The family of Jayson Mathew Withers lost its wrongful death lawsuit against the local correctional officer who shot and killed him.
Withers was an inmate at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Pendleton. The morning of Aug. 29, 2014, Withers and inmate Cameron Hayes, according to court documents, attacked inmate Eric Sexton in one of the outdoor prison yards. A corrections officer in the guard tower shot Withers, killing him. He was 26.
Withers’ mother, Kristen Wilson, filed the lawsuit in August 2016 in federal court seeking more than $3 million. The lawsuit identified Charles Frates as the officer who pulled the trigger and alleged he used unnecessary force.
Frates saw the fight from his position in the tower, according to court documents, then took a closer look through the four-power scope on the Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle. There were 189 inmates in the yard at the time, and the assault was going on less than a minute. Frates asserted he feared Sexton “was in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.”
He fired one .223 caliber bullet at Withers, who was violently assaulting Sexton, according to court documents, and the round struck Withers in the neck.
Withers was the first inmate in more than 30 years to die from gunfire from a tower within a state prison.
The trial began July 30 in Pendleton and went to the jury Tuesday. The jury had to answer one question according to court records: Was the use of deadly force not justified?
The jury’s answer was “No.”
Oregon State Police investigated the shooting at the time and turned over the findings to Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus, who presented the case to a grand jury. That jury found Frates was justified in the use of deadly force.