UPDATE: March 14 – Clackamas County declined to repair the $15,000+ damage the Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputies did to the Kalonji apartment with bombs and bullets on January 28.
A Clackamas County grand jury has concluded that county deputies were justified in using deadly defensive force in the Jan. 28 shooting death of Oak Grove resident Christopher Kalonji, 19.
Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney, announced Friday that the grand jury came to the conclusion after considering the evidence of 10 witnesses for more than seven hours. One witness was the Clackamas County medical examiner who reported that the death was a suicide.
As this newspaper previously reported on Jan. 28 and Feb. 15, Kalonji “brandished the rifle, resulting in deputies firing at the man” at about 10:30 a.m.
Called as grand-jury witnesses were county mental health staff who assisted in efforts to de-escalate after they were called to the scene by law enforcement. Additionally, neighbors were called to testify regarding Kalonji’s possession of a rifle.
Kalonji’s parents were invited to testify as well, but decided not to participate in the proceedings. Kalonji family attorney J. Ashlee Albies, according to the Oregonian, didn’t know why the family declined to participate and said that cases of “suicide by cop” are controversial.
The Clackamas Review previously reported that Kalonji family members believed that the shooting could have been avoided.
But citing instances where someone going through a crisis wants to have a family member on the phone line while committing a homicidal or suicidal act, CCSO followed standard negotiation practices keeping family members out of the process. During the time they were sequestered away from the apartment, deputies interviewed Kalonji’s parents for information that could have potentially helped with the crisis.
Two Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies were found justified in fatally shooting an armed teen in the midst of an apparent mental health crisis at his Oak Grove apartment in January, the district attorney’s office announced Friday.
A Clackamas County grand jury came to the conclusion Thursday after listening to testimony from 10 witnesses, including the two deputies who opened fire on 19-year-old Christopher Kalonji, a county behavioral health staffer who responded to the scene, Kalonji’s neighbors and family friends who called 911, said Bryan Brock, a Clackamas County deputy district attorney who oversaw a review of the case. Kalonji’s parents did not attend the hearing.
Sgt. Tony Killinger, a 15-year member of the sheriff’s office, and Deputy Lon Steinhauer, a 21-year agency veteran, were placed on paid administrative leave – standard procedure in officer-involved shootings – after the Jan. 28 incident. Both were still on leave as of Thursday, Brock said.
Kalonji died from a gunshot wound to the chest, said Dr. Larry Lewman, the Oregon State Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy and testified during the grand jury hearing. Lewman said on Friday that he ruled Kalonji’s death a suicide due to the teen’s behavior and actions in the presence of armed deputies.
The medical examiner’s decision makes Kalonji’s death at least the fourth fatal police shooting ruled a suicide in the state since 2012. The other cases also involved people going through apparent mental health crisises.
In January 2012, 21-year-old Brad Morgan was fatally shot by Portland police after authorities say he aimed a toy gun at officers while he was on a parking garage roof. Morgan called 911 earlier saying he was suicidal and intended to jump from the garage or provoke responding officers to shoot him.
In February 2015, 34-year-old Bruce Steward was shot by Clackamas County deputies at his mother’s home in Colton when he approached the cops while holding a hatchet and a knife. Steward, who had depression, called 911 earlier, falsely claimed a man had a gun in the home and that someone had been stabbed. He was wearing the same clothes as the suspect he described to a dispatcher.
In November 2015, 51-year-old Michael Johnson was shot by Portland police officers near a hospital after someone called police and said Johnson had a handgun and was suicidal. Before he was killed, witnesses say he held a gun to his head, fired two shots into the ground and aimed his weapon at officers.
J. Ashlee Albies, an attorney representing Kalonji’s family, said Friday that she didn’t know why the teen’s parents chose not to attend the grand jury hearing. They still don’t know all the details of how their son was killed, the attorney said, and intend to review all of the police reports before deciding what to do next.
Albies described the medical examiner’s ruling on Kalonji’s death as “frustrating” and “problematic.” Doctors who conduct the autopsies do not witness what led to an officer-involved shooting and are heavily reliant on police accounts in their findings, she said.
“It’s an inappropriate and controversial diagnosis for a state medical examiner to make,” Albies said. “This case was brought before a grand jury by the district attorney’s office. If it was a suicide they wouldn’t have done that.”
Kalonji is one of five people killed in officer-involved shootings this year in Oregon. Two of them — the shooting of 27-year-old Timothy Caruthers by an off-duty Medford police officer in January and the shooting of 55-year-old Phillip Ferry by a Seaside police officer in February — have been ruled as justified by either by a grand jury or district attorney. Rulings have not yet been announced in the January shootings of 54-year-old Robert “LaVoy” Finicum by Oregon State Police troopers and 44-year-old Adam Karjalainen by Beaverton police.
In the case involving Karjalainen, police responded to his apartment three times in seven hours to investigate reported disputes between him and a roommate. Officers encountered Karjalainen holding a replica gun during the third call and one officer opened fire when he refused to drop the weapon and kept moving toward the cops, according to authorities.
Police said a witness heard Karjalainen say he “was going to go out in a blaze of glory with the police that morning.” The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his manner of death a homicide. The medical examiner’s rulings on the other shooting this year were not immediately available Friday.
According to a search warrant affidavit, the teen and someone else separately called 911 early Jan. 28 to summon police to the Oak Grove apartment complex. Kalonji claimed to see an armed person outside his second-story bedroom window, that he had a firearm and was concerned about Donald Trump, Leonardo DiCaprio and the corruption of public funds. The other caller said Kalonji was “out of control” and appeared to have an assault rifle.
Police hostage negotiators and staff with the county’s behavioral health unit responded and spoke with Kalonji for hours before he was shot. Kalonji, who was scheduled to appear in court that morning in an unrelated incident, told emergency responders that he was going to die, threatened to shoot children, and said he believed someone had been sent to torture and kill him, the affidavit said.
His mother told deputies that she believed her son had bipolar disorder and was stressed over the court appearance, the affidavit said. The apartment manager reported seeing Kalonji in his underwear sitting on his window sill and appearing to pick up an assault rifle when he was shot and fell backward into the unit.
Police soon threw tear gas into the apartment and later used an explosive to blow the door open and retrieve Kalonji. He died at a Portland hospital.
Brock, the Clackamas County prosecutor, said witnesses testified that just before Kalonji was shot he was speaking to Oregon City Police Officer Dan Shockley, who was on a ladder propped under the teen’s window. The officer jumped off the ladder, injuring himself, when he believed Kalonji was going for the rifle. Killinger and Steinhauer opened fire soon after.
Shockley still hasn’t returned to active duty, Brock said.