Friday , February 19, 2016 - 12:12 PM
Mark Torbett and his wife, Regina Torbett, pose for a portrait at Northern Utah Rehabilitation Hospital in South Ogden on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.
OGDEN — When Mark Torbett started feeling ill on a cross-country drive that passed through Ogden, he sought aid at the police department. But instead of help for his ailment, he left the station with a more serious health problem.
His femur was broken.
The 60-year-old Southerner was driving to his new job in Seattle on the morning of Monday, Feb. 8, when he started feeling sick — perhaps a result of his diabetes or being tired from the long drive. Unfamiliar with the area, he went to the Ogden Police Department seeking medical help.
“I was looking for a safe haven,” the Phenix City, Alabama, man said. “I was really feeling bad and said, ‘I would like to get to the hospital.’”
But other people at the police department — and then the officers they alerted — took exception to the semiautomatic handgun Torbett pulled out in the lobby.
Ogden police Lt. Will Cragun said another person in the lobby watched Torbett nervously pacing and talking about being poisoned. He tried to open the secured doors leading into the core of the police station, the person said, then sat down on a couch.
“Then he reached under his shirt and pulled out a gun,” Cragun said, describing what the person reported. “He said he thought (Torbett) was going to shoot him in the head.”
Torbett, according to the witness, then removed the magazine from the Walther .22 caliber semiautomatic handgun, ejected the round from the chamber and set the gun, magazine and round on the couch next to him.
Cragun said the other man then left the lobby and called 911, reporting a man with a gun.
“We have a report of a man with a gun in the lobby, so officers go out to talk to him,” Cragun said.
Torbett asked for medical help, and officers asked him about the gun, Cragun said.
“He becomes confrontational, throws a bottle of soda water on an officer when they try to ask him some questions and tries to leave,” Cragun said.
Three officers then moved to take Torbett into custody, Cragun said.
“He is resisting. The issue is he’s being disorderly in a public place, something is going on with him, and people are afraid,” Cragun said.
Cragun said Torbett fought the officers, who took him to the ground, handcuffed him and called paramedics.
Torbett, in an interview Tuesday, disputed the reported circumstances.
He said he became upset because he wanted medical help, but the officers persisted with questions of their own. He said he moved to leave, but “in a defensive manner.”
Torbett said an officer picked him up over his shoulder and “slammed me into the floor. It was like a weekend wrestling body slam.”
He said he looked up and told the officer, “You just broke my hip.”
Cragun said there was no body slam.
“You have to question why he’s not calling or requesting medical attention” at a hospital or by calling 911, Cragun said.
“He caused alarm. He has a firearm, people see his behavior, they’re concerned,” Cragun said. “The officers try to start engaging him, he is noncompliant, and he throws soda water on them.”
Cragun said police at that point determined Torbett may have been a danger to himself or others.
“He fights with them, and they’re doing everything they can do to control him,” Cragun said.
Torbett said he sought help because he was having shortness of breath. He may have had elevated blood sugar because of his diabetes. He also had been on the road a lot in the previous few days and was fatigued.
“Why would I call out three guys half my age, and I’m 60 years old,” he said. “That’s just dumb from where I come from. I do remember saying, ‘Could we get past some of these questions?’”
Torbett said he usually leaves his firearm in his car, but for some reason, he had it in his possession that day. He said he dismantled the gun inside the station because he realized it might be seen as a problem. He said he wanted to turn it in to police while he was taken to the hospital.
Torbett said Tuesday he had surgery on his leg last week and will be in a local rehabilitation hospital for a while, but he wants to get to Seattle as quickly as possible so he does not lose the job he just acquired there. He said his femur was broken — the large bone in his leg, just below the hip.
He’s concerned he might be crippled for the rest of his life or that he’ll never be able to walk again without a cane or walker.
His wife, Regina Torbett, said her husband is “being a little lenient about the situation.” She is outraged by the incident at the police station.
“Someone goes in there and says, ‘I’m sick, I need help.’ Why didn’t they say, ‘Do you have any medical conditions?’ and call an ambulance immediately?” she said. “If they had done this right from the start, none of this would have happened. I think the police are supposed to protect and serve, and they did neither.”
Cragun said once paramedics evaluated the handcuffed man, they said he might be having a medical issue. But in the lobby, Cragun said, Mark Torbett “doesn’t tell anybody he’s having a diabetic incident.”
He said Mark Torbett was acting in a paranoid manner and said he was worried someone was following him and wanted to take his gun away from him.
“It’s obviously interesting, given the current situation throughout the country with firearms and officers, that we find out after the fact that he may have a medical issue,” Cragun said.
Cragun said the incident is under investigation and will be screened by the Weber County Attorney’s Office for possible charges. He said Mark Torbett may face a weapons charge because he lacks a concealed-weapons permit. He also may face charges of disorderly conduct and resisting officers.
Mark Torbett’s older brother, Greg Torbett, of Columbus, Georgia, said he was upset by what happened in Ogden.
“If you can’t go to the police for help, who do you go to?” he said.
The brothers spoke by phone after the incident in Ogden. Greg Torbett said his younger brother told him he felt like he had food poisoning or that someone had poisoned him. “He was imagining things, thought maybe a guy was following him,” Greg Torbett said.
Both brothers are diabetic, and Greg Torbett said, “Sometimes we have poor control.”
He said it’s not unusual for his brother to be armed.
“He’s always armed,” Greg Torbett said. “And if you drive alone across this country, you’d better be armed.”
Greg Torbett said his brother lost his wallet in Ogden, and Regina Torbett said she’s still trying to get back her husband’s laptop, which he had in a bag he carried into the police station. The handgun was seized as evidence.
By Wednesday, the Corbetts had hired an attorney, Tim Barnes of Bountiful. Barnes said he had sent a letter to Ogden police saying he is looking into the case.