UPDATE: 2:26pm 7/28/2014
In an initial court hearing this morning, the charge against Jason Thornton of “Obstruction of justice” was changed to “failure to disperse” and was then dropped. Jason plead “not guilty” to the charge of “disorderly conduct”.
SANTAQUIN, UT- “No good deed goes unpunished” is the lesson Jason Thornton learned this last Independence Day when he was arrested and charged with “disorderly conduct” and “obstruction of justice” because he had the audacity to try and save dozens of homes, a fruit orchard and a 40+ acre field from burning to the ground, possibly saving lives in the process.
Defending Utah went to Santaquin to talk to Mr. Thornton about the incident. Jason stated that he and his family were, “watching fireworks in lawn chairs. Neighbors all around us were setting off fireworks. We can see the whole valley from here so we didn’t buy any, use any. And my niece was sitting there [east side of house] on the bench there, ten year old niece, was, ‘I think there’s a fire over there’”
Seeing the fire was in an area with 40 acres of dry grass and 40 acres of orchards, Jason gets up with his nephews to grab hoses as fast as he could to put out the fire before it was too late. Not only were the fields a tinderbox ready to burn, the houses next to the fields had gas cans, large home propane tanks, four wheelers, and stacks of firewood ready to take a dangerous situation to a deadly situation.
While Jason and his nephews get the hoses and neighbors to help, his wife calls 911.
Jason is no novice to emergency response, with 14 years of first responder and fire suppression training and experience. Jason and his neighbor, who is a professional firefighter, knew what they were doing and the danger posed to the area and got to work. As these neighbors are working together to defend their homes, Jason hears someone say, “Stop! Move away!”
While fighting the fire, smoke is blowing in Jason’s face and he can’t see who is telling him to stop. All that Jason knows is that he has to help make sure this situation doesn’t get out of control and refuses to stop.
Jason told Defending Utah, “ The wind’s blowing smoke in my face, I can’t see who it is. You have these trees here and once it gets to that point, there is no fire department that’s going to be able to stop it then. I know this, and I know the orchard down there, so I keep spraying away.”
Jason again hears someone say, “You need to stop and back away!” In the heat of the moment, knowing the importance of making sure the fire doesn’t spread, not knowing why he’s being told to stop replies, “You need to F%$# off!” to which officer Drussel of Santaquin Police department says, “No, you need to stop!” Jason then explains the situation to the officer that still cannot be seen through the smoke, nor has he identified himself, “I’m containing this fire and I’m not going to stop until the fire department gets here”
Jason doesn’t know it is an officer telling him to stop, no one, including the officer have identified to Jason who it is telling him to stop until this point when the officer comes up to him and says, “I’m a police officer, you can’t tell me that.” Jason, knowing the danger the homes and lives are still in, replied, “Yes, I can. F%$# off, the fire department’s not here.” to which the officer replied, “You’re under arrest” and proceeds to handcuff Mr. Thornton and take him to his squad car charging him with “disorderly conduct” and “obstruction of justice”.
According to eye witnesses, when Officer Drussel first arrived on the scene he simply stood there watching everyone try and put out the fire. Officer Drussel never identified himself, and never tried to use his issued fire extinguisher to assist in the fire suppression efforts, he limited his actions to folding his arms watching everyone else try and put out the fire.
“Why he would stop me from trying to prevent a disaster, other than being a control freak, is beyond me. If you don’t like the way I talk to you, wait until the emergency is over, I was rushed, I was full of adrenalin.” Mr. Thornton ponders as he awaits his court date to explain to the judge that he was protecting the homes and lives of those in his neighborhood. Defending Utah hopes he will be able to show that since the Nuremberg trials, following orders to excuse the death and destruction of others is no longer acceptable.
This is a video Jason Thornton made the day after the events of July 4, 2014 and posted to Facebook.