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Grand jury: shooting was justified

Four law enforcement officers were justified in shooting and wounding a pair of fugitives on the run from Idaho authorities March 6, a Jackson County grand jury decided Thursday after less than five minutes of deliberation.

It is unclear how many shots were fired in the barrage of gunfire police unleashed on Wayne Eugene Pearson, 29, and Shavon Ruth Willard, 32, said District Attorney Beth Heckert, but 39 shell casings were recovered at the scene.

"It's possible that there may have been a few more," Heckert said. "It's difficult to tell."

Heckert said investigators were not able to recover all of the bullets shot by Medford Police Department officers Randy Jewell and Jason Wileman, Department of Justice special agent Mike Wells and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent Kenny Cooper.

The officers started shooting at Pearson and Willard on Hilton Road near Poplar Avenue after Pearson allegedly rammed Cooper's vehicle while he and another ATF special agent were inside, inflicting minor injuries, according to a release by the District Attorney's office.

Pearson allegedly rammed the ATF Jeep Grand Cherokee with his rear bumper and then accelerated toward where Jewell and Wileman were standing in the street, the release said.

Concerning who fired first, "I don't know that we can determine that," Heckert said.

Willard was hit twice in the chest, once in the arm, once in the leg, and a fragment struck her right eye, Heckert said. Pearson was grazed in the head, she said.

Over the course of about nine hours Thursday, the grand jury heard testimony from the four law enforcement officers directly involved in the shooting, other officers on scene, three civilians who observed the incident, a criminalist, a use-of-force expert and other officers involved in the investigation. They also repeatedly watched video recorded by Medford police cars during the incident, the release said.

Use-of-force expert John R. Black of the Washington County Sheriff's Office testified that Pearson's truck was capable of inflicting serious injury or death to the MPD officers, the release said.

Leading up to the shooting, Wells spotted a white 1998 Dodge pickup associated with Pearson and Willard at the Motel 6 on Biddle Road while investigating an unrelated case on March 6, the release said. He recognized the vehicle from an "attempt to locate," bulletin issued by Idaho and Douglas County authorities for Willard and Pearson, the release said.

After unsuccessfully attempting to confirm the vehicle based off its license plate, Cooper, who was assisting Wells, walked up to the pickup to read its vehicle identification number through the windshield, the release said. Upon walking away from the vehicle, Pearson and Willard, who had been asleep inside, began driving away, the release said.

Wells and Cooper pursued Willard and Pearson without lights or sirens until reaching the Best Buy parking lot, where Pearson began to accelerate away, the release said. Following Cooper and Wells activating their police lights in the parking lot, Pearson turned off adjacent Hilton Road into Northcrest Circle, a cul-de-sac, the release said.

Medford officers Jewell and Wileman were attempting to deploy a spike strip when Pearson reversed out of the cul-de-sac and rammed Cooper's Jeep before speeding toward them, the release said.

About nine seconds elapsed between the time it took Pearson to ram Cooper's vehicle and officers to fire their last shot, the release said.

A 9 mm handgun was found in the Dodge after the incident, though it was never fired during the shooting, Heckert said. It had one round in the chamber and three rounds in the magazine, the release said.

The Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit, led by Oregon State Police, investigated the incident, and Heckert and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz presented the case to the grand jury, the release said.

After Pearson and Willard were arraigned Monday in Jackson County Circuit Court, the grand jury also returned indictments against the pair of Idaho fugitives. Pearson faces two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of attempted first-degree assault and single counts of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, being a felon in possession of a firearm, first-degree criminal mischief and two counts of failure to perform the duties of a driver to injured persons.

Willard was indicted on charges of possession of methamphetamine and unauthorized use of a vehicle, records show.

Heckert said she could not comment on whether Pearson or Willard were under the influence of intoxicants during the time of the chase or shooting.

The pair had been on the lam since Feb. 27, when they reportedly stole a truck and rammed a sheriff's vehicle in eastern Idaho, police said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.