OGDEN — The eventual arrest by Ogden police of a soldier on a desertion charge went much more smoothly than the botched attempt at the wrong house about an hour earlier, says the soldier’s family.
An internal investigation continues at Ogden Police Department on six officers’ attempt to serve an arrest warrant for Derek Billmire, at what turned out to be the home of Eric and Melanie Hill in the 1000 East block of Harrop Street in Ogden.
The Hills contend officers brandished three assault rifles and two shotguns during their 25-minute ordeal, which began at 2 a.m. Dec. 20.
Shouting officers, who believed Eric was Derek, demanded to know how many people were in the house, whether he owned guns, and other information, as they searched and secured the home. The Hill’s 4- and 10-year-old daughters remain traumatized by the sight of their father handcuffed with a gun pointed at him. Hill had answered the front door with a baseball bat in his hand after his 10-year-old woke him about pounding at the door.
Ogden Police Chief Mike Ashment has apologized to the family for the mistake, while declining to comment in detail while the internal investigation is under way.
About an hour later, Billmire was arrested by the same Ogden officers at a home in Harrisville he shares with his wife and three children, said Derek’s mother Tina Billmire. She wants people to know her son, while admittedly AWOL, was no threat.
She praised the Ogden officers’ handling of the situation as described to her by Derek’s wife, Shamara.
“They treated him very well,” Tina Billmire said. “It was the same thing — six officers, pounding on the door, hard and loud, with the guns and everything. But Derek kept his mouth shut, showed them his ID.
“It was no problem at all. His wife got him a Coke. They let him have a cigarette,” Tina Billmire said.
Derek Billmire then spent a week in the Weber County jail — mother and wife unsuccessfully trying to get him out for Christmas — in constant contact with the Judge Advocate General’s Office and its AWOL Intervention section at Fort Carson, Colo., where he is now.
Tina Billmire said her son had been AWOL since Nov. 7, tired of Army red tape in trying to get approval for leave to visit his dying father.
“Derek is stubborn. He just told his first sergeant, ‘I’m going,’ ” Tina Billmmire said.
Derek Billmire’s father died Dec. 7, she said, a victim of lung cancer. The same disease took the life of his father-in-law, who died in October, she added.
The desertion warrant wasn’t issued until Dec. 20, Tina Billmire said. However, she doesn’t fault Ogden police for the forceful, heavily-armed manner in which they served the warrant.
“Mistakes happen,” Tina Billmire said, noting she has been following the controversy in the print and television media of the wrong house hit with the warrant. “They apologized. What else can they do? They don’t know what to expect.
“Just look at all the idiots out there. But I just want people to know Derek’s not one of them.”
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said the city isn’t doing an investigation independent of the one being conducted by the police department. However, that doesn’t mean one will not be done eventually.
“We haven’t yet,” Caldwell said of the city conducting an independent investigation. “We’re expecting the (police department) investigation to be finished by the end of the week, and when we get that information back and review it, we’ll proceed from there.”
In a letter to the Standard-Examiner, Caldwell also said, “I have asked that an investigation and review be conducted by an assistant police chief that will focus not only on whether current policies were followed in this case, but also whether our current policies are adequate to meet our dual goals of effective police work and enhanced safety for our citizens and officers. I am especially interested in an analysis of whether this type of contact should be made at such a late hour, and under what circumstances.”
Tina Billmire said Derek never lived at the Hill home on Harrop Street. Her sister Kathy owned it for 26 years before selling it to the Hills in July. Tina Billmire said she had sometimes lived there with her sister’s family, but Derek had not.
“That surprised me,” she said. “His Harrisville address should have been on the warrant, the documents. It’s on everything else with the Army.”
Tina Billmire also said Derek has a brother in the Air Force, stationed in Arizona, who had no trouble getting leave to visit their father’s deathbed.
“That’s the Army for you. Each branch of the service is different,” she said.
Tina Billmire said Derek’s JAG officer assures her the desertion case won’t affect her son’s coming honorable discharge, expected in about three weeks. He’s not currently incarcerated at Fort Carson, she said, but assigned to normal duty, standing guard and constantly training.
Her son has twice been deployed to Afghanistan, once for 18 months, and again for 14 months. “He’s seen some things.”