Grand jury rules Salem police justified in fatally shooting man at Northgate Park

A memorial for Richard Meyers at Northgate Park on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A Marion County grand jury on Thursday unanimously found three Salem police officers were justified in shooting and killing Richard Allan Meyers on Feb. 7 after attempting to stop his vehicle at Northgate Park.

A statement released Thursday night by the Marion County District Attorney’s Office said the officers fired a total of 22 shots at Meyers after Meyers pointed what appeared to be a shotgun or rifle at responding Officer Griffin McDowell.

Following the shooting, officers found a pellet gun in Meyers’ car.

Five bullets struck Meyers, and an autopsy found he died from gunshot wounds to the chest. The statement was the first acknowledgement that Salem officers shot Meyers during the confrontation. 

Four civilians, witnesses with the Salem Police Department, investigators with the Oregon State Police and Meyers’ sister Rachel Coble provided testimony to the grand jury, who reviewed videos taken by local residents and police, photograms, scene diagrams, police radio recordings, ballistics, firearms and Meyers’ autopsy.

The pellet gun found in Richard Meyers’ car after Salem police fatally shot him on Feb. 7, 2022 at Northgate Park (Marion County District Attorney)

Meyers’ relatives said he was homeless and living in his car when he was killed, and said they’d tried numerous times to get him help for mental illnesses without success.

Despite Meyers’ history of interactions with Salem police, the statement said none of the officers who shot him or attempted to stop him recognized Meyers or had prior contact with him.

The district attorney’s office gave the following account of the police pursuit and shooting:

Around 12:37 a.m. on Feb. 7, Salem officer Griffin McDowell saw a gold 1995 Mercedes near Northeast Hawthorne and Market streets. Inside the car were Meyers and his pit bull Zeeva.

McDowell saw Meyers pull into a parking lot and believed he was trying to avoid police contact. The officer learned through records that the car was recently sold and had no insurance or registered owner.

Meyers then drove the car away from the parking lot and turned north on Hawthorne without stopping before entering the road.

“This is a traffic infraction, and Officer McDowell chose to follow the vehicle and initiate a traffic stop,” the news release said.

After McDowell turned on his lights to pull the car over, Meyers accelerated back toward Hawthorne and turned north again. McDowell then radioed other officers and continued to follow Meyers, who ran two red lights.

Meyers pulled into the northeast parking lot of Northgate Park, which has one access point from Hawthorne.

McDowell and two other Salem officers, David Bakr and Chad Treichler, then pulled in and tried to box in Meyers’ car. 

They saw Meyers yelling at them and “could see that he was clearly agitated,” the news release said.

Treichler got out of his patrol car and pointed his gun at the ground as Meyers asked if officers wanted to “see my hands,” according to the statement. At the same time, Meyers flashed his hands at officers and quickly dropped them back into his lap. 

Meyers then turned his car around and drove westward onto a sidewalk, down a berm and into a gully in the park. While driving out of the gully, he damaged the front driver side of his car by hitting a tree and drove onto a field in the middle-north end of Northgate Park.

Broken glass on tire tread marks following the Feb. 7 fatal police shooting of Richard Meyers at Northgate Park (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The district attorney’s office released dashboard camera video they said was taken from inside Meyers’ car. A clip captured before Meyers drove down the berm recorded a man yelling, “(Expletive) you! You’re going to have to shoot me! Shoot me mother (expletive)! Shoot me! Shoot me!”

By then, Salem officer Jonathan McNichols and Marion County Sheriff’s deputy Joshua Tribby had also responded to the park, and more officers were on their way.

Officers saw Meyers “fishtailing” the car in the muddy field and noted he appeared to be stuck or unable to control the car, according to the statement. 

McDowell testified to the grand jury that he was concerned Meyers would keep driving uncontrollably across the field – which was near a homeless encampment – toward Fairhaven Avenue to get away. 

McDowell, Baker, Treichler and McNichols approached Meyers from different angles to try to box him in.

As McDowell put his car in park, he saw Meyers “lean towards the steering wheel holding what looked like a sawed-off shotgun or rifle” pointed straight at McDowell.

McDowell then drew his pistol and fired around three to four shots through his windshield toward Meyers, who was still in his car. Meyers turned away from McDowell and lowered his hands, staying in the driver’s seat with the front driver door open.

McDowell stopped firing, got out of his car to get a clearer view of Meyers’ car and yelled to officers that Meyer had pointed a gun at him. Meyers then turned back around and again pointed the “object” at McDowell, who fired “a second volley of shots at Meyers’ through the Mercedes’ windshield,” according to the statement.

McNichols then fired eight shots at Meyers. The three officers fired 22 shots total at Meyers, striking him five times and his car at least 18 times.

Officers spent next three and half minutes trying to arrest Meyers, who they said wasn’t complying.

Dash cam video from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office following the shooting.

Dash camera footage from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office shows the scene following the shooting as police repeatedly order Meyers to get out of the car.

A man, presumably Meyers, responds, “I can’t” and at one point says, “I can’t breathe, I’m dying.”

“Meyers appeared injured and in pain, and sometimes even responded to the officers’ commands stating that he was unable to show his hands,” according to the statement. He later got out of his car and fell to the ground, where officers got him “safely in custody” and then began medical aid.

Preliminary toxicology results from Meyers autopsy showed he had methamphetamine in his system, the statement said.

Meyers’ pit bull also suffered an injury to the face and gunshot wound to the leg, and was taken to a Portland-area veterinarian. Salem police offered to pay for the procedure, estimated to cost $10,000, but the family decided to put the dog down.

“From any perspective, this case is a tragedy. My heart goes out to the Meyers family in what must be a very difficult time,” Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson wrote in the statement. “Accessing mental health services remains too difficult, especially for family members trying to help their loved one. And while we have taken steps to divert individuals suffering from a mental health crisis from the criminal justice system, police officers are not omniscient. It is unfair to ask them to fill so many gaps in our mental health system. It is flat out misguided to expect them to do that while staring down the barrel of what looks like a gun.”

“We understand the process can sometimes leave the community with questions, since we cannot immediately share case details during the investigation and grand jury proceedings. However, I am grateful the process is now complete, allowing for the full facts to be revealed. I encourage residents to review the findings provided by the District Attorney’s Office,” Salem police Chief Trevor Womack said in a statement.

Richard Meyers (Courtesy/Rachel Coble)

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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