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MEDFORD, Ore. — The Jackson County Sheriff's Office has released body cam footage from a deadly officer-involved shooting that happened on New Year's Day in Central Point, ending with the death of a young veteran believed to have been struggling with PTSD.
On Wednesday, a grand jury found the deputy "fully justified" in the killing of a 29-year-old Teddy James Maverick Varner, according to the District Attorney's Office. Jackson County DA Beth Heckert made the announcement on Wednesday after the grand jury finished going over presented evidence.
The Sheriff's Office began making the body cam footage available to media later that day.
WARNING: The attached video contains graphic images and situations of an officer-involved shooting. It has been edited for some strong language.
What the body cam (and the deputies) saw
Body cam footage from Sergeant Weaver, the officer who fired the shots, largely corresponds with a timeline of events based on both officers' testimony — though much of the scene is blocked by the edge of Weaver's vehicle as he takes cover behind it.
Deputies responded around 8:15 p.m. on January 1 after someone reported an assault with a weapon and "shots fired" on Blackwell road in Central Point. Weaver and Deputy Hohl arrived on the scene at roughly the same time with lights flashing, about eight minutes after the 911 call.
"Deputy Hohl heard arguing coming from inside of a shop building. He immediately took cover behind his vehicle and shouted commands identifying himself and telling the occupants of the building to come outside," the DA's Office said. "Sergeant Weaver provided cover behind his patrol vehicle for Deputy Hohl with his patrol rifle."
Minutes later, a man named James Daniel Cecil left the building with his hands up. Cecil cooperated with the officers, the DA's Office said, and told them that there was another man inside the building — a veteran armed with a gun. Cecil reportedly told the officers that the other man, Teddy Varner, was "having a PTSD issue."
"Immediately after Mr. Cecil exited the building, Deputy Hohl heard another person yell 'F___ you' and saw him slam the door," the DA's Office said. "Sgt. Weaver changed positions slightly behind his patrol vehicle to stay concealed and to provide better cover for Deputy Hohl who took Mr. Cecil into custody. One of the Officers yelled toward the building, 'we just want to talk to you.'"
Seconds later, Varner "aggressively" came out of the building with a gun in his hands, again yelling an expletive, the DA's office said. Varner's gun had a tac light mounted on it, and the light was on.
The body cam video catches Varner emerging with the tac light shining in the officers' direction, though he and the gun can only be seen clearly in a shadow cast on the shop wall. The gun, and Varner's hands, appear to be pointed forward.
"Sergeant Weaver could see Mr. Varner had the firearm up in a position to fire. Sergeant Weaver fired three shots from his rifle from approximately 20 yards away," the DA's Office said. "Sergeant Weaver testified he believed Mr. Varner was going to shoot Deputy Hohl or Mr. Cecil."
Sgt. Weaver fired three times, striking Varner twice — once in the chest and once in the pelvis. The body cam video abruptly ends there.
The DA's Office said that the two officers came up to where Varner lay on the ground after putting Cecil in the patrol car, moving the downed gun away. Paramedics soon arrived and tried to save Varner's life, but he died by the time he reached Rogue Regional Medical Center.
An investigation later found that Varner's gun, a Glock, was unloaded and did not contain a magazine. Toxicology results showed that Varner had a blood alcohol concentration of .24, according to the DA's Office.
What happened leading up to the officers' arrival
Cecil testified to the grand jury that he and Varner had been hanging out and shooting their guns earlier in the day before going to a bar, when Varner began to become agitated. They left the bar and drank more at the river before returning to the property on Blackwell Road.
"As Mr. Cecil exited his vehicle, he heard someone shouting commands," the DA's Office said. "Mr. Cecil initially believed Mr. Varner was pulled over by the police. As he approached Mr. Varner’s vehicle, he saw Mr. Varner pointing a firearm at him and Mr. Varner was telling him to get on the ground."
Cecil said that he was able to get close and disarm Varner of the Glock, prompting the other man to become emotional and apologize. More incidents of aggression and momentary de-escalation followed, but Cecil testified that he eventually determined to give the handgun back.
"Cecil extended the holster containing the firearm and extra magazine to him, Mr. Varner attempted to aggressively rip the holster from Mr. Cecil," said the DA's Office. "Mr. Cecil pulled the firearm back towards his body while Mr. Varner quickly advanced on him. Mr. Cecil then fired seven rounds from Mr. Varner’s firearm into the floor of the shop. Mr. Varner backed up and Mr. Cecil then put the firearm back in the holster."
It was then that Cecil's girlfriend hear the shots and called 911. When deputies arrived, Cecil said that he left Varner's gun in the holster on a chair inside the shop while he walked towards the door.
"Mr. Cecil followed the commands of law enforcement and assumed Mr. Varner was right behind him," the DA's Office said. "Mr. Cecil was being detained by Deputy Hohl when Mr. Varner exited the building. Mr. Cecil saw the tac light was on as Mr. Varner exited the shop building."
According to the District Attorney's Office, the grand jury heard from nine witnesses in total, and deliberated for less than five minutes before deciding that the officer was justified under Oregon law.