A man who allegedly threatened to kill himself and police Sunday night died in an exchange of gunfire with an officer shortly after police responded to a domestic disturbance at his southeast Medford home.
James Anthony Morris, 40, was shot and killed just before 11 p.m. by a yet unidentified Medford officer in the 900 block of La Loma Drive, close to the street's intersection with Juanipero Way and a stone's throw from Orchard Hill Elementary.
During a press conference this morning, Medford police Chief Tim George said investigators are still trying to determine the sequence of events that led to the man's death.
"It's a substantial investigation," George said. "There'll be a lot of moving parts the next two weeks."
George said officers responded to 3001 Juanipero Way at 10:41 p.m. Sunday after a woman in the home reported Morris was suicidal and was armed with a handgun, George said. The two were breaking up their relationship, he said.
"(He was) threatening to harm himself and also to harm police officers if they responded," George said.
Two children were at the house, George said. Morris left on foot with a semi-automatic handgun before police arrived.
Multiple officers searched for Morris. About 12 minutes into the search, an officer spotted Morris in the 900 block of La Loma Drive, reportedly walking north on the sidewalk's east side. George said the officer tried to engage Morris and stop him, but Morris kept coming and pointed a gun. The officer and Morris exchanged gunfire. It's not known who fired first or how many rounds were fired, but George said police are confident Morris fired at least one shot at the officer.
Morris was transported to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, where he died from his injuries. The officer, whose identity will be released after a grand jury hears the evidence, was put on paid administrative leave, which is protocol in officer-involved shootings. The officer was not injured, George said.
A resident who lives in the neighborhood and wished to remain anonymous said he heard about a dozen gunshots just before 11 p.m. He said he saw a man motionless on the ground and saw emergency responders put him on a stretcher and into an ambulance. He said he did not hear any yelling beforehand and was awakened by the gunshots.
Erika Balbier, a resident of La Loma Drive, said she initially thought the noises were people banging on her windows, and she found out about the shooting only after police came to her door. In her 15 years of living in the neighborhood, she said, such violence is a first.
"It's sad. It's really sad," Balbier said.
The case remains under investigation by the Major Assault Death Investigation Unit. Oregon State Police is the lead investigating agency. A grand jury likely will hear the case within a few weeks, said Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert.
"From past experience, we know it takes at least three weeks to a month to get to grand jury," Heckert said.
George said the investigation will be "a long and tedious process. As it should be. Someone lost their life."
The intersection of La Loma and Juanipero was closed to traffic until later Monday morning. Police said the incident had no impact on children attending school at Orchard Hill Elementary. Officers escorted some children to school while the investigation continued.
Police continue to be overwhelmed with calls stemming from mental health crises, George said. He said mental holds — in which police take those who are in mental crisis to Asante's psychiatric unit — have spiked in Medford. Through April 2015, there were 201 calls for mental health holds, up about 17 percent from the year before, according to Medford police data. Suicides and attempted suicides have risen 35 percent, from 173 to 233.
Morris' death is the third fatal officer-involved shooting in Medford, and the fourth in Jackson County, in the past year. All three men who died in Medford were in the midst of a mental health crisis, police said. In March, police shot and killed Andrew Charles Shipley, 49, after he opened fire on them with a high-powered hunting rifle following a 19-hour standoff at his home at 360 Argyle Court.
In August 2014, police shot and killed Stephen Andrew McMilon, 52, after he fired at least one shot at police near the intersection of Cherry Street and Stewart Avenue.
Jackson County sheriff's deputies shot and killed Earl Cranston Harris, 73, in June 2014 after he greeted them with a shotgun when they were trying to evict him from his foreclosed house.
Another officer-involved killing occurred Saturday night in Wilderville in Josephine County, where two Oregon State Police troopers fatally shot 55-year-old Robert Box after his daughter, a paraplegic and tough-trucks racer, reported he had physically assaulted her. Details of the shooting are still being investigated.
George said law enforcement tries to keep up through crisis-intervention training, but more needs to be done, including more immediate options for help, similar to urgent-care clinics.
"In a perfect world, at least in my perfect world, there would be immediate care for mental health," he said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.