Two Oregon State Police troopers were justified in firing 20 shots at a Texas man who earlier pulled and pointed a gun during a traffic stop and aimed it at them during a chase through Sisters late last month, Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty said Tuesday.
But while the officers’ bullets hit him four times, Flaherty said an autopsy determined that William Edward Hall actually died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head during the confrontation, after he pulled over and was forced to a stop on a gravel road east of Sisters.
Flaherty issued a nine-page report detailing the sequence of events on Aug. 30 that led to the fateful confrontation on Harrington Loop and the death of Hall, 34. Based on autopsy results, interviews and further investigation, Flaherty said Senior Trooper William Duran and Major Travis Hampton shot Hall four times in the left shoulder – and that “would have caused Mr. Hall’s death, but for his intervening act of suicide.”
Flaherty said Hall recently served about six years in prison for aggravated assault and became a lieutenant in the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang.
He said detectives learned later from family members that Hall had failed to appear in court on a new, pending aggravated assault charge, and that his attorney told him he’d receive a 25-year prison term if convicted.
The DA said family members told them “Hall had vowed to commit suicide rather than return to prison.”
It all began on shortly before 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 30 – a day busy with Labor Day weekend traffic -- when OSP dispatchers got a call from a motorist reporting another driver heading west was driving erratically, speeding and passing other cars on blind corners and in no-pass zones, the DA said.
They pulled over the four-door car, with all windows heavily tinted, and said Hampton rolled down the passenger window 4-6 inches and kept talking on one of two cell phones by hands-free Bluetooth. Hall identified himself and provided a driver’s license and insurance card, but did not provide registration for the car, which had Texas license plates.
Hampton says Hall acknowledged speeding but said he was “trying to cool off his brakes,” and was acting more nervous than drivers in most stops, starting the suspicion he “might be under the influence of a stimulant.”
Duran soon pulled over to offer assistance. Eventually, Hall rolled down his driver’s side window a similar amount and said he owned the car but his temporary registration had expired – and that he was heading from Texas to Tennessee.
The report said the officers saw “every visible part of his body” was covered with apparent prison tattoos regarding a “white supremacist philosophy” and indicating association with prison gangs.
At first, he refused to get out of the car, but eventually did, rolling up the windows and locking the doors. The field sobriety test didn’t go well, and troopers said he “was fixing his gaze” on Duran’s gun. They agreed he appeared to be under the influence of “some intoxicant,” but believed they did not have sufficient evidence for a DUII arrest.
Another trooper was called to respond with a drug-sniffing dog, Hall had gotten out but soon jumped back in the car and appeared to be “reaching for something” on the driver’s side of the seat with his right hand. Hampton was about to try to put his hands on Hall when Hall displayed a pistol, turned to point it at Hampton and “appeared to squeeze the grip and trigger as if trying to shoot him.”
Hampton drew his gun, yelled “gun gun gun, he’s got a gun!” to alert the other two troopers. The DA’s report said Hampton assessed his backdrop – heavy Hwy. 20 traffic – and concluded there was too great a risk of hitting a passing car. Hall sped off eastbound on Highway 20 and the three troopers gave chase in their cars.
Hampton authorized Duran to use the “Pursuit Intervention Technique” (PIT) maneuver to stop Hall, but the traffic prompted them to not do so and instead pursue Hall at much lower speed through downtown Sisters, presuming spike strips would be deployed or traffic would be diverted from the highway, making for a safer stop of Hall’s car.
Duran said he saw Hall “waving the pistol in the air” and pointing it back at him on several occasions during the pursuit, more than once taking evasive maneuvers, “believing he was about to be shot.” When traffic slowed, raising the risk of such gunfire, Duran said he fell back to a safer distance.
Three miles east of Sisters, as Hall approached spike strips and stopped westbound traffic, Hall slowed and turned onto Harrington Loop. At that point, the DA said, Duran “PITted” Hall’s car by alignging the right front of his patrol car with the left rear of Hall’s and abruptly turning into it, causing it to spin counter-clockwise.
The DA said Duran, who “was extremely fearful of being shot and killed,” recalled “looking directly at (Hall) and the gun’s still in the same position, about head level, still up in the air.” He could not see clearly due to the tinted window, he noted, but saw “the silhouette of this person with a gun as I’m going right by him.”
Duran jumped out of his car and drew his gun, still seeing that silhouette of the driver “with a gun still up in the air,” and was screaming at him to drop the gun – but Flaherty said “Hall started to point the gun back toward” Duran.
Hampton ran to the car and also saw Hall “still had a pistol in his hand” and soon turned toward him.
Both men fired simultaneously, Flaherty said -- Duran fired 14 rounds and Hampton six. Duran said each time he fired, he saw Hall with the gun up in the air. He said he stopped firing when he lost sight of Hall. Hampton said he saw through a hole in the rear driver’s side window that Hall was dead. They broke out the driver’s window to gain access to the locked car.
Hall had a cocked stainless steel 1911 model .45 ACP in his lap, between his hand, and the thumb safety was in the off position. An examination of the pistol found there was a round in the chamber, five rounds in the magazine and a casing on the passenger side floor.
Under state law, Flaherty noted, police – or anyone – is justified in using deadly physical force “if he reasonably believes that the other person is using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force against him or another person” and that such use of deadly force “is necessary to defend himself or the other person.”
The DA found that “it was objectively reasonable” for the two troopers “to believe that Mr. Hall presented an imminent threat” of serious injury or death to them or others “during the roughly 15-minute duration of this incident.”