Citizens voice opinions about fatal shooting

August 10, 2011 07:54 pm
ELGIN — Passions ran hot and heavy at the Elgin Community Center Tuesday night, as Union County and city of Elgin officials met with a large crowd to talk about the recent killing of a resident by a police officer, and other issues connected with the police department. Between 150 and 200 people showed up to air their thoughts and feelings about the Aug. 1 killing of Richard “Dick” Shafer by Officer Eric Kilpatrick, and also to weigh in on the issue of whether the council should dissolve the police department and contract for services from the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

Before public testimony got under way, Union County District Attorney Tim Thompson and Capt. Craig Ward of the Sheriff’s Office talked about the ongoing investigation into Shafer’s death. Shafer was shot Aug. 1 by Officer Eric Kilpatrick.

Thompson said that until the investigation is complete, he is unable to talk specifics.

“This is a homicide and we’re treating it as we would any other case. It may or may not turn out to be criminal when the investigation is done,” he said.

He said the investigation is a complex one involving the Union County Major Crimes Team, the Oregon State Police crime lab, state pathologists and other investigators.

The public should not expect quick answers, Thompson said.

“We’ve got perhaps 20 officers investigating and each person is assigned a specific task,” Thompson said. “Nothing’s going to happen in the first two weeks. Something may happen in two to four weeks.”

Thompson said that when the investigation is done, he has the option of convening a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

Though Thompson said he doesn’t yet know if he will do that, Ward said convening a grand jury is likely to happen.

“It’s rare not to convene a grand jury in cases like this,” he said.

Shafer was shot shortly after 7:30 a.m. Aug. 1 while Kilpatrick was responding to a report of a domestic disturbance at the Shafer residence, 480 S. Eighth St. in Elgin.

According to the most recent press release from Thompson, Shafer at some point became armed with a rifle and was subsequently fatally wounded by Kilpatrick.

Thompson said preliminary findings indicate Kilpatrick fired multiple shots, that Shafer was struck by one or more shots, and that at least one of Kilpatrick’s bullets struck and was lodged in Shafer’s rifle.

Ward elaborated on that a bit during Tuesday night’s meeting.

“We do have that at least one and possibly two rounds struck the AR 15. One hit the handguard and delta ring, and there was another impact to the rifle on the trigger guard. I’m at a loss to explain how it could have been unless the rifle was pointed at the officer,” Ward said.

That would be in direct contradiction to statements made to The Observer by Shafer’s widow, Gloria Shafer, shortly after the shooting. She said her husband’s hands were empty when Kilpatrick shot him.

Elgin’s police department has been a subject of controversy for months, with complaints raised over enforcement issues, response times, unavailability of officers and more.

Some people say they want the current officers fired and replaced, while others favor dissolving the department and contracting with Union County for law enforcement services.

A petition and surveys have been circulated through the town. According to a motion passed by the council last night, a meeting on the subject will be held as originally scheduled Aug. 16.

Most of the people speaking at the community center last night had less than complimentary things to say about Chief Kevin Lynch and Officer Kilpatrick. Some were outright hostile.

“The police aren’t doing their jobs. They’re lying and killing people,” said Carl Cook, one of about 20 people who signed up to speak. “I don’t think I’m the only one scared in this room. Lying and killing is what terrorists do.”

Another resident, Tim Carper, said he is dissatisfied with the police but has been reluctant to take part in the surveys because of the possibility of retaliation.

“I’m not comfortable with the potential for retaliation from the police department or the mayor. In my own estimate, I’m giving you a vote of no-confidence in these units,” he said.

One Elgin resident standing up for the police and defending Kilpatrick’s actions was Leo Kepplinger.

Kepplinger said he worked as a police officer eight years in California and understands the dangers. He said an officer does what he must to protect his own life when confronted with an armed subject.

“You shoot and keep shooting till he’s dead,” he said.

Kepplinger said he has faith in the investigation process outlined by Thompson and Ward. He also said he thinks people in Elgin are reacting emotionally to the situation.

“There’s too much hate,” he said.

Another man testifying said he thinks people should wait until all the information is in before making judgements.

“We have to stick together as a community until a decision is made. We don’t know, we weren’t there,” he said. “We have to get our heads about ourselves and be reasonable and it’s hard to do when we’re hurting. Whatever comes down, we’ll deal with that.”

Some in the crowd leveled complaints toward the police department over general performance. Both Lynch and Kilpatrick came in for some heavy criticism.

One person complained that too much emphasis is placed on enforcement of minor parking and garbage ordinances, and not enough on major crimes. Another said city officers are not accessible enough.

One woman told the council that Kilpatrick once came to her door, shining a flashlight in her eye while keeping a hand on his gun. The woman is one of several people in Elgin who say Kilpatrick is too quick to reach for his firearm.

“This kid scares me because he is afraid. You don’t need a police officer who is scared and nervous about people,” she said.

Sue Moore, a former Elgin city councilor, told the council it needs to take decisive action on the police department controversy.

“There is a great concern for lack of confidence in the police and the council,” Moore said. “The council needs to take a long look at what the public perceives as being swept under the rug, whether it is or not. You have to do something because the citizens have lost trust in you and the police department.”

Following the meeting, Lynch talked with The Observer about Kilpatrick, and the complaints about his department.

He said he disagrees that Kilpatrick, who has worked in Elgin the last four to five years, is a poor officer.

“He had a rough beginning as a reserve officer but over the last year, he’s done a good job improving his contact with the public. To receive a complaint about him is rare,” Lynch said.

Lynch added that no officer can do his job without ruffling feathers.

“If you don’t get a complaint about a police officer once in a while, he’s not doing his job,” Lynch said.

Currently, Lynch and Kilpatrick are the only two officers employed by the city. A third officer, Nick Pallis, recently took a job with the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

Lynch said some of the people speaking out against his department are ones who have had trouble with the law themselves. He also said he plans to carry on as chief.

“I have a lot of people come up to me and say thank you,” he said. “You’re hearing things that are blown out of proportion. We don’t arrest people for no reason. If we did, we’d be in jail ourselves.”