DA rules trooper was justified to use lethal force against armed suspect

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF THE COLUMBIA COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE - The Oregon State Police trooper who fatally shot St. Helens resident Josiah Fischer said the 27-year-old man was turning toward him with a gun in hand when the trooper approached the car. The gun, recovered at the scene, was replica of a vintage German luger with an attachment.Witnesses who saw a St. Helens man minutes before he was driven off the road and fatally shot by an Oregon State Police trooper told investigators he was smiling as he sped past them.

The man’s father, when police called to tell him his 27-year-old son was dead, distraughtly said the news was not “totally unexpected.”

On May 29, Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison ruled OSP Trooper Justin Oxenrider acted appropriately when he shot and killed Josiah M. Fischer following a high-speed chase down U.S. Highway 30 that ended at the intersection of Stone and Hazen roads May 3. Police reports related to an investigation led by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office have since been released, revealing further details.

The pursuit began when Oxenrider attempted to pull Fischer over for speeding 78 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. Fischer took off down the highway. A second trooper, Senior Trooper Robin May, joined the chase after it had moved to backroads between Warren and Scappoose. On Hazen Road, Fischer slowed down — a move that startled May.

“In my mind... there was a reason this person slowed down,” May told investigators. “I didn’t know whether they were bailing, whether he’s trying to get some sort of weapon, whether he’s loading the weapon.”

“And now we’re on the back road,” she added. “People typically speed up on back roads, typically try to elude you on back roads because there’s corners and driveways. And now we’re slowing down. Are we slowing down to bail? Are we slowing down to plan ahead because his driveway’s coming up and he’s sucking us into something?”

Seeing their chance, the troopers forced the car off the road and into a ditch.

Oxenrider jumped out of his patrol car, shouting at Fischer to show his hands. Instead, Oxenrider said he saw a gun coming at him. The trooper fired nine rounds at Fischer, killing him.

When the troopers opened the car door to get the gun from Fischer, a loaded black Ruger .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol was in his hand and his finger was on the trigger.

From chase to shooting, it all had happened in a matter of minutes, May said.

When asked if he knew how many times he fired his gun, Oxenrider replied, “I fired as many times as I needed to until I neutralized the threat.”

Four bullets were recovered from Fischer’s body and more were found in the car and at the scene. He took wounds in his shoulder and arm and at the base of his neck. May did not fire her gun and there is no reason to believe Fischer fired any shots either, Atchison said.

Fischer’s father, Vernon M. Fischer, told investigators his son had exhibited signs of depression since he was a teenager and, recently, mental deterioration. He had been convicted of felony theft in 2008 and was currently on probation. Fischer had told his father he would die before he’d go back to jail and he also believed he was “invisible” to police, able to get away with whatever he wanted.

“[He] convinced me and several others that he is not living in reality,” Vernon Fischer said.

Given the agreement between the troopers’ testimonies and statements from a variety of witnesses, Atchison ruled the shooting was justified. Oxenrider and May, on paid leave since the shooting, have both returned to their regular patrol duties in Columbia County.

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