Polk deputies justified in shooting death of Silverton teen

Silverton teen killed by police

A Polk County grand jury unanimously found that two Polk County deputies were justified in using deadly force when they shot and killed a Silverton teen following a carjacking and high speed chase.

The decision came Tuesday, almost a month after Baltazar Escalona-Baez, 17, died on Highway 18 near Grand Ronde.

According to the Polk County District Attorney's Office, the shooting came after Escalona-Baez carjacked a man outside a Salem Safeway, sped about 100 mph down Highway 22 and brandished a knife at deputies. 

The following events were recounted before the grand jury:

Early in the morning on Oct. 28, Salem police officers spotted a white Ford Explorer speeding and driving erratically on Silverton Road NE. Police traced the SUV's license plate number to Escalona-Baez's mother in Silverton and contacted her.

She told officers she thought her son had taken her keys without her permission.

When officers attempted to pull over Escalona-Baez, he led multiple police cars on a high speed pursuit through Salem and over the Marion Street Bridge into Polk County.

He later reversed course on Highway 22 and drove back into downtown Salem.

Police then elected to call off the pursuit.

At 4 a.m. the same morning, the Marion County Sheriff's Office responded to a 911 report of a carjacking at the Safeway store at Silverton Road NE and Lancaster Drive NE.

The victim reported that a man in a white Ford Explorer had forced him off the road, pulled him from his vehicle and threatened him with what appeared to be a weapon in his pocket.

The stolen vehicle was spotted heading back into Polk County. 

Three Polk County deputies, Sgt. Kevin Haynes, Deputy Kelly Lorence and Deputy Mike Stevenson, separately drove toward the vehicle in an effort to intercept it. 

They located the car near Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, activated their lights and a high speed chase ensued. 

During the pursuit, the stolen vehicle reached speeds of between 80 and 100 mph and repeatedly drove into oncoming traffic. 

Radio traffic indicated that the deputies asked twice whether the driver was armed. Dispatch told the deputies that the victim believed the carjacker had been armed when he stole the car. 

The chase continued until Officer Ron Welborn of the Grand Ronde Tribal Police Department laid spike strips across the highway near the intersection of Highway 22 and Highway 18.

The spike strips shredded the front left wheel of the stolen vehicle, causing it to slow down.

As it decelerated, Haynes maneuvered in front of the car and blocked it.

Because of the possibility that Escalona-Baez was armed and might flee the scene, deputies began conducting a "high-risk" traffic stop and tried to arrest him for second-degree robbery, vehicle theft and reckless driving.

Each officer drew their sidearms and repeatedly ordered Escalona-Baez to the ground.

Witnesses said Eascalona-Baez quickly exited the car, but refused to obey the deputies' verbal commands. He walked directly toward Haynes and began physically struggling with Lorence as the deputy attempted to get control of him. 

When Haynes was about two-arms' length away from Escalona-Baez, he saw that he was holding a 5- to 6-inch fixed blade knife.

Haynes called out: "He's got a knife!" and told Escalona-Baez to drop the knife.

Escalona-Baez, still within arm's reach of Haynes, spun around and lunged toward Haynes with the knife.

Haynes and Lorence both shot Escalona-Baez twice.

Deputies and first responders provided medical attention, but Escalona-Baez died at the scene. 

Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton said the jury found the shooting was justified because the use of physical force was necessary to defend the police officers from the imminent, deadly harm. The jury also concluded the officers' lives or personal safety were endangered during the traffic stop. 

In making their decision, the grand jury heard testimony from the three involved deputies, Oregon State Police detectives and two civilian witnesses.

The grand jury also reviewed scene photos, a report of the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office, the 911 recording and other audio evidence.

Felton said Haynes joined the department 18 years ago and has 27 years law enforcement experience. Lorence became a sheriff's deputy about 18 months ago and Stevenson joined two years ago. 

The three men were placed on paid administrative leave, per state and sheriff's office protocol. 

Escalona-Baez attended Silverton High School as a junior during the 2016-2017 school year, according to Andy Bellando, Silver Falls School District superintendent. He did not register as a student for the current school year. 

The fatal shooting was the third officer-involved shooting involving the Polk County Sheriff's Office in the past 18 months. In October, a Marion County grand jury ruled a Polk County deputy was justified in firing his weapon during a traffic stop in Salem. No one was injured during the shooting.

Joshua Bolster, 29, was shot and killed by Polk County Deputy Casey Gibson during a traffic stop along Highway 22 in July 2016. A five-inch folding knife was found at the scene. A Polk County grand jury unanimously found the fatal shooting was justified. 

Lorence was also one of the deputies on the scene when Bolster was shot. He and Gibson pulled over Bolster and drew their side arms. According to court records, Bolster refused to leave his car. He told the deputies he would not go to jail and began rummaging through his vehicle. Gibson fired two shots, striking Bolster in the head. 

More: In wake of $700k settlement, family alarmed by another Polk County police shooting

Polk County, Salem and Monmouth police agencies later agreed to pay Bolster's $700,000 and change their use-of-force and mental-crisis policies as part of a settlement with Bolster's family. 

For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at wmwoodwort@statesmanjournal.com, call 503-399-6884 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth

© 2017 KGW-TV


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