Tina Neel, DVM, picked up the phone to call her client, a woman in her 60s who had been bringing feral cats to Neel Veterinary Hospital in Oklahoma City, Okla., for 10 years. That day the woman had brought in a large unneutered male cat with multiple lacerations to his face and head. When Neel made contact with the client in a follow-up call, the very present debate on semi-automatic weapons, gun control and the threat of gun violence suddenly became more than a talking point--it was on the other end of the phone. And not long after that, it was in a pickup truck outside Neel’s clinic.
An angry AK-47 threat
Neel’s client had asked for the cat to be tested for feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia. If it tested positive, put it to sleep, she said. If the tests were negative, she wanted the cat neutered, vaccinated and treated. Before the tests could be administered, however, Neel says the cat died for unknown reasons.
As the owner of the clinic, Neel made the phone call to explain what had happened. The client said she understood, but her husband, Fred William Meyer, became agitated. “The husband hears the conversation and gets on the phone saying that he is going to sue me and wants the name and number of my attorney, which I gave him,” Neel says. “I let him vent, expressed my sorrow for what happened and he finally hung up after cussing me repeatedly.”
Unfortunately, Neel realized she hadn’t asked her client what she wanted to do with the body. She called back. The husband answered but handed the phone to his wife. “I heard him say to her, ‘It’s that f--ing b--ch calling again,’” Neel says. “I heard him say three times, ‘I’m just going to get an AK-47 and go up there and shoot them!’ I asked the wife, ‘Ma’am, does your husband actually have an AK-47?’ She responded very slowly, ‘I don’t know.’”
A 24-hour clinic, Neel Veterinary Hospital doesn’t normally lock its doors until 10 p.m. This time they made an exception. “She went out and we locked the doors,” Neel says. “But before anything else could be done she came back in and told us he’d been out front. When she told him we had the door locked, he said he could just shoot the glass doors open in front.”
Eventually Meyer drove off, but Neel and the hospital staff moved all clients out of the lobby and open areas into another part of the building with solid doors and no windows. “They moved quietly and quickly when told and did not ask questions,” she says. “I was very impressed with our clients.”
Between employees and clients, there were about 40 people at the clinic during the incident. “We had an off-duty policeman in with his dog at the time and he had his gun and badge, so I went to talk with him,” Neel says.
At that time Meyer reappeared outside the clinic, but he again drove away. His wife told Neel to call the police. “The off-duty policeman called for assistance and I called 911,” Neel says. “Six policemen came to our hospital and others were looking for the man at his home.” Meyer was apprehended there.
Because the charge of threatening an act of violence is a misdemeanor offense and the threat did not happen in the presence of an officer, by state law Neel had to arrest Meyer herself and prohibit him from her property. “They brought him up to the hospital in a police car with him in handcuffs in the back seat,” Neel says. “They had me walk up to the door, they rolled the window down and as he looked at me I had to say, ‘You are under arrest and you are banned from my property.’ This was the only time we had met so now he knew what I looked like if he ever came back, which was a little disturbing.” Meyer was taken to the Oklahoma County Detention Center but made his $2,000 bail the same day.
In this day and age
Neel says that after 34 years of practice she’s no stranger to incidents of violence and potential security issues at the clinic. In 2000 a mentally unstable man pushed his way into the hospital, shoving one receptionist and punching another before he was subdued and emergency personnel arrived. “I think that in this day and age that you cannot ignore threats of violence,” Neel says.
Still, she didn’t take immediate action with Meyer. “I did not originally want to call the police based on him ranting on the phone, as I thought this was just talk,” Neel says. “However, when he came up to the hospital--actually twice in quick succession--it was obvious I could not take any risk with my staff or my clients. I just thought he had to be stopped.”
Little did she know at the time, however, that Meyer wasn’t the only one potentially packing heat. “We found out that several of our employees had guns either in their cars or in their lockers,” Neel says. “I did not know they had guns.” Oklahoma is an “open-carry” state. As of May 2012, gun owners with a permit can carry loaded firearms openly in public. “This brings up another question for practice owners about whether you allow employees or customers to carry guns on your property,” Neel says. “We never thought to make a policy about that issue.”
Now, along with an emergency plan to better prepare the clinic against threats of violence, Neel and her staff are reviewing the hospital’s gun policy. “The general consensus in polling employees is that most prefer guns be kept locked in cars and not on their person,” Neel says. She herself took a concealed carry class after the 2000 incident but never pursued carrying a firearm on her person.
“The sad thing is that this all started with two people just wanting to help a feral cat,” Neel says. “It ends up with one in jail and a SWAT team at their house.”
An assistant district attorney for Oklahoma County has presently agreed to charge Meyer with one state misdemeanor count of threatening acts of violence. However, Oklahoma City Police Department Capt. Dexter Nelson says a threat by means of communication device (in this case a telephone) can result in a felony. Meyer’s Oklahoma City rap sheet consists of two other arrests. He was charged with use and possession of a firearm while intoxicated and cruelty to animals on Sept. 4, 2010, and with possession and use of a firearm while intoxicated on Aug. 12, 1997. Meyer was convicted of shooting a neighbor’s dog on the cruelty charge.