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715 W. 10th
Medford, OR 97501
Phone: 541 608-2905
Fax: 541 608-2982
TTY: (541) 774-8186
June 26, 2014
For immediate Release
District Attorney Beth Heckert announced this afternoon that the Jackson County grand jury met
today to consider the officer-involved shooting that occurred in Ashland on June 10, 2014. The
shooting occurred at 35 Mistletoe Rd, Ashland at approximately 10:00 am.
The Grand Jury considers if the actions of the involved officers were justified as a lawful use of
force. 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 (ORS 161.239).
In deciding the case, the Grand jury heard testimony from several witnesses to include the two
officers at the scene who were directly involved in the shooting, the other five officers on the
scene during the eviction process, one civilian who had had conversations with Mr. Harris about
the foreclosure, a representative from US Bank, a criminalist from Oregon State Police who
examined the residence and prepared a diagram, a Detective who was present for the searches at
the residence and was present at the autopsy and an Oregon State Police Detective James
Mecham who testified as a use of force expert.
The foreclosure stemmed from a loan that Earl Cranston Harris (11/21/40) and his wife took out
on the property for $55,000 in August of 2006. In court documents Harris acknowledged taking
out the loan with US Bank but claimed it was converted to a promissory note without his
knowledge. Mr. Harris filed many documents with the court, contesting the foreclosure over a
couple years. On March 6, 2013 a sale of the property by court order was conducted by the
Sheriff’s office and US Bank was the highest bidder, making them the legal owner of the property.
Mr. Harris attended that sale. In further court proceedings, Jackson County Circuit Court ordered
that Mr. Harris was to vacate the premise no later than 11:59 pm on May 17, 2014. The Sheriff’s
office was given a Writ of Execution of Judgment of Restitution. This document commanded the
Jackson County Sheriff’s Department to remove Mr. Harris from the property and turn the property
over to a representative of US Bank.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department handles about three writ of execution a week, mostly
from landlord/tenant situations. In May 2011 the Sheriff’s office was involved in a repossession
of a recreational vehicle and a golf cart from Mr. Harris. At that time, Mr. Harris came out of his
home with a firearm but put it away when requested. With this past history, there was concerns
about Mr. Harris being confrontational and armed. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department
June 24, 2014
Page 2 of 4
decided to have additional officers accompany the Deputies from the civil division. The Sheriff’s
office personnel arrived in four vehicles. A total of 7 Sheriff Deputies were at the residence, they
were all dressed in uniform or swat gear clearly identifying themselves as police. The front gate
was locked and the police cut the lock and opened the gate. The residence has a front and rear
entry. The three Officers that approached the front door were dressed in uniform and knocked on
the door. They announced they were from the sheriff’s office. Sergeant Grantham, the supervisor
in charge of the civil division, spoke to Mr. Harris. The door has a window in the door. Mr. Harris
opened the top window, communicating through the window. He refused to open the door. The
police explained they had a court order writ of execution on the eviction. He still refused to open
the door. Mr. Harris said he was going to call his attorney. He left the front door area and
returned a few minutes later with what the officers believed was a cordless phone. Deputy
Penkava then had a conversation with Mr. Harris. Again telling him to open the door, they had a
court order and he needed to come out. Mr. Harris said he was not coming out. As Deputy
Penkava was standing at the front door, he could hear Officers trying to make entry at the rear
door. Mr. Harris appeared to hear the noise as well and went out of sight of Deputy Penkava. At
the time Mr. Harris went out of view of Deputy Penkava he did not have any type of long gun in his
hands. Deputy Penkava then broke the window to the front door to be able to reach in and
unlock the door. As Deputy Penkava entered the house, he was in the kitchen and could not see
any other Officers or Mr. Harris. Deputy Penkava then looked down a hallway and saw Mr. Harris
coming toward him carrying a long gun. At this point Mr. Harris was approximately 10 feet from
Deputy Penkava and advancing toward him. Deputy Penkava recalled yelling “he’s got a gun”
“drop the gun” and “he’s down the hall”. Deputy Penkava then fired 3 rounds at Mr. Harris, as he
continued to advance toward Deputy Penkava.
Sgt. Whipple was dressed in SWAT gear. Sgt. Whipple attempted entry into the rear door. When
they forced entry the door actually led to a sunroom, a secondary door leads into the home. Sgt.
Whipple then attempted forced entry of the secondary door. It was blocked by a recliner chair,
making entry difficult. Sgt. Whipple waited several seconds but Harris did not come to the rear
door. Sgt. Whipple then heard 3 shots. Sgt. Whipple did not know who had fired at this point. He
enters the residence and see’s Deputy Penkava in the kitchen area looking down a hallway. Sgt.
Whipple sees that Mr. Harris is sitting up in the hallway with a shotgun in his hands. Sgt. Whipple
said that Mr. Harris was focused on Deputy Penkava. Sgt. Whipple then saw Mr. Harris raise the
shotgun 6-7 inches to a shooting position. Sgt. Whipple believed that Mr. Harris was about to
shoot Deputy Penkava. Sgt. Whipple shot one round at Mr. Harris, hitting him in the chest. Mr.
Harris then fell backwards, dropping the shotgun onto his lap. Officers immediately started
rendering aid to Mr. Harris. As they were applying pressure to the wounds, they located a small
pistol in his front waist band. Mr. Harris was pronounced dead by ambulance personnel. During
the investigation a 38 caliber revolver was located in his back waistband. Both guns were loaded.
The long gun was a shotgun that was fully loaded with alternating rounds of buckshot and slug
A number of the other deputies on scene reported hearing commands being given to Mr. Harris by
Deputy Penkava and Sgt. Whipple. None of the other officers were in a position to see what had
occurred but could clearly hear commands.
June 24, 2014
Page 3 of 4
The Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit (MADIU) was called to conduct the
investigation. Under SB 111 Jackson County Deadly Physical Force protocol, any time an Officer is
involved in the use of lethal force, MADIU will be requested to handle the investigation. Officers
for Medford Police Department, Oregon State Police, Ashland Police Department and Central
Point Police Department responded to assist in the investigation. Oregon State Police and
Ashland Police Department worked together as the lead agency.
An autopsy was performed by Dr. James Olson, the medical examiner. During the autopsy it was
determined that Mr. Harris was shot three times. One gunshot wound in the left upper chest
along the clavicle, the second wound is in the center of the chest and a third wound is on the left
In one of the bedrooms, three safes were located. Police contacted a locksmith to open the safes.
Numerous guns were located which were seized from the safes for safe keeping. Also located in
one of the safes were three improvised explosive devices. Oregon State Police Explosive unit
responded and determined the improvised explosive devices were live. A further search revealed
three additional improvised explosive devices from a safe. In further searching additional safes
were located in a basement, with items removed for safekeeping. The explosive devices were all
safely disposed of by Oregon State Police explosives unit.
As police were investigating this case, a citizen who knew Mr. Harris approached the police. He
testified that he knew Mr. Harris to always carry a firearm in his waistband. Mr. Harris had told
him that he was in a fight over his property. He stated that Mr. Harris had made statements that
he was upset with the bank and the Judges for their actions in his foreclosure. He believed from
his conversations with Mr. Harris that he was anti-bank rather than anti-government. He testified
that Mr. Harris flew the United States flag upside down as a sign of distress.
Deputy Penkava has been with the Sheriff’s office for 13 years. Prior to that he had been a
reserve officer in another state. Deputy Whipple has been with the Sheriff’s office for 14 years.
The Grand Jury heard from Oregon State Police Detective James Mecham as a use of force expert.
He has previously testified as an expert on three occasions in courts around Oregon. Prior to his
testimony he reviewed the statements of the involved officers. He testified about action and
reaction time in a situation where an officer is faced with someone who is armed.
Our protocols require that a grand jury make the determination as to whether the officers’ use of
force was justified under Oregon Law. The grand jury deliberated for less than 10 minutes before
announcing their decision that the actions of the involved officers in this case were fully justified
and in compliance with Oregon Law. From the testimony it was apparent that Mr. Harris knew law
enforcement were at his home to evict him. He spoke to two uniformed officers and refused to
exit the house. He then went out of sight from the officers and retrieved a loaded shotgun. Mr.
Harris was aware that officers were entering the house and he intended to confront them with a
loaded gun. The officers testified and the evidence supported that the officers reasonable
believed that Mr. Harris was about to use deadly physical force against them, giving them no
choice but to fire at Mr. Harris.
June 24, 2014
Page 4 of 4
Contact: Beth Heckert
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