After a five-hour hearing, it took a grand jury just six minutes to rule that Medford police were justified in the shooting of 18-year-old Elias Angel Ruiz outside his mother’s home Jan. 22.
The Jackson County grand jury heard testimony Wednesday from 14 witnesses, including the two officers who said they were charged by the knife-wielding Ruiz outside the home in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The investigation into the shooting was described to the grand jury, which deliberated in the time it takes for a coffee break before entering its verdict. “The grand jury determined the shooting was in accordance with Oregon law,” Jackson County Senior Deputy District Attorney Terry Smith-Norton said.
Medford police said they responded to Ruiz’s home after dispatch received a 9-1-1 call from the residence, in which the caller hung up after a dispatcher heard a voice in the background yelling, “Help, help.”
A dispatcher reported calling back and speaking with an emotional Alejandra Ruiz, who said her son had armed himself with a knife and was destroying items inside the home.
She also said that, before locking himself in a room, Ruiz said he wanted to stab himself. Police said she told them that he had struck his head several times with a picture frame.
Shortly thereafter, Medford Officers Jason Antley and Brian Hall arrived on the scene and approached the front door.
Another officer positioned himself in the back of the residence.
Smith-Norton said Antley and Hall told the grand jury they tried to call Ruiz on his phone but received no response. They tried to open the door and found that it was locked, so they began knocking while announcing themselves as police.
At some point, Antley had drawn his gun, while Hall had drawn a Taser, Medford Police Chief Tim George said in an interview after the grand jury decision. “They had both levels of force ready, because they weren’t sure of the situation at that point,” George said.
After several minutes of repeated knocking, Smith-Norton said, the door “flew” open and Ruiz charged the officers while making slashing motions with a large knife.
Antley and Hall said they retreated as Ruiz approached them. Both officers fell down, at which time Antley fired his gun at Ruiz, striking him five times.
Investigators determined Ruiz was between two and six feet from the officers when the shots were fired. Ruiz was hit in the left armpit, left bicep, twice in the upper left leg and once at the base of the neck.
In all, Antley fired six shots from his .40-caliber Glock handgun. One of the rounds struck a nearby car, while another hit a concrete porch near the same car.
Hall had fired his Taser at nearly the same time Antley fired his gun. The Taser’s prongs struck Ruiz. After firing the Taser, Hall testified, he scrambled to pull his gun, but Ruiz already was on the ground.
Both officers testified the encounter lasted only a few seconds and there wasn’t time to order Ruiz to disarm and stop advancing.
Another officer approached Ruiz as he lay on the ground and put him in handcuffs. The officer removed the knife from Ruiz’s hand before paramedics attempted to revive him. He was soon pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators saw a second knife protruding from Ruiz’s pants pocket and later found a “butterfly knife” in another pocket. The knife he had in his hands during the incident had an 8-inch blade.
“This was a weapon that could have done serious or deadly damage to these officers,” George said.
Ruiz was wearing a bulletproof vest underneath his large flannel shirt. The vest was a Safariland brand, which was issued to a police agency in Florida in 2006.
Investigators were not able to determine how Ruiz obtained the vest.
Oregon State Police Detective Bryan Scott conducted the investigation. He said a toxicology test was performed on Ruiz, but the results were not yet available.
“Those can take several weeks to return,” Scott said.
Ruiz’s mother was not available for comment Wednesday, but she did approve a statement through an attorney the family hired to investigate the death.
The firm of Kafoury & McDougal specializes in excessive-force complaints against police. Jason Kafoury, an attorney at the firm, said the family expected the grand jury to rule the shooting was justified.
“Indictments are rarely handed down in police shootings,” Kafoury said. “The district attorney has selectively released grand jury testimony, and the family demands they release all the grand jury testimony.”
In a written statement, the firm criticized the grand jury process as secretive and one-sided in favor of the police.
Kafoury said the firm will request the complete police report and will talk to witnesses before proceeding with their case. Kafoury did not comment on what the family is seeking and would not speak to specifics of the firm’s investigation.
“There’s a lot to do on this,” Kafoury said.
Kafoury did say that Ruiz sometimes wore the bulletproof vest in his home because he feared gang violence and the police.
Antley has been with the Medford Police Department for nine years. He is a defensive-tactics instructor and has been trained in suicide prevention.
Hall is a 17-year officer, who has been a member of the SWAT team for 13 years. He also has extensive training in suicide prevention, George said.
“These are both tenured, experienced officers,” George said. “Their training took over in this case, otherwise they could have lost their lives.”
A memorial service for Ruiz is planned for Saturday at Kids Unlimited, 821 N. Riverside Ave., in Medford. The event is open to the public and will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.