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Grand jury: Officer justified in Central Point shooting

A grand jury determined Friday that Central Point police Officer Derek Brown was justified when he shot and wounded Justin Daniel Lopez during a police chase Feb. 19.

The grand jury also indicted Lopez on felony charges of unlawful use of a weapon and attempting to elude a police officer.

Brown fired six shots at Lopez after a police chase in the early morning hours that ended near Don Jones Memorial Park. Lopez had stepped out of his car and advanced on Brown holding a shotgun that was later determined to be unloaded, according to a release issued by the Jackson County District Attorney's Office. One of Brown's bullets struck Lopez in his pelvis.

The incident started just before 3 a.m. when Lopez, driving a red 1999 Chevrolet Camaro, was stopped next to Brown's patrol car at the intersection of East Pine Street and the Interstate 5 northbound off-ramp. Lopez started spinning his tires and ran through the red light, heading eastbound on East Pine at speeds exceeding 70 mph, the release said.

Brown pursued the Camaro as it turned northbound onto Hamrick Road. Lopez traveled an "extended distance" in the southbound lane before he pulled into the park and stopped. Brown stopped his car several car lengths away, the release said.

Lopez got out of the Camaro, aimed a shotgun at Brown and started advancing on him. Brown ran to the rear of his vehicle for cover. He saw Lopez rack the shotgun in order to chamber a round, the release said.

"At this point, Officer Brown believed his life was in danger and he felt he had no choice but to use the firearm," the release said.

Brown ordered him to drop the weapon, but Lopez continued advancing, prompting Brown to fire.

Only 13 seconds passed between the moment Lopez stopped his car and Brown fired the first shot, the release said.

Officers from Central Point police and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office arrived as backup. Lopez screamed at the officers to "just kill him," according to the release. The officers dragged Lopez away from the shotgun and rendered aid. He was transported to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. While processing evidence at the scene, police determined Lopez's gun was not loaded, the release said.

About 20 minutes before the police chase began, Lopez sent his family text messages telling them he loved them and that he was sorry, according to one of his sisters who testified Friday, the release said.

The grand jury reached its decision in less than five minutes after hearing testimony from Brown, responding officers, investigators, Lopez's sister and a friend who had given Lopez the shotgun as a gift several months earlier.

The case was presented by Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz.

Brown has been an employee of the Central Point police department for about a year and a half, starting as a reserve officer. He graduated from the police academy in February 2016 and became full-time.

In addition to the felony charges of unlawful use of a weapon and attempting to elude police in a vehicle, Lopez faces misdemeanor charges of reckless driving, menacing and pointing a firearm at another. 

Lopez has not yet been booked in the Jackson County Jail, records show. A call to an Asante representative to find out whether Lopez is still a patient wasn't immediately returned.

Other than a 2015 violation for failing to wear his seat belt and driving uninsured, Lopez has no prior criminal history, Jackson County Circuit Court records show.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.