ASHLAND, Ore. — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has joined an investigation into the killing of 19-year-old Aiden Ellison outside of Ashland's Stratford Inn last week.
The Ashland Police Department announced the FBI's involvement in a statement released on Thursday morning, reporting that the federal agency was investigating any potential violations of federal laws — including the possibility of bias crime charges.
"While, at this time, this has not been substantiated, under state or federal law, to have been a bias crime, it is important to examine all aspects of this case and determine whether a bias crime has been committed," Ashland Police said. "The Ashland Police Department is grateful for the FBI’s engagement on this case."
47-year-old Robert Keegan, a white man, is accused of shooting the Black youth Ellison during an argument in the Stratford Inn parking lot in the early hours of Monday, November 23. Though there is no indication that the two men knew one another, both were staying at the Stratford after being displaced by the Almeda Fire.
According to an affidavit from the arresting officer, Keegan was awakened around 4 a.m. that morning "by loud music" emanating from the parking lot of the Stratford Inn. Keegan went out to the parking lot and asked Ellison to turn the music down, but "Ellison refused," the officer wrote.
Keegan went back to his room and got dressed, grabbing his gun — described by the officer as a Mossberg MC1 9mm — and hiding the weapon in his pocket. He then went to the front counter of the Stratford, notifying a clerk of his irritation at the volume of Ellison's music.
The officer wrote that the clerk went out to the parking lot to speak with Ellison. During the conversation, Keegan came out and confronted Ellison again, rekindling their argument.
Keegan claimed that Ellison "struck him in the face several times" with his fist, though the officer noted that that there were no signs of injuries to Ellison's hands or Keegan's face that supported the claim.
"Keegan said he [backed] up, racked a round, and shot Ellison in the chest because he was in fear for his physical safety," the officer's affidavit reads.
The bullet reportedly pierced Ellison's heart and both lungs, killing him.
The Ashland Police officer's affidavit largely leaves unclear what evidence stemmed from Keegan's statements, those of the clerk, or other witnesses to the shooting, if any. However, the affidavit suggests that Keegan admitted to investigators that he'd shot Ellison, claiming that he did so in self-defense.
Keegan faces charges of Murder in the Second Degree and Manslaughter in the First Degree for the alleged killing of Ellison. Two other charges arise from additional allegations described in the Ashland Police affidavit — Unlawful Possession of a Firearm because Keegan reportedly hid the handgun in his pocket without the lawful right to a concealed weapon, and Recklessly Endangering Another Person for firing the weapon in close proximity to the Stratford clerk.
NewsWatch 12 inquired with the FBI's Portland office in regard to the Ellison investigation, but a spokesperson said that the agency could not provide interviews on the topic, giving only a short statement:
“We are aware of the incident in Ashland and are in regular contact with local authorities."
The spokesperson did provide a link to federal civil rights statutes, which covers the statute that will be evaluted in the Ellison case. Under federal law, it is illegal to cause (or attempt to cause) bodily injury when "the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin of any person."
Oregon law has a similar bias crime statute, which was overhauled in 2019 to include gender identity under the list of protected classes. Like the federal statute, Oregon law requires evidence that the perpetrator committed a crime "because" of a person's race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.
Ellison's killing has inspired both grief and outrage in the local community, with friends, family, and multiple community organizations gathering for candlight vigils several times over the past few weeks in his honor. Friends remember Ellison as a kind, giving, and fun-loving person — taken far too soon.
Dominique Toyer, the Vice President of Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity has been following Aidan's case and believes authorities do not take accountability because "they don't have to...they never had to historically".
Toyer said, "There is a very special problem that local government has with the definition of humanity, because I saw none."