Firefighter Convicted Of ‘Terroristic Threat’

Scott Niles had been a firefighter with the Houston Fire Department for four months when a series of events happened that led to his criminal conviction of making a “terroristic threat.” It all started on April 29, 2014, when Captain Bradley Maddin became aware that Niles did not have a valid driver’s license. Maddin brought concerns over Niles’s lack of a license to his senior captain, Andrew Haygood. Subsequently, Maddin and Haygood summoned Niles into Maddin’s office and asked if Niles had a driver’s license.

Niles responded in the negative; however, Niles revealed a license for a concealed handgun. Maddin explained to Niles that Fire Department regulations and state law required employees to have a driver’s license at all times and that any suspension or revocation of a license must be reported to him. In response, Niles made a remark to the effect of: “Forget the law.” Maddin informed Niles that his attitude was unacceptable.

Because Niles did not have his license, he was removed from the rotation list for driving the ambulance, and Haygood assigned him to performing patient care in the back of the ambulance. According to Maddin, Niles was “visibly upset” by his assignment and questioned his superiors as to why he was being punished. Because the role of driver is a higher-pay classification, Niles was paid less when he was removed from driving duty.

Robert Gordon was on duty on April 29, 2014. Gordon spoke with Niles following his meeting with Maddin and Haygood, at which time Niles stated that he was upset over no longer receiving his higher classification pay. Approximately an hour later, Gordon, along with fellow firefighter Mark Keelen, approached Niles who was sitting on a couch on the apparatus floor and mumbling inaudibly. When Keelen asked Niles what was wrong, Niles responded, “I’m going to start shooting people, I just need to figure out who I’m going to take out first.”

Robert Sadler worked as an EMT alongside Niles. Sadler testified that Niles would often bring guns to the station in the back of his car. According to Sadler, Niles was trying to sell the guns. On April 29, 2014, Sadler was assigned to drive the ambulance after Niles was removed from that duty for not having a driver’s license. Sadler testified that when Niles got into the ambulance for their first call, he appeared upset. When Sadler asked him if everything was okay, Niles responded “that he was going to kill everybody in the fire station.” Then he told Sadler the order in which he was going to do it. According to Sadler, Niles said he was going to kill Captain Haygood, Robert Gordon, and Sadler first because they were gun owners. Niles then stated he would follow with the officers and then everyone else. When he made these statements, Sadler said Niles’s face was red, and he kind of stared off in one direction.

Later that same day, after completing their emergency run, Sadler was sitting at a table in the station talking to another firefighter when Niles approached him. Again, with no hint of a smile, Niles said, “If y’all piss me off, I will just come out and kill everyone.” Sadler testified that the comment “struck a little bit of fear in me.” Sadler believed that at the time Niles made those threats, he was trying to put Sadler and Captain Haygood in fear. Sadler testified that he was afraid Niles would shoot him.

The Department eventually terminated Niles, and posted armed guards around the station out of fear that Niles would make good on his threats. Niles was also convicted of the crime of making a “terroristic threat,” a violation of Texas law.

The Texas Court of Appeals upheld Niles’ conviction. Niles contended the evidence was insufficient to prove Niles intended to place Haygood in fear of imminent serious bodily injury because Niles never made the threat directly to Haygood nor took any action to ensure Haygood learned of the threat.

“A person makes a terroristic threat if he threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with the intent to place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. Imminent means near at hand; mediate rather than immediate; close rather than touching; impending; on the point of happening; threatening; menacing; perilous. The accused’s threat of violence, made with the intent to place the victim in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, is what constitutes the offense. It is not necessary for the victim to actually be placed in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or for the accused to have the capability or the intention to actually carry out the threat.

“The record reflects that Niles informed multiple individuals in the fire station that he was going to shoot and/or kill everyone. Although Niles never directly threatened Haygood, there was evidence that the firefighters strictly adhered to protocol requiring them to report any threats up the chain of command and, therefore, the jury could infer that Niles knew Haygood would almost certainly learn of Niles’s threats. There was also evidence that Haygood in fact learned of the threats the same day. Haygood testified that upon learning of Niles’s threats, he was in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

“Haygood testified that he was concerned for his safety based upon his knowledge of Niles’s firearms collection and Niles’s previous military experience as well as his belief that Niles was irritated with him. Haygood further testified that although he did not hear the threats directly, he was concerned Niles would shoot him because he understood Niles’s intention was to kill Haygood first. We conclude a rational jury could have determined beyond a reasonable doubt that Niles committed the offense of terroristic threat against Haygood.”

Niles v. State of Texas, 2016 WL 7108248 (Texas App. 2016).