Officers' fatal shooting at tow yard was justified, DA says
The Columbia County Sheriff and an Oregon State Police sergeant were justified in their fatal shooting of a man at a tow yard earlier this year, the district attorney announced in a memorandum this week.
Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley and Oregon State Police Sgt. Chad Drew fatally shot Michael Stockton, a 39-year-old man wanted in a Gresham murder, after responding to a report of a disturbance.
A worker at Grumpy's Towing called a state trooper on the morning of March 31, after Stockton arrived at the tow yard and demanded his car, which he had rented for a month prior. The car had been recovered on a logging road in Columbia County a few days earlier and was linked by Gresham police to a March 27 homicide at a storage unit. Stockton, who had previously served more than six years in prison on unlawful use of a weapon charges, was charged with murder and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Pixley was on his way into the office when a report of a suspicious person at a church a mile north of Grumpy's Towing came in, according to District Attorney Jeff Auxier's report. Pixley, who is typically doing administrative work as sheriff but said he sometimes responds to calls because the office is understaffed, responded but did not find anyone in the area. Another report then came in concerning a disturbance at Grumpy's.
Pixley arrived at Grumpy's. By the time he arrived, he was aware that the disturbance was likely related to the vehicle that was linked to the Gresham homicide.
Body camera footage shows Pixley entering the garage at Grumpy's Towing as Stockton walks out the back. Pixley repeatedly asks him to come back, but Stockton continues to walk away. Within 30 seconds of Pixley entering the garage, a single shot is heard. Pixley reported shots fired, drew his gun and followed Stockton out the rear of the garage, repeatedly yelling at him to drop his weapon. Pixley's body-worn camera appears to fall off as he runs after Stockton.
From where the camera lands, Pixley can be seen shooting back. A few seconds later, he radios that the subject is down, but more gunfire is exchanged. Pixley told investigators Stockton fell to the ground between two vehicles in the tow yard.
Pixley followed Stockton into the yard despite having no backup. He told investigators that he knew that the man was already suspected in a homicide and could easily find hiding places around the cars in the yard.
In the video, Pixley yells for Stockton to put down his gun and show his hands more than a dozen times in less than two minutes. More shots are heard.
Drew, the OSP sergeant, arrived, confirmed with Pixley that the suspect fired shots, and fired 17 rounds from his AR-15 at Stockton. Stockton then dropped his firearm. Drew approached Stockton, handcuffed him, and both Drew and Pixley began rendering first aid, according to Auxier's report.
Pixley gave Stockton CPR continuously, but paramedics pronounced Stockton dead at the scene, Auxier's report stated. A medical examiner reported Stockton's cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds and reported that he had methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death, according to Auxier's report.
Both officers who shot Stockton were not generally in local patrol positions. Drew typically worked outside of Columbia County but was assisting with supervisory duties from the St. Helens OSP office that day. Drew was not aware of the circumstances or context of the call before responding but followed other state troopers when they left the OSP office to respond to the call.
Auxier wrote in the report that there was "no credible reason to question" either officer's accounts of the incident, because those accounts matched the body-worn camera footage and eyewitness reports.
"Shooting a wanted murderer who just shot at you and continues to shoot at you is a justified use of force in nearly all conceivable circumstances," Auxier wrote.
Auxier said Pixley and Drew's actions were justified and brave. "Rather than wait for back up or allow Stockton to escape, Sheriff Pixley and Sergeant Drew placed themselves at great risk of personal harm in order to protect the public and their fellow officers," Auxier wrote.
Both officers were placed on administrative leave after the shooting, which is standard procedure. On April 29, Auxier wrote that while the investigation was ongoing, he had no objection to both officers returning to active duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
State law allows district attorneys to review the evidence and decide whether an officer's use of force was justified. Some district attorneys present the evidence to a grand jury and allow the jury to decide, while others, like Auxier, conduct the review independently and would only present to a grand jury if they determine the use of force was not justified and should result in a felony indictment.
The investigation into the shooting was handled by the Washington County Major Crimes Team, which turned over the investigation findings to Auxier. Auxier released his final report and Pixley's body camera footage with faces blurred, which Auxier said was "out of respect to the deceased."
Auxier asked Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton to review his findings. "Since Sheriff Pixley was directly involved, I wanted an outside official to independently review my decision," Auxier wrote. Felton agreed that the shooting was justified.
Pixley declined to comment on Auxier's report.
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