Murder victim's family plans to sue
The mother of Aidan Ellison, a 19-year-old man shot and killed in an Ashland hotel parking lot in December, plans to file two lawsuits surrounding the death of her son.
Ellison’s mother, Andrea Wofford, announced plans Tuesday to sue Ellison’s accused killer, 47-year-old Robert Paul Keegan, as well as the Stratford Inn, where Keegan and Ellison had both been staying the night of the Nov. 23 shooting.
Justin Rosas, Wofford’s lawyer since Dec. 7, said tort letters will be sent out Wednesday to the defendants, and that Rosas intends to file formal complaints outlining grounds for their lawsuit in the next two months.
Copies of the tort letters were not available late Tuesday, but Rosas said his goal with the lawsuit against the Stratford Inn will be to find out why “nothing was done” about what Rosas described as Keegan’s history of violent behavior.
Police have said the shooting occurred over an argument about loud music.
“The noise complaint was the concern of the inn, not the man who was banned from owning firearms by the circuit courts of this state,” Rosas said. “Why was that the focus?”
Keegan is being held in the Jackson County Jail without bail on charges that include second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, along with misdemeanor charges of reckless endangering and unlawfully carrying or concealing a firearm.
Rosas said a search of Oregon’s online court records showed that Keegan had previously been sent to “batterers’ intervention” and was banned from owning firearms.
“He was able to make his own complaint about someone else’s noise, and have that be central, and not his own violation of the law and violation of court orders,” Rosas said. “To that end we need the business owners and people in this community to know that if you act recklessly in a way that you support racism and racial injustice in our community, we will hold you accountable.”
Rosas said that he and Wofford don’t yet know for sure where Keegan got the handgun, described in an Ashland police affidavit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court as a Mossberg MC1 9mm semi-automatic handgun, but their lawsuits “aren’t necessarily the end of everything that we’re doing.”
Rosas declined to address specific facts in the homicide case, but indicated that Ashland police have not yet fully explored the hotel’s knowledge of Keegan’s gun prior to the shooting.
“I have information that many of the employees of the Stratford Inn, including those who cleaned this gentleman’s room and including other staff, were never interviewed by the police department,” Rosas said. “We will find that information out using the civil process — in some ways because we have to.”
Rosas and Wofford each aired grievances about the handling of the homicide investigation.
Wofford described getting off work as a bus driver and leaving at least two messages to the police department for answers about her son that she said weren’t immediately returned. She learned from the hotel that her son had died, she said.
“You know how I found out why he was shot?” Wofford asked, referring to claims of an argument over loud music. “I had to hear it on the news. ... Imagine being invisible.”
Rosas said Ashland police assigned “a detective who was getting ready to go out of town,” and didn’t spend “much time talking to the mother of a victim of a violent crime.”
He expressed disappointment that the shooting wasn’t described by police as “another crime against people of color.”
Ellison is Black and Keegan is white, but Ashland police have not charged Keegan with a bias crime. Police and prosecutors have said they are investigating whether the killing was racially motivated and have said they are open to adding bias crime charges if evidence supports it.
When asked whether Ellison’s family has considered naming Ashland police as a defendant in another civil suit, Rosas’ said, “of course.” But Rosas said the family is “trying to work with the Ashland Police Department” and federal investigators assigned to Ellison’s death “to see the work that they do.”
An FBI agent has been assigned to the case, and an Assistant U.S. Attorney is involved in the investigation into Ellison’s death to determine potential violations of federal laws, according to Rosas and a Dec. 3 release from Ashland police.
Rosas said that he and the family “appreciate” commitments made by Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert to “oversee this case personally,” as well as commitments Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara made to the family to “investigate this case in the right way.”
“We’re going to give them time to honor their commitments and see how that goes,” Rosas said. “Lord knows we’ll be here if we need to be.”
Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equality will hold a drive-in memorial service for Ellison from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, in Ashland. The event that will include live music, speakers and “Turning Up The Volume from our cars and pumping music together to honor Aidan’s last moments on this Earth.” For details, see eventbrite.com/e/turn-up-the-volume-a-celebration-of-aidan-ellisons-life-tickets-136364181939
Rosas, Wofford and the Coalition for Racial Equity announced plans for a “bias response team” that will help people of color “prepare for the next steps” using volunteers in a variety of professional fields and a certified racial equity investigator.
“They happen more often than Aidan Ellison’s murder ... and we need to be addressing it holistically and as a community,” Rosas said.
Rosas said he is connecting with the nonprofit Lawyers for Justice and other local lawyers to help in cases involving racial bias and discrimination, but Rosas also called for the help of doctors, mental health professionals, city officials, financial advisors and “other invested community members to join us in creating the most robust team possible.”