District Attorney Concludes Officer Involved Shooting Fully Justified Under Oregon Law

Josephine County District Attorney concludes review of officer involved shooting which occurred Wednesday, June 23, 2010 @ 8:01 a.m. Stephen Campbell, the Josephine County District Attorney, announced today that he had concluded his review of the officer involved shooting which occurred on June 23, 2010 at 1440 Denton Road, Grants Pass, Oregon at approximately 8:01 a.m., and resulted in the death of Vaughn Ronald Sanderson.


A full investigation of the incident was conducted by the Josephine County Major Crime Response Team, an interagency team comprised of detectives from the Oregon State Police, Grants Pass Department of Public Safety and the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office. The Oregon State Police Crime Laboratory assisted in the scene investigation and forensic analysis.


Evidence revealed that in the early morning hours of June 23, 2010, Vaughn Sanderson, who had been drinking for several days, was expressing thoughts of suicide including placing a .357 revolver into his mouth. Mr. Sanderson also had numerous other loaded firearms in the house including rifles and a shotgun. When Sanderson was told by his domestic partner Kathy Varner that she was going to call the police, Sanderson told her if she did it would be “suicide by cop.” Varner was able to slip a cell phone to a tenant of the residence, Byron Smith, and requested that he call 911 and report what was going on and request assistance. In the meantime Varner continued to try to talk Sanderson down. Smith made the 911 call at 7:24:56 a.m.


In response to the 911 call six Josephine County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the scene; Sgt. John Justema, Joel Heller, Keith Hubbard, Cory Krauss, Jason Schmidt and Jaired Freeman. Three of those deputies were familiar with the residence as they had been involved in prior complaints at that location. The deputies approached the residence in teams of two from different angles. Sgt. Justema and Joel Heller approached the front of the garage where Sanderson was located, using a 5th wheel travel trailer as a shield. As they approached the deputies identified themselves and were challenged by Sanderson. Using expletives, Sanderson ordered the deputies off the property and threatened to shoot them. During the challenge Sanderson picked up a recently loaded Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun. Justema repeatedly told Sanderson to drop the gun but in contradiction to police instruction Sanderson raised the shotgun in the direction of deputies Justema and Heller and discharged a round. Justema immediately returned fire, discharging a single round from a .223 service rifle, which struck Vaughn Sanderson in the left chest, entering his heart and resulting in fatal injury.


Evidence that the shotgun was fired included a recently discharged round in the chamber of the shotgun when secured, the shot cup from the shotgun cartridge (sometimes known as the wadding) which landed within a few feet of Sgt. Justema and a shot pellet that apparently struck the 5th wheel trailer and dropped near the front of the 5th wheel where Justema and Heller had taken their position. In addition, at least nine witnesses reported being able to distinguish the two shots, first the shotgun and then the rifle, occurring in quick succession. Both Justema and Heller reported seeing the muzzle flash of the shotgun in their direction.


During interviews Kathy Varner, Sanderson’s domestic partner, reportedly said that this event “could not have ended any other way.”  The evidence revealed that Sanderson, in an intoxicated and suicidal state, forced the police to employ deadly physical force against him.  The District Attorney is charged with the duty of reviewing incidents where deadly physical force is used to determine if its use met the standards of existing State law. A full and complete investigation is also helpful in protecting officers from unjustified civil claims.


During this incident all officers on scene conducted themselves to appropriate professional standards. Sgt. Justema’s use of deadly physical force under the circumstances he encountered was fully justified under Oregon law. No further action in this matter is anticipated or merited.


District Attorney Campbell would like to thank the Josephine County Major Crime Response Team for an excellent and detailed investigation of this incident.

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