Officer Cleared in Gresham Shooting

The Oregonian, August 31, 1994

A Gresham police officer who shot a mentally ill woman will not be indicted on criminal charges, a Multnomah County grand jury decided Tuesday.

The grand jury spent only five minutes deliberating and voted 7-0 to clear Officer Ron Willis of the charge of criminal homicide arising from the shooting Aug. 21 at the Gresham Fred Meyer store.

Willis shot Janet Marilyn Smith, 28, after Smith charged at him with a knife.

The decision ended the district attorney’s investigation, said James J. McIntyre, senior deputy district attorney in charge of the case.

“The grand jury reviewed the actions of everybody and decided that there’s no basis upon which to bring criminal charges against anyone,” McIntyre said.

However, had Smith lived, she might have faced criminal charges of threatening an employee who tried to prevent her from entering the store, McIntyre said. When the employee blocked her entrance, Smith allegedly threatened him with her knife.

Willis was put on administrative leave until after the grand jury decision. He has been a member of the Gresham Police Department since 1987.

Of the 17 witnesses who testified before the grand jury, 12 were shoppers or store employees who saw the shooting. The others were police officers or detectives.

Although McIntyre couldn’t reveal the testimony, which by law is required to remain secret, he said nearly everyone was consistent in their descriptions of what occurred that Sunday afternoon when Smith entered the store and said she needed help.

Smith held a cat in one hand and a knife in the other. McIntyre said the knife was a kitchen carving knife, about 12 inches long, with a 6-inch blade that tapered to a point.

While Smith sat in an aisle, and police talked to her, the store’s security police decided to block both ends of the aisle with shopping carts to protect shoppers, McIntyre said.

When Smith rose and headed toward a lone officer at the end of the aisle, the shopping carts prevented the officer from escaping. That was when three of the five officers in the aisle sprayed her with pepper Mace.

“They couldn’t have her that close to the police officer or let her get to the customers,” McIntyre said.

The pepper spray didn’t take effect. Smith then turned and charged Willis, who was behind her.

Her speed, according to reports McIntyre collected for the grand jury, was “anywhere from a lunge to a bent-over run,” he said. Her distance from Willis when he shot her ranged from a minimum of two arms’ lengths to a maximum of 10 feet.

The police earlier said Smith was an arm’s length from Willis when he fired.

“It was a very quick, confusing situation,” McIntyre said.

Although Willis wore a bulletproof jacket, a knife would puncture it, McIntyre noted.

The turning point came when Smith , who was talking quietly with an officer, rose from where she was seated and headed toward the back of the aisle, he said.

The officers weren’t moving, and they were speaking to her in a low-key manner, McIntyre said. No one knows why she suddenly got up.

“She stood up totally unprovoked by the officers,” he said.