The Dalles Police Officer James Finch was justified in fatally shooting James Virl Young, 76, on the evening of March 16, the district attorney ruled Monday.
Young, who lived at 1921 E. 10th St., had fired multiple shots into a neighbor’s house, pointed a rifle at the neighbor, and then fired multiple rounds in the direction of responding officers, according to a press release issued Monday afternoon by Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley.
“At least three other officers had made the same determination that they were going to fire,” Nisley told the Chronicle. They “had formed the intent to shoot Young at the time Finch shot, but had not yet fired their weapons. No other officers fired their weapons,” Nisley said in the release.
Nisley said in the release, “Given the gravity of the situation, the proximity of innocent civilians, the continuous discharge of weapons by Young, Young’s refusal to put the rifle down, and the fact that he fired his rifle in the direction of the officers who were telling him to put the rifle down, Officer Finch was justified using deadly force in response to deadly force. Additionally, given the nature of the circumstances, there appeared to be no other alternative to prevent Young from continuing to shoot at law enforcement and/or civilians.”
Finch, 28, had just completed his 18-month probation with the police department a month ago, said The Dalles Police Chief Patrick Ashmore. Finch had also completed shoot-don’t shoot training just a week before the shooting.
The release stated, “It is apparent from speaking to Young’s family members and neighbors that Young suffered from mental illness. It appears Young’s actions were either caused by or the result of his mental illness. This was corroborated by the fact law enforcement located no evidence of motive at the scene to explain why Young would shoot at his neighbors or police.”
Nisley said Young’s neighbor, Anasthosioas Liberidhs, heard noises at about 9:50 p.m. that Saturday night as he and his nine-year-old daughter were watching the Pac 12 Championship game downstairs at their home when he heard noises. He thought his 13-year-old daughter, who was upstairs, was doing gymnastics and yelled at her to stop.
She said “she was not jumping around, but some guy was shooting a gun at their house,” the release stated.
Liberidhs ran to the window and saw his neighbor shooting at his house. He yelled at Young to “knock that s--- off,” according to the release. “Young responded by pointing the rifle at Liberidhs.”
Liberidhs moved away from the window, got a firearm to protect himself and his family, and called 911. He later told law enforcement he saw his kitchen “getting ‘blown up’ when he rescued his daughter from upstairs,” the release stated.
Later, law officers saw where multiple gunshots were fired into the kitchen area. Had anyone been standing at the kitchen sink, which Liberidhs had been doing minutes earlier, they would’ve been in the direct line of fire, the press release stated.
At least 10 people from the neighborhood called 911 to report hearing shots fired. Four city police officers—Finch, Kristopher Wood, Brent Larson, and James Ragland—and reserve officer Claire Ranit, city police Sergeant Doug Kramer, and Oregon State Police Trooper Seth Routson and Sr. Trooper Gavin McIlvenna responded to the scene.
“Officers took cover behind two travel trailers located west of Young’s porch,” the press release stated. They saw Young standing on his porch, illuminated by an overhead porch light, holding a rifle, the release stated.
Three days after the shooting, Finch told an Oregon State Police detective from the Pendleton office that he heard Larson yelling multiple times for Young to put the rifle down.
Young was yelling “nonsense” at officers, who had taken cover as Young fired repeatedly toward them, Nisley said in his release.
“Finch observed Young holding the rifle at a level ready position. Finch then observed Young lower the weapon and concluded Young was either surrendering or reloading. Young then raised the rifle up, and Finch believed Young intended to fire upon the officers again. In response, Finch fired his rifle twice,” Nisley said.
Finch fired from approximately 75 feet away, hitting Young in the chest and arm and fatally wounding him, Nisley told the Chronicle.
Law enforcement immediately performed CPR on Young, but there was no pulse. The shot to the chest pierced his heart and killed him instantly, Nisley said.
Ashmore said Finch is from the Portland area and served in the Army. He worked as a reserve officer in the Milwaukie area previously. All other officers who responded to the shooting have returned to duty, and Finch will return to duty on his normal schedule next week, Ashmore said.
Several other The Dalles officers have been involved in fatal shootings. “Having guys here that have been involved in use of deadly force incidents is definitely a support for someone going through something like this,” Ashmore said.
Ashmore said the shooting has “been devastating to us. We’ve been communicating with the family and making sure we’re supporting them the best we can. At the same time, keeping our officer and his well being in mind. It’s a delicate balance of making sure we’re supporting everybody.”
Ashmore said the community was also victimized. “You’re talking a lot of families that were laying on the floor; they were close, and shots were ringing out.”
After Young was shot, law enforcement cleared his residence to ensure there was no one else involved or at risk, the press release stated.
Officers recovered two rifles from Young’s porch, a Savage Arms Model 99 lever action .300 caliber rifle and a Revelation .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle. Also recovered on the porch were 20 .300 Savage shell casings and many .22 caliber shell casings.
The Savage bullets are “generally used to kill large game animals,” the press release stated.
Multiple bullet fragments were recovered from various locations, including Liberidhs’ home and various locations adjacent to Young’s residence and in the direction he fired the rifles.
The Major Crimes Team was activated, and law enforcement secured the scene. Officers canvassed the neighborhood and the Oregon State Police forensics team provided assistance.
“When officers secured the scene, Young’s two Boston Terrier dogs were secured in a bathroom. The dogs were delivered to family members of Young when it was safe to do so,” the release stated.
Nisley said he would not convene a grand jury to review the matter.
Ashmore said in a statement, “The police department appreciates the support we have received from the community. We also want to take this time to thank members of the Oregon State Police, Wasco County Sheriff’s Office, Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, Hood River City Police, Sherman County Sheriff’s Office, and the Wasco County District Attorney’s office for conducting a thorough, complete and accurate investigation.”
He added, “Members of The Dalles Police Department are truly devastated by the events that occurred involving this incident. It’s a tragedy when anyone in law enforcement has to take a life, even though justified by protecting the lives of others.”