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Medford police found to be justified in killing armed man last month

A Jackson County grand jury Thursday determined Medford police were justified in killing 52-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran Stephen Andrew McMilon on Aug. 24, despite McMilon never firing a shot from a shotgun and two pistols he was packing during the dispute.

Police previously reported that McMilon fired at least one round from his shotgun before officers shot and killed him, but physical evidence collected from the scene indicates McMilon never fired a shot, said Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert.

"Four civilians actually believed that he fired and could describe recoil and all kinds of information. They just believed that he actually fired, so that was the information we were initially operating under when some of the facts were released initially, but after getting the entire investigation and looking at everything, the physical evidence just does not support that," Heckert said. "He did, in fact, point his gun at two different officers, and the officers that fired were firing to protect a fellow officer not themselves."

She said an MPD officer taking cover from McMilon when that shooting broke out also believed McMilon had shot.

"We had independent witnesses at the scene that were saying that he shot ... that's what they perceived, that's what they believed. We gave out some initial information at the time because we were confident that's what happened that night, but you can't refute physical evidence," said Medford Police Department Chief Tim George.

A pair of MPD officers shot at McMilon a total of six times and hit him once because they believed he was about to open fire on another nearby officer, Goerge said.

McMilon, who may have been high on methamphetamine during the standoff, had a shotgun, two handguns and was carrying 232 live rounds of ammunition when he was killed in a church parking lot at the intersection of Cherry Street and Stewart Avenue, Heckert said.

Although blood and urine lab work is not yet complete, a presumptive urine test showed the presence of methamphetamine in McMilon's urine, Heckert said.

At about 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, Medford police were called to several reports of a man — McMilon — walking down Prune and Cherry streets with a shotgun and pistol and yelling aimlessly. McMilon was located a few minutes later walking south on Cherry Street by MPD officer Omar Esqueda, Heckert said.

George said McMilon had walked nearly a mile from his home on Chestnut Street by the time Esqueda contacted him.

When Esqueda told McMilon to put the gun down, he responded "f---ing shoot me," according to a press release issued by the District Attorney's Office.

Taking cover behind his patrol car parked on the west side of Cherry Street about 300 feet away from Stewart Avenue, Esqueda continued ordering McMilon to drop the gun when McMilon turned and pointed the shotgun at him, cycled a live round out of the chamber, then bent down to pick it up and reloaded it, Heckert said.

The two were about 15 feet apart at that time, she said.

Seconds later, MPD officer Daniel Ashworth arrived and parked his patrol car in the intersection of Stewart Avenue and Cherry Street, Heckert said.

McMilon immediately began advancing toward Ashworth through the Heritage Christian Center Church of God parking lot while aiming the shotgun at him, the press release said, and Esqueda was preparing to shoot him when the back door of the church swung open and obstructed his view.

During these moments, MPD officers Salvador Garcia, carrying a .40-caliber sidearm, and Stephen Meador, carrying his AR-15 .223-caliber patrol rifle, were approaching the scene on foot from farther north on Cherry Street, Heckert said.

McMilon is reported to have yelled at Ashworth and Esqueda to "go to hell," just before the shooting, the release said.

When Ashworth took cover as McMilon aimed at him, Garcia and Meador opened fire from 50 to 75 yards away, Heckert said.

Garcia shot four times and Meador shot twice, George said, and McMilon fell to the pavement.

(Correction: The number of shots fired by each officer has been corrected in this story.)

The incident took about two minutes to unfold, George said.

Witnesses testified that police asked McMilon to drop his gun 10 to 30 times during that span, the release said

As officers approached McMilon, who was wearing a military-style camouflage vest, they could see he was packing a pistol in his waistband and continued giving him orders to show his hands, George said.

"This is a tragic event. This is a sad deal. Anytime that another person has to take person's life in deadly force, that is tragic event, and we have to learn from it. But, in this particular instance, this was a situation where deadly force was justified ... because they were defending another officer, and that's the action that they took," George said.

A video of the incident's aftermath circulating online shows McMilon lying nearly motionless in the church parking lot with four Medford Police Department officers standing behind a police cruiser with guns drawn. None of the officers approach what appears to be McMilon bleeding and dying during the roughly 90-second video.

"There was still some indication that he was still in possession of firearms at the time he was down on the ground, and they used some time, some precaution to approach him before they finally took him into custody, before EMS could actually get to him," George said.

During an autopsy, it was confirmed that McMilon was shot through through his side and both lungs with one .40-caliber bullet, Heckert said.

Medford police had responded to McMilon's home 14 times since August 2013, George said.

Although authorities could not confirm his medical condition, McMilon was described by his friends as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his service in the Gulf War. There are conflicting reports from his friends of him serving in the war as a sniper and helicopter gunner.

The last time police responded to his home was for a report of shots fired less than two hours before his death, at about 3 p.m., George said.

Police spoke with McMilon and his girlfriend, who said they knew nothing about a gunshot, George said. A neighbor police spoke with during their response said he thought the loud bang was a piece of plywood falling to the ground — so the officers left.

It was later confirmed that McMilon did fire his shotgun, prompting the 911 call.

McMilon had been fighting with his girlfriend leading up to that call and the shooting, said Natalie Cortez, who described herself as a close friend of McMilon's during the last four years.

Fifteen witnesses — all four officers at the scene, six civilian witnesses, an Oregon State Police criminalist, a Washington County Sheriff's Department use-of-force expert, and three detectives who attended the autopsy and worked on the investigation —testified over four hours Thursday in front of the grand jury, Heckert said.

It took less than five minutes of deliberation before the grand jury determined the officers' use of deadly force was justified.

If the results of an internal MPD investigation into the incident reveal the same, the officers involved in the shooting will be taken of administrative leave and placed back on patrol in a few days, George said.

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

Medford police found to be justified in killing armed man last month