Salem police justified in fatally shooting man
A Marion County grand jury unanimously found Salem police justified in the Jan. 23 shooting death of a man on Commercial Street in South Salem.
The decision came Friday following two days of hearing testimony from 16 witnesses, watching video footage and reviewing evidence.
Salem police killed 27-year-old Michael James Compton following an alleged armed carjacking and shootout in South Salem that closed Commercial Street at Kuebler Boulevard for more than 12 hours.
Countless people, including a school bus full of students, witnessed the gunfight erupt at the busy intersection at around 9 a.m.
According to Salem police, officers responded to reports of an armed robbery and carjacking in progress in the parking lot of the Walmart store at 5250 Commercial St. SE.
According to the victims, Compton jumped in front of their vehicle, pointed a gun at them and told them to get out of the car or he would shoot.
The passenger told the driver to instead “floor it.” She accelerated and Compton jumped out of the way. As the victims called 911, Compton fled the parking lot on foot and moved north to the nearby Planet Fitness gym, where he tried to steal another vehicle.
As a 79-year-old woman headed into the gym to meet her friends, Compton grabbed at her keys and ordered her to give them to him.
When she refused, Compton grabbed her wrist.
The woman screamed for help, and several gym employees and patrons came to her aid.
By this time, senior Salem police officer Robert Acosta had responded to the Planet Fitness parking lot and saw the woman being attacked.
He turned on his lights and sirens and attempted to get his patrol vehicle between Compton and people in the parking lot.
As Compton ran, he threw the stolen keys over his shoulder.
Acosta said he followed Compton as he ran across Commercial Street, a busy thoroughfare with several restaurants, businesses, a coffee shop, pedestrians crossing and a city bus stop nearby.
Acosta chased Compton to the parking lot of the Napa Auto Parts store.
“At the time of his attempted stop, Officer Acosta was considering the pedestrian traffic at that busy intersection; that Compton matched the description of the armed, attempted carjacking suspect from the Walmart parking lot; and that he saw Compton attack Riley in the entrance way of Planet Fitness,” the Marion County District Attorney’s Office said in a release on the grand jury’s decision.
Salem police officer Reece “Dru” Mathis also responded to the call, hearing reports the suspect had a gun.
The confrontation turned deadly.
Mathis told Compton to “Stop!” and “Show me your hands!”
Investigators said Compton replied “No.”
Instead of stopping, Compton pulled a small, black, semiautomatic handgun from the front of his sweatshirt, pointed it at the officers and opened fire, police said.
Acosta and Mathis returned fire and continued to shoot at Compton as he ran towards the Napa Auto Parts entrance while shooting over his shoulder backward at Acosta.
Compton appeared to get hit in the leg and fell behind a white Jaguar sedan parked near the store.
By this time, additional officers rushed to respond.
Compton picked up his handgun, sat up and again opened fire toward the police.
“Over the next 33 seconds, Compton twice more attempted to sit up and shoot police officers,” investigators said. “In total, five Salem police officers fired at Compton who never followed commands, showed his hands, dropped the gun, nor made any motions to surrender.”
The entire gunfire exchange lasted 50 seconds.
Acosta fired 29 rounds at Compton, and Mathis fired 26.
The other arriving Salem officers that fired their weapons at Compton were senior officer Justin Carney, Cpl. Kristy Fitzpatrick, and Cpl. Adam Waite.
Carney arrived moments after the initial rounds were fired. Before he was able to get out of his vehicle, Compton shot at him.
A bullet struck his windshield.
Carney got out of his vehicle and fired two rounds at Compton.
Witnesses on social media reported hearing at least two dozen shots fired. Families driving nearby reported ducking at the sound of gunfire. Employees at nearby businesses sheltered in place.
Previous coverage:Police ID man killed in South Salem shootout with officers
Waite arrived on his department-issued motorcycle from the north and encountered a school bus.
As he approached, he could not see past the yellow school bus parked but could hear gunshots.
He wasn’t sure if the shots were from beyond the bus or inside the bus itself.
When he saw Compton firing at police, Waite fired nine rounds at him and told the bus driver to leave the scene.
Investigators later learned that the bus was transporting several students to school.
The children were able to see the incident and heard the gunshots.
Investigators said Compton fired nine times.
No students, bystanders or officers were injured in the shooting.
Compton was struck 18 times. He died at the scene.
Police said a black handgun was located underneath Compton’s body and a loaded magazine was found in his pocket.
A Cherriots bus parked near the scene captured video of the incident.
At the time of the shooting, Compton had multiple warrants out for his arrest for failing to appear in court on charges of fleeing police, resisting arrest, driving under the influence, driving without a license and attempting to assault an office in Lane County and for two counts of second-degree criminal mischief in Clackamas County.
He was previously convicted of DUI, fourth-degree assault and reckless endangerment in 2021, fourth-degree domestic violence assault and menacing in 2020, and strangulation, domestic violence assault and menacing in 2016.
He is listed as a resident of Milwaukie and Estacada in court records.
Dozens of law enforcement officers with Salem police, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police responded to the scene. The Marion County Law Enforcement Officer Deadly Use of Force Plan under Senate Bill 111 was initiated for this incident, and Oregon State Police conducted the investigation. The officers were placed on administrative leave as standard procedure.
Family members of Compton said his death came as a great shock. Despite his struggles, they said he was a good man and would be dearly missed.
The Marion County District Attorney’s Office met with Compton’s family to explain the legal determination and answer any questions that they had.
They said Compton was suffering from mental health issues at the time of his death.
“It’s not the police officers’ fault, I don’t blame them,” his father said.
He blamed the inability of parents to access mental health services for their adult children and jails that release individuals who aren’t safe. Compton had been in jail twice shortly before his death but was released before his mental health was stabilized.
The grand jury did not hear evidence of Compton’s criminal history. After reviewing the testimony and evidence, the grand jury found the use of deadly force was justified in the shooting and was necessary to defend police and others from an immediate threat.
After the grand jury’s decision, the Marion County District Attorney’s Office, Salem Police Department and Salem-Keizer Public Schools officials met with several of the parents who had children on the school bus to provide them with a factual summary of what occurred and answer their questions about the shooting.
“We would like to thank the Salem Keizer School District for their collaboration to ensure that the parents of these children had the information they needed to appropriately respond to their children’s concerns,” said Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy, who co-led the investigation. “This was a traumatizing incident for everyone involved.”
Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack said in a statement that the grand jury report highlighted challenging circumstances officers face.
“With increasing levels of violence, our officers are confronting individuals who are willing to threaten and harm community members, as well as law enforcement authorities,” he said.
Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson thanked the grand jury and police.
“Our community owes a debt of gratitude to the five brave officers from the Salem Police Department whose heroism that morning placed themselves in mortal danger in order to ensure the rest of us were safe,” she said. “Thank you for being willing to do that job.”
For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Grand jury: Salem police justified in fatally shooting man