MEDFORD, Ore. — A man who was shot and wounded by a Central Point Police (CPPD) officer after leading the officer on a chase and drawing an firearm has pleaded guilty to weapons charges, according to the Jackson County District Attorney's office. The DA's office says that the man was suffering a "mental health crisis" and wanted to be killed.
According to the DA's office, the incident happened on February 19 of 2017, just before 3 a.m. in Central Point. Officer Brown with the CPPD was stopped at a red light, pointed eastbound at the intersection of E Pine Street and the I-5 northbound off-ramp. A red Camaro — driven by a man who was later identified as now-22-year-old Justin Daniel Lopez — pulled up next to the officer.
After a few seconds, the Camaro began "spinning its tires" and sped through the red-light, heading eastbound on E Pine. The officer turned on his lights and sirens and pursued the Camaro, reaching speeds over 70 miles per hour. Lopez turned northbound onto Hamrick Road, veering into the southbound lane of Hamrick Road and continuing on.
The officer reportedly continued his pursuit on Hamrick Road, until Lopez turned into Don Jones Memorial Park. Lopez suddenly stopped his car, and the officer stopped several car lengths behind the Camaro.
Before the officer could exit his vehicle, Lopez stepped out of the driver’s side of the Camaro and pointed a "long-gun" at Officer Brown.
"At this point, the officer feared for his life — believing that Mr. Lopez had a rifle and the officer was in a position in the vehicle with no cover for his safety," said the DA's office statement.
Lopez started walking toward the police vehicle, and Officer Brown jumped from his vehicle, covering behind the car. The officer claimed to see Lopez just fifteen feet away, and believed that Lopez was "racking a shotgun" in an attempt to chamber a round.
Officer Brown reportedly knew that his bullet-proof vest would not stop a shotgun blast at that close of range, and believed his life was in danger. The officer gave Lopez a command to drop the gun, but Lopez continued to approach.
The officer fired six shots — with one striking Lopez in the "pelvic region."
Other officers soon arrived on scene, taking Lopez into custody. The officers said that Lopez was screaming at them to "just kill him." Most of the encounter was recorded on the police vehicle’s camera.
After the shooting, an investigation led by Oregon State Police (OSP) found that Lopez's shotgun had been empty during the encounter, and he was enduring a "mental health crisis."
"Mr. Lopez had texted family members that night stating he loved them and that he was sorry. The essence of the messages and comments made by Mr. Lopez to officers after being shot implied he was attempting to end his own life that early morning," said the DA's office statement.
A Jackson County Grand Jury indicted Lopez on March 3, 2017, several weeks after the shooting incident.
Lopez pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a charge of Unlawful Use of a Weapon in Jackson County Circuit Court. Judge Timothy Barnack sentenced Lopex to two years in prison, with two years of post-prison supervision.
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