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Police recount case of troubled teen

Officers say they did what they could in the hours before he attacked a neighbor

Police officers heading to a reported domestic disturbance in the middle of the night thought they had options for dealing with an out-of-control teenager.

But the angry, delusional boy they found hadn't committed any crime that could land him in a detention center, didn't have a clear medical problem that would put him in the hospital and wasn't old enough for the county's sobering center.

These things fall through the cracks, Medford police Lt. Mike Moran said.

It's difficult to deprive anyone of their liberty. There is a threshold of behavior they have to cross before resources become available.

Within hours, this troubled teen, Justin Miles Pina, 17, had crossed all those thresholds ' allegedly attacking a neighbor with a knife, refusing to obey an officer's command to drop the weapon and being shot by that officer Monday morning.

— Oregon State Police and a countywide assault investigation team are probing Pina's alleged assault on neighbor Helen Brown, the shooting by the officer and the initial police response. Although police officials at first declined to discuss the case until after the investigation is complete, Moran agreed to detail what happened the first two times officers went to Pina's house Monday.

Justin's father, Dale Pina, called Medford police shortly before 2 a.m. Monday to report that his son was acting strangely and threatening him.

First to arrive, officer Damien Cromwell found Justin in front of the Pinas' house in the 700 block of Gilman Road, Moran recounted from written reports of the incident. When she attempted to search Pina for weapons, he tried to turn and confront her, so she pinned him against her patrol car until a second officer, Josh Danrich, arrived.

The officers decided to handcuff the belligerent teen, but he continued to struggle. Danrich and Cromwell then forced him to lie on the ground, prompting his mother, Georgia Pina, to rush out questioning police, reports said.

The officers put the tense teenager, who they believed might be in the throes of meth-induced psychosis, in a patrol car while they interviewed his family, Moran said.

Dale Pina told police that Justin, who seemed not to recognize him, struck the back of his head and threatened him with death.

However the officers reported that they couldn't find a mark, which would have triggered an automatic arrest for domestic violence. Because Justin didn't have a weapon and wouldn't admit to making threats, officers didn't think menacing charges would apply.

If someone has a weapon, it's clearly menacing, but if he just says he's going to kill you, it might not be, Moran said.

The police report says officers asked Dale Pina if he wanted to file a harassment charge, a misdemeanor on which his son wouldn't likely be jailed, and he said he only wanted his son held somewhere safe for observation. Pina claims he told officers he would press charges.

Both mom and dad asked if police could just take him away to cool down, Moran said.

Officers called the county's juvenile detention center, which also has shelter beds for teens not accused of crimes, to see if they had space, Moran said. The detention center isn't equipped to deal with teens who are drugged or have medical problems, he said.

Jackson County Community Justice Director Danny Jordan, who oversees the program, didn't return the 's calls about the case this week.

The county's sobering system, while primarily equipped to deal with people who are intoxicated, also accepts adults under the influence of meth. It doesn't admit juveniles, so it wasn't an option for Justin Pina, Moran said.

Officers can see that parents are fearful, so they called the emergency room at Rogue Valley Medical Center, Moran said. They determined that Pina didn't appear to have a medical condition that warranted hospitalization.

Heather Freiheit, nurse manager at RVMC's emergency department, said police and parents regularly bring in children who are out of control for no apparent reason for evaluation. It can look like just bad behavior, but we do a psychiatric assessment, drug screening and CAT scan for possible brain injury, she said.

While the hospital has a place for psychotic kids, the emergency room isn't an appropriate place to just park a troubled teen until things cool off at home, Freiheit said.

Unless they are incoherent or suicidal or homicidal, everybody is kind of in a bind, she said.

Pina didn't seem to meet the criterion ' danger to self or others ' for police to take him into custody on a mental-health hold, Moran said.

Danrich and Cromwell suggested Dale Pina leave the house to remove the source of his son's agitation. He left, but Justin Pina remained disturbed, calling police again about 3:10 a.m. to ask why he wasn't in jail.

Officers checked with the juvenile detention center again, seeking temporary lodging for a teen not charged with a crime, but found no space. They also called the sergeant on duty to see if he had advice on other options, Moran said. He didn't.

They warned the sergeant that the family's problems had not passed and police likely would be called again.

The officers weren't turning their backs on this problem, Moran said. They made the right inquiries and tried to find a short-term solution. They are both caring individuals who take pride in their jobs.

At about 7:50 a.m. neighbor Helen Brown, 55, called 9-1-1 to report that Pina had forced his way into her home when she returned from running errands. He attacked her with a large kitchen knife while she spoke with emergency dispatchers.

In responding to her call for help, Medford police officer John Torgerson shot Pina when the teen refused to drop the knife.

Pina remains in critical condition at Rogue Valley Medical Center under police guard. Brown is in fair condition there, hospital officials said.

The investigation continues and evidence likely will be presented to a grand jury early next month, said OSP Lt. Maureen Bedell.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail Police recount case of troubled teen"aburke@mailtribune.com.