Washington Co. DA says deputies justified in fatal shooting of Phyllis Jepsen

Oregonian, January 2016

READ – “What happened to Phyllis Jepsen

Two sheriff’s deputies were justified in their fatal shooting of a 55-year-old woman armed with a knife last year in Aloha, the Washington County District Attorney’s Office determined.

Cpl. John McCullough and Deputy Matt Humphrey shot Phyllis Jepsen nine times as she approached them with a hunting knife Oct. 2, Senior Deputy District Attorney Bracken McKey wrote in a letter to the sheriff released Thursday. Authorities had not said how many times she was hit.

READ – DA Decision Letter on Phyllis Jepsen

A third deputy, Dennis Strange, had first fired less-lethal, 40 mm foam rounds from a launcher weapon at Jepsen, hitting her four times, but they hadn’t stopped her, wrote McKey, who reviewed the deputies’ actions.

Two days before Jepsen was shot, a sheriff’s deputy had taken her to the hospital on a police officer hold because she had made suicidal statements, McKey said. The shooting investigation revealed Jepsen had long struggled with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. She had also exhibited aggressive behavior before with police and hospital staff, according to the letter.

The responding deputies weren’t aware of her full history, McKey said, but they knew about her contact with the deputy Sept. 30.

“What they did know was that Ms. Jepsen was aggressive, armed, and noncompliant,” McKey wrote. “She posed a threat to officers and civilians in an apartment complex at a busy time of day, and less than lethal force had virtually no impact on her.”

A Tualatin police detective who is part of the county’s Major Crimes Team investigated the shooting. McKey said that because he found no evidence the involved deputies committed any crimes, the case would not be presented to a grand jury.

McKey’s letter provides the first detailed account from authorities about the shooting. In the aftermath, they were tight-lipped and would not describe Jepsen’s actions or what led to the use of deadly force.

Deputies first responded to the The Patrician Apartments, 18000 S.W. Shaw St., after Jepsen’s daughter-in-law called police at 4:54 p.m. reporting Jepsen was threatening her with a hunting knife, McKey wrote. The daughter-in-law locked herself in a car, while Jepsen stabbed its windows with the knife. Jepsen, McKey wrote, also stabbed herself and was trying to cut her throat.

While the deputies responded to the apartments, they received information about Jepsen’s encounter two days earlier with the deputy, a member of the agency’s Mental Health Response Team. Police on that day were summoned after Jepsen called two radio stations and made suicidal statements, McKey wrote.

During that call, as the deputy moved a hunting knife away from Jepsen, she tried to grab it, McKey wrote. She was taken to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center on a police hold and released the next day, the letter says.

On Oct. 2, Strange, Humphrey, McCullough and another deputy arrived at the apartments and spotted Jepsen, bleeding and apparently angry, inside a parked pickup at 5:02 p.m. McKey said she stabbed the driver’s window with a knife.

The deputies, McKey said, decided that Strange would fire the foam rounds if she was uncooperative when she got out of the truck. The deputies were between 25 and 30 feet from her at that time.

Soon after 5:03 p.m., Jepsen stepped out of the pickup with the knife in her right hand and moved toward the deputies. Less than 30 seconds later, they radioed “shots fired.”

Strange had fired from the less-lethal weapon, McKey said, but Jepsen kept moving toward them. Humphrey and McCullough then fired their guns at Jepsen, striking her nine times. Jepsen fell on the ground about 15 feet from the deputies, McKey said. She was taken to OHSU Hospital, where she died.

An autopsy revealed Jepsen had several self-inflicted cuts on her body and two stab wounds on her left abdomen, McKey wrote. Toxicology tests showed she had a blood-alcohol level of nearly .23 percent. She also had marijuana and an anti-psychotic medication in her system.

McKey’s letter does not say where Jepsen was shot, but he told The Oregonian/OregonLive that most shots struck her in her torso. One deputy fired a handgun and the other fired a rifle. His letter did not specify how many times the deputies fired.