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DA: Grand jury clears trooper in officer-involved shooting that ended with death of Gold Hill man

Evidence from the scene indicated that 73-year-old Tony Mills shot himself within seconds of a trooper shooting him.

Posted: Aug 21, 2019 4:09 PM
Updated: Aug 21, 2019 8:45 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — A grand jury has cleared of any wrongdoing the Oregon State Police trooper who fired his weapon during an officer-involved shooting on July 18 that ended with the death of a Gold Hill man, according to the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

An investigation of the incident concluded that Senior Trooper Michael Lacer, one of several responding officers at the scene, fired within mere seconds of 73-year-old Tony Mills raising a gun to his head and firing. Trooper Lacer's shot hit Mills in the arm and chest, but it was Mills' own shot that proved fatal.

Witnesses reported that Mills had threatened to kill himself twice during the events of that day, the DA's office said.

"The Grand Jury was asked to consider whether the action of the involved officer was justified as a lawful use of force," the DA's office said. "Oregon law provides that a police officer may use deadly physical force against another person if the officer reasonably believes that person is about to use deadly physical force against the officer or another person."

After hearing testimony from multiple witnesses, the grand jury deliberated for 15 minutes before deciding that Trooper Lacer's actions had been fully justified under Oregon law.

The investigation and witness statements pieced together a rough timeline of events that led up to Mills' death.

Mills' wife testified that her husband had left their house on the afternoon of July 18 on foot, "distraught after he was confronted about a previous allegation of sexual abuse," the DA's office said.

Just before 2 p.m., 911 dispatchers received two calls reporting that an older white man, armed with a gun, had walked up to someone on Rogue River Highway near I-5 Exit 45, threatening to kill himself. Before law enforcement could arrive, witnesses said that the man had been picked up by a gold SUV.

Mills' wife said that she had picked her husband up and taken him home to have dinner. He left again afterwards, this time taking their gold SUV, saying that he was "going to take care of everything."

Around 8:30 p.m., dispatch received a 911 call from a man identifying himself as Tony Mills. He said that he was suicidal, and that he was under the I-5 overpass at Exit 45A.

"Mr. Mills stated he was armed and intended to kill himself," the DA's office said. "He told dispatch he was calling to let them know where his body would be located, and ended the phone call after approximately four minutes."

Troopers from Oregon State Police (OSP) and deputies from the Jackson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) both began responding to Mills' reported location — arriving mere minutes later. First, deputies blocked off the area to traffic. Then, both agencies began looking for Mills.

They found him under the I-5 overpass. Three OSP troopers — including Senior Trooper Lacer — and JCSO Corporal John Richmond were at the immediate scene.

"Once Mr. Mills was located, law enforcement was able to confirm visually that he was armed," the DA's office said. "Mr. Mills ignored commands by law enforcement to put his hands up and to drop the firearm. Mr. Mills yelled back to law enforcement that he was not dropping the gun."

Moments later, the investigation found that Mills turned slightly, raised his right hand, and fired a shot. At nearly the same time, Trooper Lacer fired a shot from his duty rifle. Body cam audio later appeared to demonstrate that the two shots were fired within about half a second of one another.

"Senior Trooper Lacer believed that this individual was firing in the direction of the law enforcement, and perceived a use of deadly physical force toward law enforcement on scene," the DA's office said.

"During his testimony, Lacer indicated that he believed Mr. Mills was attempting 'suicide by cop' since he had been saying all day he would kill himself, had not done it yet when he had the means to, and waited for law enforcement to arrive after placing the 911 call," the statement continued. "Senior Trooper Lacer stated he was concerned Mr. Mills would fire at police; forcing law enforcement to kill him."

An autopsy found that a bullet from Mills' gun had gone into his head, killing him. The shot fired by Lacer had hit Mills in his right arm before lodging in his chest, but "wouldn't have been fatal."

"The medical examiner determined the manner of death was suicide and cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head," the DA's office said.

In addition to the statements from witnesses, the grand jury saw body camera footage from two Sheriff's Office deputies and three dashcam videos from OSP patrol cars.

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