Victim Shot By Police Found Insane

By Paul Daquilante, the Yamhill Valley News-Register, Dec. 17 2011

John Branch

John Branch

John Branch, who charged two Newberg-Dundee police officers with a large hunting knife, leading one of them to shoot him, has been committed to the Oregon State Hospital.

The 58-year-old Dundee resident was found “guilty except insane” at a stipulated-facts trial conducted by Yamhill County Circuit Judge Ronald Stone. He will be placed under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board for up to 10 years.

At a stipulated facts trial, the prosecution and defense agree that specific events occurred, but disagree, at least in some respects, on how they might best be interpreted.

According to District Attorney Brad Berry, a complete psychiatric examination was presented to the court, along with the other evidence. Berry said Stone made the “guilty except insane” ruling after hearing all of that evidence.

Branch was judged guilty of one count each of attempted first-degree assault, a Class B felony; unlawful use of a weapon, a Class C felony; menacing, a Class A misdemeanor; and harassment, a Class B misdemeanor. His sentence was based on a plea agreement Deputy District Attorney Melanie Keebler negotiated with Branch’s privately retained attorney, Mark Geiger of Salem.

Yamhill County sheriff’s detective Rich Geist led an investigation into the shooting, then presented his findings to Berry. In mid-July, Berry ruled that officer Chris Rasmussen was justified in shooting Branch after Branch charged at him and fellow officer Joseph Eubanks.

The incident unfolded in the 100 block of Southwest Alder Street. Officers from the McMinnville, Newberg-Dundee and Yamhill police departments responded, along with Oregon State Police troopers and Yamhill County sheriff’s deputies, after Branch’s wife called 911 to say he had been threatening her with a large knife.

The weapon was described as a survival knife with a serrated blade, and Branch was waving it outside the house next door when Eubanks and Rasmussen arrived. The residents of that house, Mike and Diane Ragsdale, said they awoke about 1 a.m. to find Branch standing outside their window shouting threats at his wife.

Berry said Branch advanced on the officers in an aggressive posture. When he refused to halt that advance, the district attorney said, Rasmussen fired one shot at him, striking him in the torso.

“This was not complicated,” Berry said in ruling the shooting was justified. “Decisions the officers have to make are very difficult, but this was factually simple.”

Rasmussen had 16 years of experience at the time, the last six in Newberg, and Berry said he acted on that experience in an appropriate way.

Branch was transported by Newberg Fire Department ambulance to a nearby park, then picked up by Life Flight helicopter for transport to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland. He has since recovered from his wound.

Leading up to the trial, Branch remained lodged in the county jail on $150,000 bail. After conviction, he was transferred to the state hospital.

His son, Noah, wrote a letter to Stone pleading for mercy.

However, the decision will be the Psychiatric Security Review Board’s to make from here on. The board will determine what conditions, if any, might justify Branch’s release during its 10-year period of jurisdiction.

The last similar trial and conviction in Yamhill County came in February 2009, when Lorenzo Lopez-Juarez was found “guilty except insane” on charges of murder and first-degree arson.

He set fire to his Northeast McMinnville home in 2006, killing his wife.

“These are rare in any county,” Berry said. “They are more complicated than your typical case in which a person’s conduct, background, severity of the crime, victim’s wishes and input, appropriate accountability and other issues are considered.”

When you add the component of someone who may not be mentally culpable, you get a dynamic that is not normally present, he said.

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