor told Thayres, who then saw Jimenez’s mother run toward the truck.
Thayres drove his police cruiser behind the truck, as though it were a traffic stop, and both men stepped out into the street.
According to police reports, Jimenez stood 5-foot-11 and weighed 290 pounds. Thayres remembered Jimenez looking calm. He wore a dark sweatshirt and athletic shorts. Thayres had learned from the robbery victim that Jimenez tucked a handgun into his waistband.
“I just casually engaged him. I directed him to have a seat on the front of my car,” Thayres said.
Jimenez told the officer he “had it wrong,” there was no robbery but he was collecting a debt, according to police reports. When Jimenez moved away from the patrol car towards his mother, who stood on the sidewalk, Thayres told him to put his hands behind his back.
As Thayres moved to handcuff Jimenez, the suspect’s mother said something and he started to struggle with the officer. He reached for his waistband.
Thayres said post-traumatic stress disorder subsequently blocked some details from his memory.
“I knew he had a gun. I yelled out ‘He has a gun!’ but there’s just missing pieces for me. I don’t know,” he told Salem Reporter. “I just remember fighting.”
Police records show Rios joined the struggle, grabbing Jimenez’s left arm. The three men struggled against the police cruiser. Jimenez continued to reach.
“The whole time he’s trying to reach down into his waistband to pull this gun out, and he got his hand to where he wanted it to go,” Thayres said. “I decided we’re going to have to kill this guy, which is a decision I never want to make in my entire life, or my entire career.”
Thayres recalled Jimenez managed to get his hand on the gun.
Vidrio, who had been talking with Jimenez’s mother, drew his gun and “told him if he did not stop resisting and reaching for his gun, I was going to shoot him,” according to his later report. Then, Jimenez stopped struggling.
“Something changed inside him,” Thayres said of Jimenez. “I guess he decided he didn’t want to die that day.”
Officers seized the handgun and Thayres said they found more gun ammo and equipment for target practice in Jimenez’s truck.
Jimenez, seated in the patrol car, admitted to the robbery.
Then he told Thayres he would have killed him. Thayres said he had arrested an armed suspect before, but this incident was different.
“In that moment, I felt something change,” Thayres said. “I can’t describe it.”
Jimenez later pled no contest to armed robbery and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Soon, Thayres said, others noticed changes in him.
At home in his Wilsonville apartment, Thayres said his spouse called him “a shell of his former self.” If he could sleep, he thrashed, knocking pictures out of frames and once he put a hole in the wall. He stopped hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, an activity he loved.
Most days he just wanted to call in sick to sleep or watch television. Some days he was manic, and his spouse told him he hummed incessantly.
Court records show their three-year marriage ended September 2018. His former spouse could not be reached for comment.
Problems surfaced at work. At least once he lashed out at a co-worker during a training exercise, he said. One day en route to work, Thayres said Oregon State Police pulled him over for reckless driving, then told Salem Police Department he looked twitchy, tired and unhealthy.
A year and a half passed after the fight with Jimenez, colleagues grew increasingly worried.
“The city developed concerns that there might be issues affecting Thayres’ ability to perform the duties of his position as a police officer with the Salem Police Department in late September, early October, 2018, through the observations of co-workers and supervisors,” according to a letter from Deputy City Attorney Natasha Zimmerman.
The source wasn’t clear.
“Because the changes could have been the result of any number of factors, including physical issues, lawfully prescribed medication, mental health condition(s), substance abuse issues, or the result of volitional behavior, the city initiated a ‘personnel’ investigation,” Zimmernam wrote.
In October, Thayres’ lieutenant called him.
“He said ‘Hey, I want to meet with you and make sure you’re OK,’” Thayres said. “He said ‘You’re using a lot of sick leave or showing up late. A couple other things happened, so I want to talk with you.’”
At the meeting last October, the lieutenant handed Thayres a notice placing him on paid administrative leave while the department evaluated his behavior.
The letter, obtained by Salem Reporter via a records request, instructed Thayres to stay home 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and to check in via phone every morning. City officials later said he was being evaluated for fitness for duty – though no city policy or practice describes such an evaluation.
“I didn’t leave my apartment for like a week. I didn’t pay any of my bills,” he said.
The city, the union and Thayres agreed he would see a psychologist. He said the psychologist officially diagnosed him with bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders. Thayres said he takes three medications every day.
It’s unclear when Salem police completed its investigation. After four months on leave, Thayres said he heard Feb. 4 that the police had the results – but Thayres heard nothing official. He did not know if he still had a job.
Salem officials declined to explain what they did in the four months Thayres was on paid leave, saying city attorneys advised them not to answer.
But on Feb. 6, the question of Thayres’ future was settled when he was arrested in the lobby of the Pony Soldier Inn in northeast Portland.
He told detectives he didn’t know the equipment in the hotel room was stolen, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court. He denied taking meth despite evidence there was meth in the room. Again, he refused a urine test.
On Feb. 11, Salem police told Thayres the investigation found him unfit to return for duty. He agreed and resigned.
“I didn’t resign because of the arrest,” Thayres said. “I was like ‘OK, my career is over anyway. So I’ll just resign. There’s nowhere to go from here.’”
Now on the other side of the justice system, Thayres spoke calmly. He recently hired a lawyer and, although he declined to provide specifics, he is confident in his defense.
“It’s their job to prove I’m guilty. The burden is on the state,” he said. “I’m not trying to be a smartass, but that’s the way it is. It’s factual.”
As for his future, he wondered what job he could hold that was insulated from stress and the potential triggers to another episode. One thing is certain: he won’t be in policing.
“I’m not fit to be a police officer, and public safety is the most important thing,” he said.
Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.
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Seth Thayres' mugshot following his arrest in Portland in February. (Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff)