A grand jury of Clackamas County residents on Friday, Oct. 22, unanimously determined the Clackamas County Sheriff's deputies involved in the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old Hillsboro man were justified in their actions under Oregon law.
Nathan Thomas Honeycutt, 26, was shot and killed by CCSO Deputy Jansen Bento during an early morning traffic stop on Sept. 27. Honeycutt was reportedly driving a stolen white pickup truck without license plates in Happy Valley and pulled a handgun on arresting deputies after resisting arrest.
In such cases when an officer's use of force is legally disputed, a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires courts to specifically identify one or more constitutional rights allegedly infringed by the officer whose actions are being challenged. Courts then must reference the specific constitutional standard which governs that right in any judgment of the claim.
Under Oregon law, an officer "may use deadly physical force" if the officer's life or personal safety is endangered or the officer reasonably believes it is necessary to defend themselves or another person from the "use or threatened imminent use of deadly physical force."
Per the Supreme Court ruling, the "reasonableness" criteria as outlined in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is "whether the officer's actions are 'objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation."
The Clackamas County District Attorney's Office presented the panel of seven jurors with the findings of an investigation led by the Clackamas County Interagency Major Crimes Team in partnership with the DA and the Interagency Crime Reconstruction and Forensics Team. The Clackamas County and State Medical Examiner's Offices additionally conducted separate investigations into Honeycutt's death.
Per the investigation, Bento and two other CCSO deputies, Evan Sanders and Matthew Roach, at approximately 2 a.m. attempted a traffic stop on the vehicle driven by Honeycutt, yet he did not stop nor respond to the lights and siren; he instead continued to drive through Happy Valley.
Rather than pursue Honeycutt, deputies reportedly observed as he steered his vehicle down a roadway with no outlet. Following a Sept. 16 high-speed chase of an alleged shoplifter that ended in a fatal crash, Clackamas Sheriff Angela Brandenburg directed deputies to pursue vehicles only when there is reasonable suspicion a felony, or when the suspect's driving is deemed dangerous enough to threaten other drivers or pedestrians.
Before Honeycutt returned from the dead-end road, deputies set up spike strips which Honeycutt drove over as he returned, deflating his vehicle's tires. Honeycutt attempted to flee on deflated tires, but deputies caught up with the vehicle and were able to stop the truck at 145th Avenue and Ridgecrest Road, per the investigation and police reports.
After exiting the vehicle, Honeycutt reportedly resisted as the three deputies attempted to take him into custody. During the struggle, Honeycutt produced a revolver handgun and pointed it "inches away" from Bento's chest.
According to the investigation, Bento "fired three shots in rapid succession" into Honeycutt's chest, after which deputies began attempting lifesaving measures, police reported.
Honeycutt died on the scene. His identity was reportedly verified during an autopsy performed the following morning by the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office.
Investigators "quickly determined" that the truck Honeycutt was driving had been stolen in the city of Portland on Sept. 24.
The panel of jurors ultimately voted 7-0 that Bento was justified in his use of deadly physical force on Honeycutt.
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