DA: Officers 'legally justified' in killing man outside Cascade Middle School

    Still image from video released by Eugene Police that was obtained from the officers' body cameras January 11, 2019.

    EUGENE, Ore. - As police attempted to place Charlie Landeros under arrest after removing him from Cascade Middle School amidst a child custody dispute January 11, Landeros pulled a 9mm handgun from a hoster and pointed the weapon at Officer Steve Timm, investigators determined based on video evidence and witness statements.

    As Officer Aaron Johns tried to take control of the gun, Landeros again pointed the gun at the school resource officer and fired two shots, investigators said.

    As Johns called for help, Timm fired a shot that hit the pavement and went toward the parking lot, the investigation found.

    "Officer Timm recognized that the situation was dangerous and needed to be controlled. Both were in fear of their own death or the death of other bystanders or students in the area," District Attorney Patty Perlow wrote. "Officer Johns said he knew that if he let go of Landeros’ hand in the struggle, they were going to be killed. Officer Timm fired one bullet directly at Charles Landeros, striking Landeros in the temple, which was the cause of death."

    Police released body camera video of the incident.

    The officers were justified in using deadly force when they shot and killed Landeros, the DA said Thursday.

    "The use of deadly force resulted in the death of Charles Landeros, the parent of a Cascade Middle School student," Perlow wrote. "Based upon the investigation submitted by the Inter-Agency Deadly Force Investigative Team (IDFIT), including videos, witness interviews and evidence collected, I have determined that the involved officer’s use of deadly force was legally justified as self- defense and defense of others on January 11, 2019, at Cascade Middle School."

    Under Oregon law, the county IDFIT investigates the use of force by police and forwards the findings to the county DA for review.

    "Detectives from Oregon State Police, including from the Salem office, Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Springfield Police, Cottage Grove Police, ATF and FBI participated in the investigation," according to the DA.

    Police called to school for child custody dispute

    Landeros enrolled a child at Cascade Middle School the week of the incident, the investigation found. The child started school there on Thursday, January 10, a day before the shooting.

    Landeros did not provide any information to the school about the child’s mother, who shares custody and lives locally, according to the investigation.

    The child's mother went to the school on Friday, January 11, to see if the child was enrolled there.

    The "mother had a copy of divorce and custody paperwork from 2013," according to investigators. "School personnel called the school resource officer, who was en route, and then texted the officer that child’s father, Charles Landeros, had been called and was on his way as well."

    Investigators described what happened next:

    Timm, the school resource officer for Cascade and other Bethel schools that share a campus, called for assistance.

    Johns responded to the scene.

    Officer Timm met with the mother and reviewed the court paperwork. He then, separately, advised Charles Landeros that the custody paperwork provided by mother indicated mother had shared custody and exclusive control over where child attends school. Charles Landeros confirmed that was the only court document regarding custody. The conversation was respectful between Officer Timm and Charles Landeros, though Officer Timm reported concern that there would be a problem if Landeros was present if the mother exercised her right to remove the child from the school.
    When Charles Landeros indicated he would not answer any further questions, he was asked to leave the school. He was cooperating with exiting the office but remained in the hallway to express his view that the police did not have jurisdiction and only the principal could ask him to leave.
    Officer Timm explained that he is the school resource officer and has authority to ask people to leave the property.
    Landeros became more agitated and animated. Officer Johns began escorting Charles Landeros from the building and advised Landeros he would be arrested if he didn’t leave.
    At that point, Landeros’ child arrived in the hallway by coincidence. Charles Landeros began yelling at his child to “go” repeatedly. Charles Landeros was physically removed from the building and advised he was under arrest. Both officers confirmed when interviewed that they believed they had probable cause to arrest Charles Landeros for disorderly conduct and trespass. There were students in the hallway and in a nearby classroom.

    When Johns attempted to place Landeros under arrest, a struggle ensued. Timm tried to help Johns take Landeros into custody; that's when Landeros pulled the gun, according to investigators.

    "There were two civilian eye witnesses who confirmed that Landeros drew his weapon and fired first. Charles Landeros’ child was also a witness to the struggle and the shootings," according to the DA. "There were no other witnesses who reported seeing the shooting."

    "The Cascade Middle School vice principal immediately put the school on 'lock down.' He then entered the scene to move Landeros’ child back into the school to safety," Perlow wrote. "It is clear the trainings the staff has received on active shooter response was absorbed and practiced on this day."

    Landeros legally carrying firearm

    Perlow said the firearm Landeros used was a Taurus 9mm. Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive records show the weapon was purchased by Whitley Landeros from her husband Joseph Landeros’ business Community Armaments and Supplies in December 2018.

    Joseph Landeros is the brother of Charles Landeros, investigators said.

    The weapon had a factory magazine designed to hold 18 rounds, but was equipped with a "PLUS 2" bottom plate which extended the capacity to 20 rounds in the magazine. With one round in the chamber, the handgun is capable of holding 21 rounds.

    Investigators recovered two empty 9mm casings at the scene and found 18 rounds in the magazine and another in the chamber after the shooting.

    "Landeros also had an additional magazine on his belt and a third magazine in his vehicle, all of which were loaded with ammunition. He was wearing a backpack which contained additional ammunition of a different caliber," according to the DA.

    Landeros was carrying the weapon legally.

    "It is not illegal for someone with a concealed handgun license to carry a concealed weapon into a school," the DA wrote. "Landeros had a CHL issued in February of 2018."

    Landeros reported to FBI in 2018

    Landeros was an Army veteran who served from June 2006 to June 2012 and honorably discharged, the investigation found.

    "In 2018, the FBI received information on a tip line that Charles Landeros was posting violent anti-government messages on social media," according to the DA. "The information was referred to the local FBI office, who concluded there was insufficient information to substantiate that a crime had been committed."

    On January 9, two days before the deadly shooting outside the school, police in nearby Springfield received a screenshot of a Facebook comment on a story about a man shot and killed by police in Portland.

    A comment posted by "Charlie Landeros" read, "Time to start killing pigs," investigators wrote.

    Then on the morning of January 11 - about an hour before the incident at Cascade Middle School - someone alerted the manager of Springfield Police Facebook page that someone named "Charlie Landeros" had commented "Death to all pigs" on a post on the department Facebook page about a California police officer shot and killed while investigating a traffic crash.

    "When the Facebook manager attempted to locate the comment, it had been removed," the DA wrote. "The SPD employee found an account for a 'Charlie Landeros', but it was private. Later that day, the Facebook account of 'Charlie Landeros' had been deactivated or deleted."

    'There is no clearer circumstance that the use of deadly force is justified than this'

    Perlow concluded by explaining her reasoning:

    Eugene Police Officers Timm and Johns are trainers in active shooter scenarios. Their specialized training as school resource officers allowed them to recognize the potential risks in a custody dispute taking place in a school. They both were appropriate in their determination that Charles Landeros was creating a disturbance at Cascade Middle School and needed to be removed from the premises. When Charles Landeros refused to cooperate, they were justified in making an arrest. Upon making the arrest, their lives, and the lives of others, were placed in danger by Mr. Landeros physically resisting that arrest, brandishing a firearm and firing it twice. It is unknown why Charles Landeros chose to use deadly force in this circumstance, but he clearly had no regard for the lives of the police officers or the students or staff present, including his child. Officer Timm saved the life of Officer Johns, himself and perhaps many others given the number of rounds Charles Landeros had loaded in his weapon. There is no clearer circumstance that the use of deadly force is justified than this.

    The DA also thanked the agencies who assisted in the investigation.

    "These events require vast resources of our community agencies," she wrote. "I appreciate the willingness to drop everything else and dedicate these resources needed to complete a thorough investigation in a timely manner."

    Civil Liberties Defense Center response to DA statement:

    Today, Lane County District Attorney, Patty Perlow, issued a statement regarding the death of Charles F. Landeros. The DA’s office found the shooting “legally justified as self-defense and defense of others.”
    The statement notes that Charlie was asked to come to the school regarding a custody issue. Charlie was allegedly asked to leave the school after refusing to answer further questions by the officers. Charlie cooperated with leaving the office. Outside of the office, Charlie protested that the principal had not expressed a desire to remove them. After this, the video released by the DA’s office shows Charlie moving toward the exit-doors, when Charlie’s child, according to the report, “arrived in the hallway by coincidence.” Charlie appears to be trying to get their child’s attention, while moving towards the doors to exit. Officer Steve Timm, a school resource officer for the Bethel School moves aggressively toward Charlie, shoving Charlie through the door and then against a wall outside. The DA’s office disputes that Charlie was moving toward the door to exit. What we know after this point, comes from the badge-cam video of Officer Timm and Officer Aaron Johns.
    We know that issues involving a person’s child are already tense and delicate situations with the potential to escalate. We also know that people of color are disproportionately the victims of police violence. We know that Charlie, as an activist against police brutality and a descendant of Mexican and Filipino parents, was aware of this. We do not know, however, what was going through Charlie’s mind when they were shoved out of the door in front of their child and pinned to the wall. We also do not know why Officer Timms felt the need to aggressively shove Charlie through the door and against the wall as Charlie appears to exit the school.
    The investigation by the Interagency Deadly Force Investigation Team is not complete and Charlie’s family will be retaining police practices experts to conduct an independent investigation to review the use of deadly force that resulted in the tragic death of their loved one.
    We know this is a complex situation and that these situations often involve split-second decisions that are not fully appreciated simply by watching a video. We also recognize that context matters. Charlie was a beloved figure in the Eugene community and was known for their electric speeches and organizing around social, economic, and racial justice. Regarding the DA’s statement today, Charlie’s younger brother, Joe could only say: “My love for Charlie is forever. I just want them back. This never should have happened.”
    After the DA’s statement, Charlie’s partner, Ariel, said: “I understand, with more clarity than ever before, why Charlie planted seeds, why they loved teaching, and how they drew beauty and community close around them. Charlie’s body is gone, but even in death, they are present—encouraging us to keep fighting for a better world and believe in our own power.”
    The video released today, and the accompanying statement from the DA’s office do not change the fact that many in the community are still grieving and that Charlie’s daughters are now without their father. We ask that people respect Charlie’s family and community while they grieve over their tremendous and incomprehensible loss.

    DEVELOPING STORY | This story will be updated | BACKGROUND

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