Portland officer charged in Post Falls road rage incident
Denies he pointed gun at vehicle
A Portland police captain accused of brandishing a gun during a road rage incident on Interstate 90 in Post Falls acted arrogantly to state troopers as if he thought “I’m a cop and it’s no big deal,” according to a police report recently unsealed in Kootenai County.
Todd Loren Wyatt, 43, pleaded not guilty Friday through his attorney in Kootenai County District Court to exhibition of a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor, in connection with the Aug. 13 encounter. Trial is scheduled for Feb. 6.
A 20-year police veteran, Wyatt was off duty when he was stopped on I-90 at the Freya Street exit in Spokane by Washington State Patrol troopers after his alleged victim called from the Post Falls area and stayed on the phone with dispatchers describing Wyatt’s blue Ford F-150.
WSP Trooper Greg Birkeland said Wyatt asked to speak to him away from his wife and children, and Birkeland asked “what difference it would make talking in front of them compared to his prior actions in front of them,” according to the report, prepared by Idaho State Police.
“Mr. Wyatt’s response to him was, ‘All right, I hear your attitude,’ ” according to the report. “Trooper Birkeland said he thought Mr. Wyatt showed lack of common sense and good judgment. He was arrogant and cocky and played the situation down, not realizing the severity of what he had done.”
Another trooper told investigators he thought Wyatt’s attitude was that of “I’m a cop and it’s no big deal,” according to the report.
Wyatt’s lawyer, Gary Amendola, said Wednesday that Wyatt disputes the charge.
“I’ll tell you right now, Capt. Wyatt did not point his gun at anyone,” Amendola said. Amendola said Wyatt was “concerned for the safety of his family” because the alleged victim appeared to be trying to cause a crash.
Wyatt, who was with his wife, 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son when he was stopped in August, told troopers there was a road rage incident “and he did in fact display his weapon in a holster along with his service badge,” according to the report. “It was reported the gun was never pointed at the reporting party.”
Wyatt’s wife told troopers she thought “those people were going to kill us.”
Wyatt was not arrested. He was removed from his position as head of the Portland Police Bureau traffic division when the investigation opened and was placed on paid administrative leave after he was formally charged last month, The Oregonian reports.
The alleged victim, Nicholas James Cox, 28, told police he was driving westbound on Interstate 90 behind Wyatt’s Oregon-plated pickup when he passed the pickup because it was driving slowly.
Cox said the pickup started tailgating and trying to pull up beside him before the driver pointed a gun at Cox and his wife.
“Mr. Cox said he did not wish to pursue charges but wanted the driver to be aware of the seriousness of the offense,” according to the report. But Cox later changed his mind. He told police he’d spoken with his father-in-law, who is retired from the Seattle Police Department, and realized the severity of the incident.
“Mr. Cox told me he could not drive past where the incident happened without getting a sick feeling in his stomach,” according to the report, prepared by Idaho State Police Trooper Kevin White. “He also said when he sees a pickup that looks like the one the suspect was driving, he gets nervous until he sees the state of the plate.”
Wyatt was on vacation from the Portland Police Bureau when the incident occurred.
Wyatt told police Cox was driving his Honda dangerously and appeared to be trying to cause a crash after passing him.
Wyatt said the driver and passenger “were young and possibly gang members” and he showed them his police badge in hopes they would leave him alone. When they didn’t, he held up his holstered gun behind his badge, according to a report.
“He indicated once the problem was solved and the Honda quit trying to cause a crash, he put his badge and gun away,” according to the report.