Ore. deputies 'left with no choice' in fatal shooting during eviction
Officers enforcing an eviction notice Tuesday shot the 74-year-old homeowner twice when he displayed a shotgun
By Sam Wheeler
JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. — A pair of Jackson County sheriff's deputies enforcing an eviction notice Tuesday in Ashland killed the homeowner — shooting him at least twice when he displayed a shotgun and failed to follow their instructions, Sheriff Mike Winters said.
Earl Harris, 74, of 35 Mistletoe Road, had additional weapons strapped to his body, and several weapons, including a pair of grenades, were found inside the house following the shooting, Winters said Wednesday at a press conference in Central Point.
"Things started off, I would say, fairly well, with conversation being exchanged between deputies and Mr. Harris, and then at some point during that conversation Mr. Harris took us down another path," Winters said. "He was very dissatisfied with the fact that his home was being repossessed."
About a minute into the conversation between Harris and the deputies through the front screen door, Harris retreated into the house and entered a bedroom to retrieve a shotgun, Winters said.
Deputies followed Harris into the house, and when he failed to follow orders to put the shotgun down, they fired four shots, with at least two hitting the man, Winters said.
Harris did not fire a shot, Winters said.
"Everything that I've seen to this point indicates the shoot was a solid shoot and (the deputies) were left no choice but to take the action they took, because he failed to follow instructions that were given to him at the time," Winters said. "(Harris) was given clear instructions on what needed to be done, he was given clear direction by the deputies and he failed to follow instructions."
Winters said deputies immediately began attempts to resuscitate Harris, but he was dead upon the arrival of paramedics.
Winters and a sheriff's spokeswoman failed to return phone calls seeking information on the type of weapons deputies used to kill Harris.
The deputies, whose names have not been released, are on administrative leave, Winters said.
Winters described Harris as "anti-government," and said one indicator of that sentiment was his flying of the American flag upside down on his property.
"It's America, you're free to do that, but ... we are a land of laws," Winters said.
Deputies had visited Harris several times at the home over the last few years to serve him with documents related to his eviction and civil court matters, Winters said.
At least once during those instances, Harris was armed, Winters said.
An eviction action signed May 22 was sent to the sheriff's department ordering deputies to remove Harris and anyone else at the Mistletoe Road address, court documents show.
Harris was the only one home Tuesday, Winters said.
For Tuesday's forced eviction, deputies went prepared with four sheriff's SWAT team members in addition to the pair of deputies who approached the home, Winters said.
There may have been as many as 10 police personnel on scene during the time of the shooting, Winters said, although he didn't provide an exact number during Wednesday's press briefing.
The shooting occurred at about 10:05 a.m. Tuesday.
Harris' home was located next to Blackstone Audio in south Ashland.
The county's multi-agency Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit, which includes the Sheriff's Department, Oregon State Police and officers from Central Point, Ashland and Medford, responded, and the incident remains under investigation.
Winters said he expects the case to be submitted to a grand jury for review in the next two weeks.
Prior to the eviction action being signed May 22, Harris was fighting an April 11 residential eviction notice signed by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ron Grensky that was part of a protracted foreclosure case U.S. Bank filed on the property in July 2011, court records show.
Harris represented himself in suing Grensky in U.S. District Court in December 2012, trying to get Grensky's January 2012 foreclosure thrown out. In his complaint, Harris claimed that the state court didn't have jurisdiction in the case and that Grensky was running a "foreclosure mill" process that showed bias against Harris, court papers state.
As recently as April 29, Harris filed a five-page complaint in federal court claiming his property was fraudulently foreclosed upon and that the residential eviction notice also was fraudulently obtained, according to Harris' affidavit filed in that case.
No other documents have been entered in that federal case.
There is no known criminal history in Oregon for Harris, who described himself in court papers as honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy.
Copyright 2014 the Mail Tribune