Grand jury: Police justified in vet shooting

A grand jury has determined that a Jackson County sheriff's detective and Oregon State Police trooper were justified in the April 30 shooting of an Eagle Point man who brandished a handgun at officers after challenging them to shoot him.

A Jackson County grand jury heard testimony from 21 witnesses, including 11 officers at the scene at the time of the shooting, and deliberated less than five minutes Wednesday before deciding that sheriff's detective James Biddle and trooper Tyler Lee were "fully justified and in compliance with Oregon law," Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston said in a press release.

The two officers fired five shots, which all hit 34-year-old Adam Elsman Wehinger, fatally wounding him and ending a standoff at an apartment complex at 139 Royal Ave., Eagle Point.

An argument over Wehinger's girlfriend Doreen Looney spending time at a neighboring apartment broke out in the parking lot of the complex that Friday evening, Huddleston said, recounting testimony the grand jury heard.

Wehinger fired a shot in the air toward one resident of that apartment, James Rice, prompting Henry Hinz, who also lived there, to call 9-1-1 to report the gunfire at 9:47 p.m.

Eagle Point police officers Dustin LaFord and Robert Leonard were the first to reach the apartment complex. Leonard testified that Wehinger came to the door, holding a Colt .44-caliber handgun that he refused to put down. Wehinger claimed to be a military sniper with 30 confirmed kills and said that police, like him, were trained to kill, so they should "shoot me center mass." He then added, "You guys don't have the balls to shoot me," Leonard testified.

Several attempts to negotiate with Wehinger in person and by cell phone after he went back inside failed, so acting Eagle Point Police Chief Jim Gray called the sheriff's department to activate the SWAT team, Huddleston's news release said.

State police and sheriff's deputies set up outside the apartment. Starting at about 10:40 p.m., officers heard three shots from inside over about 10 minutes.

Additional SWAT team members were arriving around 11 p.m. when Wehinger opened the apartment's front door, gun in hand, and stepped onto the porch, Huddleston recounted.

Wehinger again refused numerous commands to drop the weapon. Lee and other officers testified that they heard Wehinger say "end my life." Both Lee and LaFord saw Wehinger cock the hammer of his gun and other officers heard the clicking sound.

Wehinger then raised the gun, stepped off the porch and pointed the weapon at the officers he saw in front of him, Huddleston's release said. Biddle and Lee, in defensive positions behind vehicles parked in front of the home, fired.

Biddle told investigators that he fired two shots, and Lee said he fired three shots. Wehinger was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy determined that all five shots hit Wehinger in the chest and abdomen, Huddleston reported.

That night, police recovered Wehinger's gun, loaded with two rounds of live ammunition and four expended shell casings. The hammer was cocked back in the firing position, Huddleston said.

The Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit, led in this case by Medford police Detective Justin Ivens, returned May 1 with a search warrant. Investigators found three bullet holes in the screen of an upstairs window that looked out over the parking lot where officers had gathered the night before, as well as one in a fence across the parking lot. An OSP forensic scientist, Jeff Borngasser, testified that the holes were the result of Wehinger firing out from inside the apartment. He told the grand jury that the bullet likely went over the head of at least one officer, ricocheted off the asphalt, went through the fence and damaged the gutter of a neighbor's house. The neighbor, using a metal detector, later found a bullet that matched Wehinger's gun in his lawn.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail

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