Pendleton police reported an officer shot a theft suspect Wednesday night near Walmart after he fled a confrontation.
Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said an ambulance took the male victim to St. Anthony Hospital, Pendleton, where he underwent surgery and was flown to Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, for further treatment. No officers were injured and the condition of the victim is unknown.
The officer who shot the man, who Roberts also did not immediately identify, is on an automatic 72-hour leave. Roberts said Oregon State Police would handle the investigation.
The shooting occurred around 8:45 p.m. near the busy intersection of Southwest 20th Street and Court Avenue in Pendleton. In a written statement Thursday morning, Roberts said officers responded to Walmart for a theft in progress. Loss prevention employees described the suspect to officers. Police confronted him near the front of the store and he “failed to comply with verbal commands.”
The man took off running through the parking lot. Officers caught up to him on Southwest 20th Street. Roberts said the officers saw what they perceived to be a dark colored pistol, and the officer fired when the suspect failed to drop it.
Pendleton police, Umatilla County sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers all responded to the scene, along with Pendleton ambulances. Police blocked access to Southwest 20th Street. Medical supplies remained in the middle of the street just north of the access road to Taco Bell and the nearby Walmart on the west side and the parking lot of Walgreens on the east.
Monte Ludington, deputy district attorney, went to the scene in place of District Attorney Dan Primus, who is at the Oregon District Attorneys Association conference in Gleneden Beach. Primus has made it a point to respond in person or send staff to officer-involved shootings in the county.
Witnesses said they heard multiple shots, perhaps as many as seven or eight, but police haven’t released further details.
Roberts said Thursday morning that police learn to shoot until they neutralize the threat. Contrary to movie portrayals of gunfire, he said, one bullet does not send a body flying.
Roberts also addressed statements on social media criticizing police for shooting the suspect as he ran.
“I’m not saying that was the circumstances here,” he stressed, but if it were, case law could be on the side of police.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1985 in the case of Tennessee v. Garner found police can use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect if they believe the person poses a serious threat of death or injury to others. Roberts said evidence at the scene backed up what officers saw.
Roberts also said any more information would come from the Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office.
The last officer-involved shooting in Pendleton police was in 2012. Roberts lamented any police shootings.
Check back for updates at www.eastoregonian.com as we gather more information.