On August 29, 2014, an Oregon prison guard shot and killed a prisoner for the first time in at least 30 years.
Jayson Matthew Withers entered Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) custody on May 13, 2010. Sentenced to eight and a half years for robbery, identity theft and negligent homicide convictions, Withers’ earliest release date was November 25, 2018.
While confined at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution (EOCI), in Pendleton, Oregon, Withers joined a white supremacist gang, adopting its beliefs and justification for violence, according to his family. He died in prison for those beliefs.
At approximately 9:00 a.m., on August 29, 2014, a tower guard supervising EOCI’s Westside recreation yard witnessed Withers, 26, and Cameron Hayes, 22, “savagely” beating a third prisoner. When they ignored commands to stop, the tower guard fired a single shot to prevent “imminent serious bodily injury” to the prisoner who was being attacked, according to Elizabeth Craig, ODOC spokeswoman.
The bullet struck Withers and he was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:21 a.m. The prisoner who Withers and Cameron attacked was also hospitalized. His identity has not been released. Cameron was segregated and the prison was locked down for four days.
Withers family wants to know why no warning shot was fired. “Certainly we’re interested in learning more about why lethal force was used to break up a fight, especially knowing that fights are a daily occurrence in prison,” said family spokesman Darin Wilson. “We’ve received no information, no return phone calls” from Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus, said Wilson.
ODOC officials and prosecutors have withheld the guard’s identity, suggesting that disclosure may subject the guard to retaliation from Withers’ gang.
“The district attorney has the sole statutory and constitutional duty to make the decision on whether to present a matter to a grand jury,” under Oregon law.
While it has been his practice to take officer-involved shootings to a grand jury to determine whether the use of force was justified, Primus does not know if he will do so because he would need to release the guard’s identity.
Local law enforcement suggests that grand jury review of the shooting would be beneficial. “Reasonableness” is the Oregon standard for an officer’s use of deadly force, which is subjective, said Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts. When a grand jury finds the shooting was lawful, that’s validating for the officer and reassuring to the community, said Roberts.
Primus refused to reveal information about the investigation, stating that a grand jury will consider bringing additional criminal charges against Cameron, who is serving 11 years for robberies.
Sources: The Oregonian, Statesman Journal, Associated Press, Katu.com, Oregonlive.com
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