EUGENE, Ore. — Prosecutors investigating an Oregon police officer’s use of lethal force on an armed parent during a struggle outside a Eugene middle school have cleared the officer of wrongdoing.
Lane County District Attorney Patricia Perlow on Jan. 24 announced her office's findings in the fatal shooting of Charles Frederick Landeros, who was killed Jan. 11 during a custody dispute at Cascade Middle School. Landeros, 30, was shot once in the head by Eugene police Officer Steve Timm, who was a school resource officer at the school.
Perlow’s office also released body camera footage that shows the scuffle and shooting, including the moment when Landeros, a U.S. Army veteran who was wearing a T-shirt reading “Smash the patriarchy and chill,” pulled out a concealed handgun and aimed it at Timm, firing two rounds at the officer but missing both times.
Timm, 50, has been a Eugene police officer since 2004. The other school resource officer involved in the incident, Aaron Johns, 45, was hired by the department in 2001.
Perlow stated in her report that Timm and Johns recognized the danger possible in a custody dispute at the school and were justified in arresting Landeros, who refused to cooperate as they tried to remove him from the premises.
"Upon making the arrest, their lives, and the lives of others, were placed in danger by Mr. Landeros physically resisting that arrest, brandishing a firearm and firing it twice," Perlow wrote. "It is unknown why Charles Landeros chose to use deadly force in this circumstance, but he clearly had no regard for the lives of the police officers or the students or staff present, including his child."
Landeros' 12-year-old daughter witnessed the fatal shooting, according to a GoFundMe page set up so she and her 10-year-old sister could have a funeral for their father.
Landeros' family said in a statement through their attorney that they would be conducting their own investigation into Timm's use of deadly force, NBC News reported.
"We know this is a complex situation and that these situations often involve split-second decisions that are not fully appreciated simply by watching a video," the family's statement said. "The video, and the accompanying statement from the DA's office, do not change the fact that many in the community are still grieving and that Charlie's daughters are now without their father."
Dispute over school enrollment
The district attorney’s report gave the background of the custody dispute that led to Landeros’ death.
Landeros enrolled one of his daughters at Cascade Middle School the day before the shooting but did so without the permission of his ex-wife, with whom he shared custody. The mother went to the school Jan. 11 to find out if the girl was enrolled there.
The woman had a copy of her divorce and custody paperwork, which stated she had exclusive control over where the child attends school, the D.A.'s report stated. Landeros was called and asked to come to the school to sort out the issue.
Timm spoke to Landeros in the hallway about the situation but had called Johns in as backup in case there was trouble.
"Charles Landeros confirmed that was the only court document regarding custody," the report said. "The conversation was respectful between Officer Timm and Charles Landeros, though Officer Timm reported concern that there would be a problem if Landeros was present if the mother exercised her right to remove the child from the school."
Watch the body camera footage released by the Lane County District Attorney’s Office below. Warning: The footage may be too graphic for some viewers.
At some point, Landeros’ daughter walked out into the hallway where the confrontation was happening.
Landeros was asked to leave, but Timm’s body camera footage shows that before he left the hallway, he told the officers he felt they did not have the authority to remove him from the school.
“The police do not have jurisdiction over here,” Landeros said. “The principal has not asked me to leave.”
As Landeros became “more agitated and animated,” Johns began to escort him from the building and warned that he would be arrested if he did not go.
"Charles Landeros began yelling at his child to 'go' repeatedly," Perlow's report said.
‘Let go of me! Let go of me!’
As the officers got Landeros outside, they told him he was under arrest for disorderly conduct and trespassing. The video from Timm’s camera shows Landeros struggling with Johns, pushing the officer away.
Johns’ camera also captured footage, but fell off during his struggle with Landeros.
As both officers try to arrest Landeros, he screams repeatedly, “Let go of me!” The video shows him pulling a handgun, later identified as a Taurus 9 mm, from what appears to be either his pocket or a holster on his hip.
Landeros’ daughter can be heard shouting, “Dad!” as the gun becomes visible in the footage.
Landeros managed to point the weapon at Timm twice during the struggle, firing two bullets the second time he aimed at the officer. Neither bullet struck Timm.
As Johns screams for help, Timm fires twice at Landeros. The district attorney’s report said the first bullet hit the pavement and “skipped out toward the parking lot.”
The second bullet struck Landeros in the temple, killing him.
"There were two civilian eyewitnesses who confirmed that Landeros drew his weapon and fired first," Perlow wrote. "Charles Landeros' child was also a witness to the struggle and the shootings. There were no other witnesses who reported seeing the shooting."
The school’s administrators moved Landeros’ daughter back into the safety of the school and placed the school on lockdown.
Investigation into the shooting found that the Taurus, which was registered to Landeros’ sister-in-law, held a total of 21 rounds.
"Mr. Landeros also had an additional magazine on his belt and a third magazine in his vehicle, all of which were loaded with ammunition," the statement said. "He was wearing a backpack which contained additional ammunition of a different caliber."
‘Death to all pigs’
Further investigation into Landeros’ background showed that in the days before the Cascade Middle School shooting, Springfield police officials were notified that someone called Charlie Landeros posted a comment, “Time to start killing pigs,” on a Facebook post about a police shooting of a legally blind man in Portland.
About an hour before the shooting at Cascade Middle, Springfield officers were notified of another comment -- “Death to all pigs” -- on a Facebook post about a California officer who was shot and killed during a traffic stop.
The alleged comment had been removed by the time Springfield officers tried to find it, according to Perlow's office.
Investigators also learned that the FBI received information last year that Landeros was posting violent anti-government messages on social media.
"The information was referred to the local FBI office, who concluded there was insufficient information to substantiate that a crime had been committed," Perlow wrote.
Landeros served in the Army from 2006 to 2012 and was honorably discharged, the report said.
The use-of-force investigation was conducted by the Inter-Agency Deadly Force Investigative Team, which was comprised of detectives from the Oregon State Police, Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Springfield Police Department, Cottage Grove Police Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Perlow praised the willingness of the detectives involved who were willing to “drop everything else” and complete the investigation into the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner.
"Officer Timm saved the life of Officer Johns, himself and perhaps many others given the number of rounds Charles Landeros had loaded in his weapon," the district attorney's office said. "There is no clearer circumstance that the use of deadly force is justified than this."
Cox Media Group