Slain Irishman’s family calls for changes

There is a memorial service planned for AJ on August 3rd at Silver Falls State Park, beginning at 4 p.m.

Donations to help defray the costs incurred to the family can be made to a Washington Mutual to the “Family of AJ Hanlon” fund. For more details, call any Washington Mutual Bank.

Cards of condolence can be sent to 188 Steelhammer Rd., Silverton, OR 97381

From the Oregonian, July 26 2008

A.J. Hanlon’s sister wants to improve police officers’ dealings with mentally disturbed people

It’s the bump in the night every homeowner dreads: A stranger wants inside. He’s shouting. He’s pounding on the door.

That scenario plays out in real time on a 9-1-1 call released Friday by officials investigating the shooting death of Andrew “A.J.” Hanlon, a 20-year-old Irish national.

As investigators were publicizing the recording, Hanlon’s family was criticizing Thursday night’s grand jury decision to clear the rookie Silverton police officer who shot Hanlon five times during a confrontation.

At 11:20 p.m. June 30, homeowner Shannon Kelley was reading in her upstairs bedroom when she heard the first knock.

She thought her husband, Josiah, had forgotten his key. But when she reached the door, the knocking became aggressive pounding.

“The male subject is at my front door, please hurry,” Kelley tells a dispatcher during the nearly six-minute call. “Oh, my God — he’s trying to break down the front door . . . please!”

Kelley was in the house with her mother, father and three small children.

In the background, Hanlon can be heard pounding and yelling, “Open the door!” When Kelley’s husband arrives — a short time after Hanlon leaves and police arrive — Kelley breaks down in sobs. Her mother takes the phone and completes the call.

Minutes later, Hanlon would be dead, killed during a confrontation with 35-year-old Silverton police Officer Tony Gonzalez.

Afterward, police find skin and blood on Kelley’s front door. She tells investigators the man yelled that he was the “angel of death” and howled at the moon.

“He’s totally psychotic”

It was not the first time a terrified homeowner had called for help to deal with Hanlon.

In a separate 9-1-1 recording released Friday, Hanlon’s brother-in-law, Nathan Heise, calls an emergency dispatcher. Heise says Hanlon is “threatening to kill people. . . . We need some serious help. . . . He’s being physical. He’s being violent. He’s already threatened to kill people. He’s totally psychotic. He’s stopped taking his schizophrenic medication. We need help.”

The April 6 call came from the house where Heise and Hanlon’s sister, Melanie Heise, live on Steelhammer Road, less than a mile from where Hanlon would die.

After confronting an agitated Andrew Hanlon near a basement entrance, Sgt. Roger “Buck” Pilmore drew his Taser. Although Hanlon refused Pilmore’s order to get on the ground, the officer did not fire. Pilmore wrote that had he fired, Hanlon would have hit his head or body against a retaining wall.

After Hanlon was subdued and handcuffed, he told Pilmore that he had been off his medication for five days and “that everyone in town was looking at him strangely.” He was taken to Salem Hospital for a mental evaluation.

Looking for answers

Family members dealt with Hanlon’s mental illness for months. But they said Friday that it was hard to reconcile his behavior the night he died with the gentle and funny storyteller they knew.

“This ending to his life and the way it was different is completely in contrast to the way he lived his life,” Nathan Heise said. “That’s why it’s all so shocking to hear this description.”

Melanie Heise said she would work to help police better interact with mentally disturbed people.

“I acknowledge that my dear brother was disturbed,” she said. “What does not make sense to me is how it is, over and over again, in Oregon and elsewhere, that a confrontation between law enforcement and a person with mental illness ends up with the mentally ill person dead, law enforcement ‘justified’ and nothing changed. In Andrew’s name, I will commit myself to solving this problem.”

The family members said the Marion County district attorney did not invite all credible witnesses to the shooting to testify before the grand jury.

“That simply is not the case,” said Donald Abar, a Marion County deputy district attorney.

“We presented all available evidence to the grand jury,” he said. “This was not us making the decision. It was the citizens of this county.”

Silverton Police Chief Rick Lewis said the grand jury is the best process “we could have to listen to the facts of the investigation and reach a conclusion about whether or not the shooting was justified.”

In Oregon, police officers can legally use deadly force when their lives or the lives of others are in imminent danger. Grand juries almost never indict them for using deadly force.

Mel Castelo, Hanlon’s aunt, criticized not only the grand jury’s decision, but Oregon’s procedures.

“I beg to differ with the DA: The process does not work,” Castelo said.

Nathan Heise questioned why Gonzalez didn’t draw his Taser instead of his gun.

Abar defended Gonzalez’s decision, saying the officer had no time to switch to a Taser. “When you’re talking about 20-feet distance between someone and an officer, that closing time is seconds,” Abar said. “There’s not time to reholster and get a Taser.”

Lewis said Gonzalez remains on paid administrative leave from the shooting and that the department is considering his job status. Gonzalez is in Polk County Jail, held without bail on unrelated sex abuse charges.

Meanwhile, Hanlon’s family struggles with his death and any decision to pursue a civil case.

“This is not over for us. This is not finished,” Castelo said. “We will continue to press on for answers until we have them, however we need to press for those answers.”

The attorney for Hanlon’s family, Steve Crew, said his clients were trying to get Hanlon help before that fateful June night.

“He never got the help he needed,” Crew said.

SEE BELOW – July 25 press conference with Andrew Hanlon’s family, Oregonian, July 25 2008

EXTRA – ‘Killing Andrew was a mortal sin,’ says grandmother, Independent.ie, July 26 2008
EXTRA – Family of Irishman shot dead by US police vow to fight on, Belfast Telegraph, July 26 2008
EXTRA – Family still has questions about shooting, Salem Statesman Journal, July 26 2008
EXTRA – Legislature should address issues in shooting, editorial from the Salem Statesman Journal, July 26 2008