Salem Police Officer Justified in Using Deadly Force on April, 2, 2021

Posted on April 24, 2021

Marion Co. Dist. Attorney’s Office – 04/23/21 5:02 PM

Today a Marion County Grand Jury found that the police shooting of Natzeryt Viertel on April 2, 2021, was a lawful and justified use of deadly force.

At approximately 5:02 pm on that day, Jessica Rothgery called 9-1-1 to report that her son, Natzeryt Viertel, DOB 9-2-98, had cut his wrist and needed medical attention. She went on to report that her son had a history of mental illness, that he would not take his prescribed medication and that he had been using methamphetamine.[1]  She also reported that he had a history of acting violently, “smashing things,” and that she did not know if he had any weapons on him.  Ms. Rothgery told the 9-1-1 operator she was locked inside her minivan parked in the driveway of her residence, which she had done to get away from her son.  Ms. Rothgery stayed on the phone and continued to give the 9-1-1 operator information until members of Salem Fire arrived. [2]

At 5:09 pm, while Ms. Rothgery was still on the phone with 9-1-1, Salem Fire arrived at her residence, located at 430 SE Ewald Ave.  The firefighters[3] first spoke with Ms. Rothgery who had exited the minivan upon their arrival.  Ms. Rothgery told them that she believed her son had gone to the backyard and directed them how to get back there.  She also told them that she did not believe he had access to any guns since earlier that day he had asked her to buy a gun so that she could shoot him.[4]

As the firefighters made their way towards the back yard they heard a lot of noise coming from a shed near the back of the house.  They then heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being racked.  Immediately after that they saw Natzeryt Viertel walk out of the shed with a sawed off shotgun in his hands.  Natzeryt Viertel had blood on his arms and face and appeared to the firefighters to be under the influence of drugs.  Natzeryt Viertel then pointed the shotgun at Kyle Holestine, the closest firefighter, and pulled the trigger.  Instead of a shotgun blast, there was only a “click”.  Kyle Holestine told the rest of his crew to get back and they started retreating towards their fire truck.  Kyle Holestine, who is the “patient care” member of his team, tried to remain calm and talk to Natzeryt Viertel, explaining they were only there to help him.  In response, Natzeryt Viertel re-racked the shotgun and began advancing towards Kyle Holestine.  He was yelling about the police and Kyle Holestine heard him say something to the effect of, “They weren’t supposed to call the cops on me.”  Kyle Holestine noticed that Natzeryt Viertel was shaking as he advanced but that he never quit pointing the gun at him.

At that point, Kyle Holestine also began to retreat towards the fire truck and Natzeryt Viertel followed.  Kyle Holestine told the team members who were already at the truck to leave, but they refused to go without him.  As soon as Kyle Holestine reached the fire truck he ducked down believing that Natzeryt Viertel was going to shoot him, and the fire truck quickly drove a safe distance down the street to wait.  The firefighters then called “Code 3” over the radio and reported that Natzeryt Viertel had a shotgun and that his mother was attempting to disarm him.

At that same time a number of Salem Police Officers were already responding to the call and heard this new information.  At 5:16, Corporal Clint Sealey and Sergeant Steve Galvin arrived almost simultaneously at 430 SE Ewald Ave and parked at the entrance to the driveway.  Both were driving clearly marked Salem Police SUV patrol vehicles with light bars on the roofs.  Additionally, they were both wearing standard Salem Police uniforms which clearly identified them as police officers.

Because this address has a long gravel driveway with dense overgrown bushes on both sides it was difficult to see the house.  This was made worse by the fact that there were two vehicles parked side by side in the driveway, facing the street, further obscuring a view of the residence.  Once Corporal Sealey and Sergeant Galvin exited their respective vehicles, they were able to see Jessica Rothgery down the driveway waving her arms at them. They were now sure they had found the correct location but they could not see Natzeryt Viertel, nor could they tell if Ms. Rothgery was in danger or the circumstances of her distress.

As Corporal Sealey and Sergeant Galvin began walking down the driveway towards the house they temporarily lost sight of Ms. Rothgery due to the overgrown bushes and vehicles in the driveway.  As they got closer they suddenly saw her again near the house.  This time, however, they could partially see Natzeryt Viertel as well. He was near his mother and appeared to be pulling away from her as she yelled something and attempted to grab him.  Natzeryt Viertel then quickly stepped behind the minivan (the closest to the house of the two side by side vehicles) only to appear seconds later coming from between the two vehicles and toward the police at a fast pace. As Natzeryt Viertel became visible Corporal Sealey and Sergeant Galvin they saw that he had a shot gun in his hands.  Corporal Sealey then pointed his rifle at Natzeryt Viertel and yelled to for him to “Drop the gun!”  Instead of dropping the shotgun, Natzeryt Viertel pointed the shotgun at the two police officers and Corporal Sealey, believing that he and/or Sergeant Galvin were about to be killed, fired at Natzeryt Viertel, striking him in the chest. Despite immediate lifesaving efforts, Natzeryt Viertel died at the scene.[5]

The Oregon State Police conducted the investigation and the Marion County District Attorney’s Office presented evidence to the Grand Jury.  The Grand Jury reviewed dozens of photographs and heard the testimony of seven witnesses, including Kyle Holestine, Sergeant Steve Galvin and Corporal Clint Sealey.  They also heard testimony from Natzeryt Viertel’s mother, Jessica Rothgery who witnessed the shooting.  While it was no doubt painful for Ms. Rothgery to relive the events of that day, she was clear in her opinion that Corporal Sealey had no choice, based on her son’s actions, but to use deadly force against her son.

The Grand Jury applied the facts of this case to the legal principles[6] dictating circumstances when deadly physical force can be used. Specifically, the Grand Jury found that the officer reasonably believed the following:

Natzeryt Viertel had committed and attempted to commit felonies involving the use or threatened use of physical force against a person;
Deadly physical force was necessary to defend a peace officer or another person from the use or threatened imminent use of deadly physical force;
Natzeryt Viertel had committed felonies or attempted to commit felonies and under the totality of the circumstances existing at the time and place, the use of such force was justified; and
The officers’ life or personal safety was endangered in the particular circumstances involved.

Based upon all the evidence and the relevant legal principles the Grand Jury ruled that the use of deadly force by Salem Police Corporal Clint Sealey was lawful and justified.

District Attorney Paige Clarkson stated “I want to thank the Grand Jury for their thorough and thoughtful review of this incident.  An incident that highlights the very dangerous work our first responders do every day.  I’m grateful that these firefighters and officers returned home safely to their loved ones on this day.  This is a tragedy for the family of Natzeryt Viertel and my office extends our sympathy to them.”

 

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