A local Marine Corps veteran was honored this week for his role in thwarting a violent assault at a convenience store two years ago.
Justin Brecht, senior policy analyst in the Oregon Legislature, was on his way home from work at the Oregon State Capitol Building in 2019, when he made a routine stop at the 12th Street Market convenience store in Salem.
He walked in to see a man arguing with the store owner, a practicing Sikh wearing the traditional dastār, or turban.
The incident soon turned physical, with the man, later identified as Andrew Ramsey, then 24, attacking the store owner, punching him, pulling him to the ground by his long beard and kicking him.
Brecht’s training and instincts kicked in, and he and other bystanders jumped in to intervene.
“We were really worried. I mean, he could have really injured the store owner,” Brecht told KATU News at the time. “He was beating him pretty good. He was bleeding, he had gotten punched quite a bit in the face, and kicked on the ground and thrown to the ground very brutally. It was very serious.”
Brecht was not seriously hurt in the scuffle, but the incident caused him to lose some time from work — and ruined his nicest work suit. It was then that the Canby/Aurora Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, of which Brecht is a member, swooped into action.
Post Commander Martin Lackner and volunteers started a fundraiser for Brecht in late 2019 — which ended up getting sidelined by the Covid-19 pandemic early the next year.
But the Post held onto the funds, and after Lackner and Brecht reconnected this summer, they made arrangements for a small ceremony at the VFW on Veterans Day of this year.
He said Brecht was grateful for the gesture.
“You know, somebody who does something like that isn’t doing it because they want attention,” Lackner said. “It’s because it’s just the right thing to do. But, of course, anyone is going to appreciate the sentiment and the help.”
Fellow Marine veteran James Hieb is a longtime friend of Brecht’s. The two Devil Dogs fought together in the Second Battle of Fallujah during the Iraq War in 2004.
It was the war’s bloodiest and costliest campaign. Approximately half of Brecht’s unit, the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, were killed or wounded in the fighting.
Hieb said he thinks his friend did what most anyone would try to do in the same situation.
“I think he just went on autopilot, you know?” he said. “Justin just saw somebody getting assaulted, and he stepped in to protect the guy from getting beaten to death.”
Brecht detained Ramsey until police were able to arrive on scene. Ramsey was charged with fourth-degree assault and second-degree intimidation, and a misdemeanor hate crime that was later dismissed.
He pleaded to intimidation and was sentenced to 36 months of probation.
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