It was a Friday night around 10:30 when a Bend police officer stopped Michael Jacques in his Dodge Caravan near Franklin and Bond, after 911 reports of a van being driven erratically on Third street, allegedly nearly hitting a bicyclist. According to Oregon State Police, the officers on the scene first used a Taser on Jacques, eventually shooting him. In the wake of his death, attorneys representing Jacques' family say police have "used the media to paint Jacques as the bad guy." For one, Jacques' mother and eyewitnesses have claimed he was not armed.
"The cynical part of my brain tells me the command level officers and chief knew this was a bad shooting," says Michelle Burrows, of the firm Brothers, Hawn & Coughlin. "They needed to get ahead of it and start vilifying the victim immediately."
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter doesn't see it that way. While not able to talk about specifics, he spoke highly of the two officers, identified as Scott Schaier and Marc Tisher, now on administrative leave.
"They are exceptional officers. They have a history of good decision-making. They're good husbands and fathers, and they're good people in their heart. I know that," he said.
Eyewitnesses: Shot at
Point Blank Range
Eyewitnesses have told Burrows that Jacques was shot at almost point blank range. One account is he was shot in the back of the head after officers used the Taser. A series of four or five gunshots are heard on a grainy eyewitness video.
"Based on our eyewitnesses, there was almost no justification for it," said Burrows, saying eyewitnesses have told her that Jacques was cooperative, non-combative, unarmed and likely seat-belted in the car when an officer opened the door, used the Taser, and within another 15-20 seconds shot Tyler.
"I'm sure the police investigation will reveal a somewhat different view," she told us. "There seems to be a concerted effort by homicide investigators to sanitize and clean up the investigation to make the officers look as good as possible."
State Investigators Take Over
The investigation has since been taken over by Oregon State Police, after a conflict of interest arose with Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, who's represented in a personal case by the same firm hired by Jacques' family. According to OSP, it was Schaier's duty weapon that was fired. Regardless, Burrows' colleague, Jennifer Coughlin, questions the investigation. "I do believe that having one police organization investigate whether the officers of another police organization were justified in their shooting of a citizen is a flawed system. I have no doubt that if an independent panel of citizens were appointed to review police officer shootings, many more bad shootings would be found and the officers would be held accountable," Coughlin told us. Burrows and Coughlin are demanding evidence not be tampered with, and have requested access to the Dodge Caravan.
Background: Michael Tyler Jacques
According to Burrows, Jacques led a troubled life dealing with autism, mental issues, drugs and alcohol. Quoting his mother, Burrows told us, "They struggled in taking care of Tyler his whole life. He was a methamphetamine addict."
She contends that many meth users develop a different way of thinking. "In their mind, meth makes them think better. I think that's what happened with Tyler." Burrows also says Jacques suffered from alcoholism, going through "a couple of different treatment programs."
He impregnated his juvenile girlfriend, according to Burrows, and was imprisoned for "lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age." While serving two and a half years in a California jail, Burrows says Jacques was nearly beaten to death on two occasions. After release, she thinks he suffered from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"He did not have the neurological capacity to deal with regular life. Couple that with severe anxiety and PTSD, and he struggled. He was a fragile human being," says Burrows.
Bend Police Training
A 16-year veteran officer, Sgt. Brian Beekman, is one of two trainers in the Bend Police department.
"When I started in the early 2000s, going to a suicidal or mental crisis call would be an infrequent occurrence," he stated. "Our officers are now responding to three to five a day." Chief Porter says mental health calls have doubled in the last three years and last year increased 35 percent over 2015.
Bend PD has modified its training to respond to this increase, including staffing three officers to respond to mental health crises. For the past several years the department has also been offering Crisis Intervention Training, a 40-hour block of training, helping officers determine if they're dealing with a criminal or mental health problem. About 80 percent of Bend's Police Officers have been trained in advanced confrontational management— including Schaier and Tisher, according to Beekman.
Noting that officers often have to make split second decisions, Beekman said, "It's critical training for law enforcement because many times a mental crisis contact can appear aggressive or confrontational."
No Police Cameras
Although eyewitness videos have surfaced, the Bend Police Department doesn't currently use individual cameras to record encounters. Still, Beekman thinks it's only a matter of time. Chief Porter says, "We just have to find the funding and staffing to support the project."
Attorney Burrows contends they help police behave better because they know they are being taped. "It should be mandated. It helps them, too. If an officer is accused of doing something they didn't do, a video will end the discussion. It's a protective tool for everybody involved."
When asked if he thinks the officers will be exonerated, Chief Porter said he couldn't answer that question. "We have a policy of using the minimum amount of force possible and I can unequivocally say there's not an officer in my department that I have a concern about in that regard."
Burrows speculates the investigation will take months if not over a year. "I think they will label their investigation of the two officers as thorough and it will not be. It won't be accurate. That's why we want the minivan preserved so we can do our own science that includes bullet trajectories to the body," she says.
Burrows concluded, "I predict the officers will not be indicted. They will be cleared. We will probably file a lawsuit at that point and then we will do the investigation."
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