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OSP shooting of Josephine County man can go to a jury

Oregon Court of Appeals upholds decision in Robert Box wrongful death case
An evidence photo of the Box residence on the 100 block of Fir Canyon Road.

After years of legal wrangling, the widow of a Josephine County man shot to death by Oregon State Police will be able to have a jury decide whether OSP was negligent when two troopers shot her husband, Robert Clinton Box, 56, outside their home in Wonder in May of 2015.

His wheelchair-bound daughter reported to authorities that he had struck her in the face several times.

She had been taken to the hospital when OSP troopers Gregor Smyth and Heather West arrived at the residence, sneaked up on Box and shot him numerous times, according to previous reports.

In 2018, the wrongful death case Bernadette Box brought in Josephine County Circuit Court against OSP was thrown out based on the argument that “apparent authority immunity” shielded the agency from penalty.

Hundreds of pages of evidence were sealed when the case was in Circuit Court, including evidence that one of the two officers involved in the shooting was suffering from a stress-induced job performance issue, according to the Court of Appeals decision.

Smyth was found to suffer from tunnel vision when he was involved in stressful situations. The condition impeded Smyth’s ability to “properly and safely process information.”

Further, OSP knew about it and allowed him to be on patrol — even after he had earlier been relieved of his duties on the OSP’s SWAT team because of the issue, Box’s legal team asserted.

Last week, the Oregon Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s petition for further review after the Oregon Court of Appeals had concurred with Box’s attorneys’ arguments detailing why the lower court decisions were wrong.

Grants Pass lawyer Richard Adams of Rogue Law Firm PC, who along with Portland lawyer David Park, of Elliott & Park, P.C., represent Bernadette Box.

“The defective and reckless decisions made by OSP supervisors and the troopers themselves were not split-second ones,” Adams said. “They had plenty of time to get it right. Because they did not, Robert Box was killed.”

Adams said the troopers knew there was no emergency occurring at the residence, so they had no need to trespass and sneak up on Box, who turned out to be armed.

West had stated there was no preparation or efforts to find out whether Box was willing to talk to law enforcement and no advice was sought from their supervisors that could have helped them decide how to best handle the matter.

That lack of planning and training by OSP on how to best approach such domestic cases created a situation that ultimately led to his death, Box’s attorneys asserted.

“Through a public jury trial our community can learn the truth about the misconduct of the troopers and their superiors at OSP,” Adams said.

Bernadette and Robert Box were on the phone when the troopers arrived and the shooting occurred. She was out of town when it happened but heard the event transpire.

“I won’t have closure until we expose the truth and get all these covered up secrets out,” she said in a press release. “All I want is justice for Rob, my soul mate, who can never be replaced. And I won’t rest until that happens.”

Adams estimates the case could be heard in the circuit court in 2023. They have since collected more evidence to help their case.