By Damian Mann, Mail Tribune, January 23, 2012
A west Medford neighborhood is reeling after a police officer shot to death an 18-year-old Sunday after he brandished a butcher knife on his front porch — the second time law enforcement has used deadly force in a little more than two weeks.
Clinton McDonald describes the scene outside his window Sunday afternoon after Medford police shot and killed a young man on Medford’s Pennsylvania Street. “I don’t know how many shots maybe more than six,” said McDonald.
Elias Angel Ruiz, who police said couldn’t be subdued with a stun gun, was pronounced dead at the scene at 812 Pennsylvania St., after officers responded to a domestic disturbance call at 2:21 p.m., according to Medford Police Chief Tim George.
An officer was treated and released after falling to the ground, injuring his hip.
Neighbors say multiple shots were fired, though the exact number hasn’t been confirmed by Medford police yet.
“I don’t know how many shots — maybe more than six,” said Clinton McDonald, a 31-year-old father who lives on nearby Summit Avenue.
He said Ruiz’s mother, who was standing outside his house, cried out, “Why did you shoot my son?”
According to Jackson County records, the house was purchased in 1994 by Ramiro and Alejandra Ruiz.
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(Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo)
Medford's Pennsylvania Street was blocked to traffic as police investigate the shooting.
McDonald said he pulled his daughter out of a baby swing next to a window when the gunshots started, fearing one of them would strike her.
“I think it is very unfortunate that they were shooting down a street in a neighborhood,” he said.
This is the second law enforcement shooting in recent weeks. On Jan. 5, 20-year-old fugitive James “Jimmy” Georgeson was shot by U.S. Marshals outside a west Medford grocery store. Georgeson was a career criminal with drug and mental health problems and had a history of assaulting police officers, according to criminal records.
The investigation into the shooting of Ruiz will follow procedures laid out in the Jackson County Deadly Force Plan.
Under the plan, all responding officers at the shooting surrender weapons to an evidence officer. An autopsy must be performed on the victim. Police officers have video cameras that also are reviewed as part of the investigation.
George said an investigation is under way to determine how many shots were fired and in what direction. The investigation will be conducted to determine if only one officer fired his weapon, he said. George said he wouldn’t disclose the names of the two officers directly involved, but said they would be placed on mandatory administrative leave until the case is presented to a Jackson County grand jury.
Separate 9-1-1 calls came in from both the mother and son, George said, so police still are trying to determine the events surrounding the dispute.
George said Ruiz was making suicidal threats to police dispatch. Ruiz was screaming for help, and the mother was heard crying, George said.
As many as four officers responded to the scene after dispatchers said Ruiz had armed himself with a knife, locked himself inside the house and struck himself with an unknown object, George said.
The mother and her 13-year-old son had left the house before officers arrived, George said. Officers attempted to call Ruiz at the scene. They found the front door locked, George said.
When Ruiz appeared on the front porch, he brandished a butcher knife and an officer attempted to use a stun gun, George said. He said he couldn’t confirm how far the officer was standing from Ruiz. Stun guns used by police can either be used up close or from a distance of about 15 feet away.
When the stun proved unsuccessful, George said a second officer used deadly force. George didn’t reveal the names of the officers.
“This is traumatic for the family members, and for everybody else involved in this,” George said.
The entire confrontation took place between the sidewalk and front porch, he said. Officers are authorized to use deadly force if the circumstances for that type of force are reasonable, George said.
He said he wouldn’t speculate on the distance an officer could be standing from someone who is brandishing a knife in order to justify using deadly force.
“These are complex, lengthy and detailed investigations,” he said.
An unsuccessful attempt to resuscitate Ruiz was made after the shooting, George said.
The Oregon State Police is the lead agency involved, but other local jurisdictions have been called in as well. The Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit is investigating the shooting.
Investigators worked into Sunday night, erecting a canopy over the death scene, while a police van was stationed at the street. They will continue the investigation today.
Police cars buzzed through the neighborhood during the day and crime scene tape blocked off a portion of Pennsylvania St.
Joyce Snell, a 65-year-old neighbor, said the shooting has set her and her husband on edge because they are already concerned about people coming to their house at night.
“We keep our doors locked, and we don’t answer after dark,” she said.
She said she heard noises sometime after 2 p.m, but thought the wind had picked up a trash can, making it rattle across the street.
“We heard four loud noises right in a row,” she said.
Snell, like other neighbors, didn’t know the Ruiz family, but she said she’d never heard any other disturbances from the house.
Lee Teague, a 59-year-old neighbor, said he was a little concerned because he didn’t see or hear anything until he saw police cars roaming through the neighborhood.
“I’m really shaken by the fact that I didn’t hear it,” he said.
Teague said he doesn’t understand why anyone would threaten an officer.
“You don’t assault police officers — they’ve got guns,” he said. “I’m just sad people are making decisions to put their own lives in danger.”
Kathy Cupp, a 54-year-old neighbor, said the neighborhood is usually very quiet, and she never heard any other disturbances at the Ruiz household.
“It’s sad,” she said. “You hate to hear it’s a kid.”
Cupp said she thinks several gunshots were fired.
“I heard a pop, pop, pop, and then I saw the police running everywhere,” she said.
Cupp said she thinks the police are trying to do the best they can in a dangerous situation.
“I feel bad for the policeman,” she said. “I feel bad for everybody.”