Woman Shot in Fred Meyer Store

From The Oregonian, August 22, 1994

A woman whom witnesses described as deranged but not threatening was shot and killed by a Gresham police officer in the Fred Meyer store at 2497 East Burnside Road shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Multnomah County medical examiner’s office identified her as Janet Marilyn Smith, 28, who lived in an apartment with her grandmother not far from the store.

The officer involved in the shooting, whom Gresham police would not identify, was placed on administrative leave while the case is investigated by the Multnomah County district attorney’s office.

Police said Smith lunged at officers with a large knife and was at arm’s length when the officer fired.

Smith was known to have a history of mental illness, having been seen at Providence Hospital four times in the last 10 days, said Duane Bigoni, deputy medical examiner.

The shooting was unrelated to the current strike by grocery workers, who are picketing Fred Meyer stores.

Police provided few details on how the incident developed. However, according to several Fred Meyer employees and customers, the woman entered the store between 12:30 and 1 p.m., carrying a grayish-brown Siamese cat and a large knife. Police would not describe the knife, but several witnesses described it as a folding knife with a blade about 6 inches long.

“She said someone was after her, and that she wanted someone to call the police,” said Fred Meyer produce worker Matthew G. Christen, 18, of Gresham. “She didn’t seem too crazy. She just looked afraid.”

Witnesses said the woman was yelling, saying she “didn’t want to do any harm,” but that “somebody was trying to kill her.”

Fred Meyer cashier Kori S. Ludahl recognized Smith.

“She was in here twice yesterday,” said Ludahl, 18. “She told me (on Saturday) that she was a diabetic.”

This time, the woman didn’t mention her diabetes; instead she ranted that her “grandmother was a Satan worshiper,” Ludahl said.

The woman also was thirsty.

As witnesses watched and wondered what was going on, the woman went past the cigarette case and the Rice Krispies display flanking Aisle 7, picked up a President’s Choice lemon-lime soda and slumped against the cooler case.

Then, still clutching the loudly meowing cat — and the knife — she lit a cigarette, popped open her soda and began to drink.

“She said she didn’t want to do any harm,” said Mandy Kerr, 18, a cashier working the checkstand directly in front of Aisle 7. Kerr saw the Macing and heard the gunshots. She ducked behind her cash register.

Fred Meyer management would not comment on the incident, but witnesses said that a store manager talked to Smith while she sat cross-legged on the floor. The manager also had employees barricade both ends of the wide aisle with shopping carts.

“She wasn’t crying,” said Ken W. Williams, 37, of Waldport, who had followed the woman into Fred Meyer, and stood at the end of Aisle 7 until after police arrived. “But her movements were real unfocused. Slow, methodical.”

Gresham police arrived at the store at about 1:10 p.m. According to public information officer Sgt. David Lerwick, three officers positioned themselves on the far end of the aisle, while another two stationed themselves at the front end.

Lerwick said the woman was threatening to kill the cat.

“The officers had asked her to put the knife down, and she would not,” Lerwick said.

At this point, the woman stood up, let go of the cat, which ran loose, and began to walk down the aisle towards the back of the store. And that’s when police opened three cans of Pepper Mace and sprayed them at the woman.

But the Pepper Mace apparently did not stop her, and Lerwick said she lifted the knife above her head and “charged the officers,” who now were on the inside of the shopping cart barricade. The unidentified officer shot the woman two or three times. Witness reports vary, and police would not say how many shots were fired.

Smith was pronounced dead at the scene. Police could not immediately find the Siamese cat Smith brought to the store.

Lerwick said the police officer had no choice.

“The knife was a deadly weapon,” he said. “It could kill.”

But, in the hour that followed the shooting, milling in front of the quickly closed grocery store portion of Fred Meyer, several witnesses questioned whether police acted appropriately.

“They Maced her first,” said Ken Williams, an operating engineer. “You cannot see when you are Maced. So where’s the threat?”

Pepper Mace, used by many Oregon law-enforcement departments, causes the victim’s eyes to instantly slam shut, creates a burning sensation in the mouth, and a weakness in the knees. Wiping the eyes or face only worsens the stinging; recovery takes about 40 minutes.

Lerwick would not comment on the macing, or whether Smith had been incapacitated by its effects. Gresham officers, however, were not wearing gas masks, and several reported being affected by the highly potent pepper.

It was the first fatal shooting by Gresham police since Jan. 4, 1984, when two officers fired on Mark R. Stomps after a report that he was on drugs, had a gun and was threatening to commit suicide.

Smith shared a unit with her grandmother, Mary Smith, in the Wilmar East Apartments near Southeast Orient and Kane drives east of the Fred Meyer store.

Mary Smith said she had spent about three hours talking to Gresham police about the shooting, and didn’t want to talk further.

“I don’t know why they had to shoot her,” she said. “She wouldn’t harm a fly.”