Pendleton police officer cleared in shooting of suicidal man

From the East Oregonian &, September 28, 2011

A grand jury Tuesday cleared Pendleton Police Officer Erik Palmer in the shooting of Mark McMillan.

Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus, who presented the case, said a Pendleton grand jury jury found Palmer justified in the use of deadly force.

Primus also said the case is still under investigation, and McMillan could face charges.

Palmer, 33, a 5-year city policeman, encountered McMillan the evening of Monday, Sept. 19, in a pickup on the 500 block of Southeast Byers Avenue. As Palmer approached the pickup, McMillan, 49, reportedly suicidal, pointed a handgun at him.

Palmer faced McMillan alone and shot him multiple times. Paramedics took the wounded McMillan to St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, which then transferred him via air ambulance to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Hospital spokeswoman Caryn Ruch on Wednesday said McMillan is in fair condition.

The grand jury heard from Palmer, Oregon State Police detective Jeremy Gunter and state police forensic scientist Christine Ogilvie.

Primus said the shooting clearly affected the officer.

“I saw it in Erik’s face — it is a difficult situation,” Primus said.

Primus declined comment on evidence the jurors heard, citing the on-going investigation. He also declined comment on what, if any, charges McMillan could face.

Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts this morning said the finding was a relief to the department and to Palmer, who remains on paid leave.

“He’s ready to come back to work, he wants to come back to work,” Roberts said. “I anticipate he will be back to work in the next week or two.”

Before Palmer can return, he must be emotionally and psychologically fit, Roberts said. The department performs its own administrative review to ensure Palmer acted in accordance with established polices and procedures.

“We’ve gone through the criminal part; we’ve gone through the psychological part; we’re very close on the administrative part,” the chief said.

Roberts said Palmer didn’t expect to have to pull his firearm as he approached McMillan in the pickup, but McMillan, his head and hands outside the truck, pointed a laser-sighted handgun at the officer.

Palmer ran for cover, Roberts said, and fired on the move.

According to Roberts:

Palmer’s first or second round probably stuck the pickup and then hit McMillan in the face, injuring him and forcing him back into the vehicle. Palmer continued to fire, with another round busting through the rear window and hitting McMillan in the shoulder.

McMillan slumped out of view, but Palmer didn’t know if McMillan was even hit.

Other officers arrived, crouched and yelled for McMillan to show his hands.

Carefully they approached the pickup, until an officer peeked inside to see McMillan. They yanked him from the cab and gave aid until an ambulance arrived.

Roberts said Oregon State Police is handling the criminal investigation, so he didn’t know how may times McMillan was struck by gunfire. Police training dictates an officer fires until a threat is neutralized, the chief said.

The is the second time Palmer has shot a man in the line of duty, and the second time a grand jury determined his actions were justified.

Palmer fatally shot Deveron Schreiner, 38, of La Grande on June 26, 2008, at The Face & Body Place, 221 S. Main St.

Schreiner, armed with a stolen semi-automatic handgun threatened to kill himself or someone else, according to investigators. He pointed a Glock handgun at his head and then at police.

Palmer fired one round from a rifle, which struck Schreiner in the neck and killed him.

Most officers in their careers never even draw their weapons, Roberts said. Palmer has, twice.

When he returns to work, Palmer will not be on patrol duty immediately; instead, the department will ease him back into regular duty, Roberts said.

He said the ultimate call to return to street duty rests with Palmer.