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Ashland police investigating whether suspected killer should face bias crime charges

Ashland police Chief Tighe O'Meara said investigators have not found any evidence yet that would add bias crimes to charges levied against the man accused of murder in a recent killing in Ashland.

Robert Keegan, 47, faces charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, unlawful possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering another person for the Nov. 23 shooting of Aidan Ellison, a 19-year-old Black man. O’Meara said he and the district attorney have discussed what requirements must be met to add a hate crime indictment.

“We are still open to that if the evidence presents itself — the district attorney’s office is open to filing additional charges,” O’Meara said during Tuesday's City Council meeting. “We are actively looking into the background of the suspect to see whether or not that would be appropriate. As of yet, we have not come across anything that brings us to that legal threshold.”

O’Meara said this case must navigate both righteous social tension and the prerequisites embedded in existing state statute defining bias crimes.

“There has to be something about the situation that lets the district attorney paint the picture that not only did this horrendous murder take place, but here’s a piece of evidence that it was because there is some animus from the suspect toward Mr. Ellison because of his race,” O’Meara said.

Evidence may include what the suspect has said, membership in anti-Black organizations or other indicators that may be discovered through further investigation, he said. Legally, a suspect being white and a victim being Black is not enough alone to bring the charge to a courtroom.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Keegan confronted Ellison at 4 a.m. Nov. 23 over loud music being played from the Stratford Inn parking lot. Keegan told police that Ellison was punching him in the face, and he shot him to defend himself. Investigators say they have found no evidence that Ellison punched Keegan.

O’Meara urged anyone with relevant information about Keegan’s history to contact the Ashland Police Department.

Oregon law defines felony first-degree bias crime as knowingly or recklessly causing physical injury to another person, using a deadly weapon against a person or placing a person in fear of physical injury because of the person’s race, color, religion, gender identity, disability or national origin.

Councilor and Mayor-elect Julie Akins said she has received digital communications from people claiming to be Keegan’s friends — some messages include “racist epithets” and threats, she said.

O’Meara said any such communication should be examined and documented at APD to determine its relevance to a bias crime indictment.

Mayor John Stromberg said during Tuesday's meeting that he will release a statement Friday on behalf of his office and the City Council addressing the murder of Ellison and to speak to the city’s collective sorrow for the life lost, plans to honor Ellison’s life by actively pursuing social justice, and recognize law enforcement’s continued efforts to use all legal means to make clear such violence has no place in Ashland.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.