Salem officer justified in killing Michael Conley, whose death by cop was ruled “suicide”

Statesman Journal, May 20, 2014

Michael Conley

Michael Conley

A Salem police officer was justified in shooting and killing a man armed with a knife last month, according to a Marion County grand jury’s findings, which were announced Monday afternoon.

READLinks to all prior news coverage of Michael Conley’s shooting

Officer David Baker shot Michael Conley, 46, on April 30 after Conley threatened him with a knife. According to police reports and the grand jury’s account, the events unfolded this way:

Baker responded to a domestic violence call from Conley’s wife, Heidi, at 7:12 a.m. at their home at an apartment complex on the 4700 block of Lancaster Drive NE. She said her husband was threatening her with a knife and wouldn’t let her leave the apartment.

She wasn’t injured, but Conley had a history of suicidal behavior.

Baker arrived and Conley confronted him, armed with a foot-long military-style knife. Baker told him to put it down multiple times, but Conley refused and told Baker he was going to stab him.

Baker could be heard on police scanners telling dispatchers, “He’s coming at me with the knife, telling me to shoot him.”

He advanced toward the officer, still brandishing the knife, and Baker backed away from him to create a safe distance, still ordering Conley to drop the knife.

He wouldn’t, and he lunged at Baker, knife drawn.

Baker fired twice, shooting Conley in the head and the right shoulder.

He called for a medical team, and other officers arrived to help. They administered first aid to a bleeding Conley, who was still holding the knife. He was taken to Salem Hospital for treatment and died there shortly after.

The Oregon State Medical Examiner ruled his death a suicide.

The Oregon State Police investigated the shooting, and Baker was placed on administrative leave, which is common practice after an officer-involved shooting.

Baker has worked for Salem Police for 14 months and previously worked as a reserve officer in Philomath for three years.

District attorney Amy Queen said evidence presented to the grand jury included witness testimony, photographs, scene diagrams, 911 dispatch and police radio recordings, and the medical examiner’s autopsy report.

The jury found that the evidence presented showed Baker had “reasonably believed that (his) life or personal safety was endangered in the particular circumstances involved,” which is the applicable legal standard, Queen said.

This shooting was the first of two officer shootings in the course of two weeks. Jacklynn Ford, 25, was shot by Salem Police Officer Trevor Morrison on May 9 after she fled a traffic stop, according to police reports.