Alleging excessive force, mother sues city, Salem officer who killed son

Arcadio Castillo III (Courtesy/Anderson Strategic Communications)

The mother of a man shot and killed by a Salem police officer in July 2021 is suing the officer and the city, alleging excessive force led to her son’s death. 

Misty Castillo filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Salem Police Department officer Nathan Bush and the city of Salem in Oregon U.S. District Court.

Arcadio Castillo III, 23, had a history of mental illness and related abuse of marijuana and alcohol, according to a Tuesday news release on behalf of an attorney representing his mother in the lawsuit.

Castillo’s mother in the lawsuit alleged Bush failed to await cover officers’ arrival and failed to contact and wait for Salem police’s Behavioral Health Unit, Tactical Negotiations Team or other officers with more training in behavioral health, crisis intervention and de-escalation before entering the home.

She also alleged he failed to knock and announce his presence and intention to enter before doing so, prioritize removing the father from the residence over engaging directly with Castillo III, and use crisis intervention tactics and training “before resorting to deadly force.”

She is seeking compensation for damages to be determined by a jury trial, the complaint said.

Salem Police Department spokeswoman Angela Hedrick said early Tuesday evening the department refrains from making statements on pending litigation. “In instances such as these, we participates fully in the proceedings as they are matters which are taken seriously,” she said in an email.

The city of Salem did not respond to an email requesting comment.

A Marion County grand jury found Bush justified in shooting Castillo III on Aug. 10, 2021. A press release from the district attorney’s office that day described Castillo III running toward Bush with a knife, prompting the officer to fire.

But the lawsuit instead says Bush fired on Castillo III almost immediately after entering the home without giving the man an opportunity to put down his knife.

Castillo III suffered from depression, anxiety, ADHD and substance abuse disorder, for which his parents were seeking mental health services through Marion County to get him civilly committed because he was a danger to himself and others, the complaint said. 

Salem police were called to their home on at least nine separate occasions between April 16, 2020 and July 9, 2021 for domestic disturbances “directly” related to Castillo III’s mental and substance abuse disorders, the suit said.

Nine days before his death, Castillo III pleaded guilty in Marion County Circuit Court to attempting to assault his mother on June 19, 2021, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in March 2021 to attempting to assault his sister that January and violating a court’s no contact order by having contact with her and entering her residence.

Salem police also previously arrested Castillo in September 2020 for violating a restraining order that prevented him from having contact with his mother. He pleaded guilty that same month in Marion County Circuit Court to harassing his sister in July 2020, court records showed.

At 11:21 p.m. on July 9, 2021, Castillo III’s mother called 911 to report her son was “mentally ill, intoxicated, under the influence of marijuana, assaulting family members and armed with a knife,” the complaint said.

Before arriving at their home at 3796 June Ave. N.E. in Salem, the complaint said, Bush was informed and aware “that he was responding to a subject that was mentally ill and in crisis.”

When Bush arrived nearly two minutes after the call, he saw Castillo III on the front porch of the home and his mother in the front yard. As Bush approached the home on foot, the complaint said, Castillo III turned, went inside the house and closed the door.

Bush spoke briefly with Castillo III’s mother and learned he had assaulted her and his father, Arcadio Castillo Jr., who was inside the house with him.

The officer then drew his gun, walked onto the front porch, listened at the front door and heard the younger Castillo’s voice ask his father to “tell them to leave,” the complaint said.

The suit alleges Bush turned the knob on the front door, found it unlocked and swung it open without knocking or determining how close other responding officers were to arriving. Bush then saw Castillo III holding “a large kitchen knife” in his right hand with his right arm held down to his side, standing about 12 feet away directly in front of the officer. Castillo III’s father, meanwhile, stood somewhere near the front door to his left and was “not under any threat or danger by Arcadio,” the complaint said.

Bush, upon seeing the knife in Castillo III’s hand, shouted “Put the knife down, put it down!” the complaint said.

“Immediately and without pause thereafter,” the complaint said, “Bush fired four rounds from his duty weapon at Arcadio.” All four gunshots struck Castilo III in the upper chest, killing him.

According to the complaint, at no point before Bush fired shots did Castillo III raise the knife, make a movement in his or his father’s direction or otherwise threaten either of them, and Bush at no point gave Castillo III a “reasonable opportunity” to comply with his order to put down the knife or give a “fair warning” that he intended to use deadly force.

Around 11:24, less than two minutes after arriving at the Castillos’ home, Bush announced over his radio that he’d fired shots, the complaint said.

“The Castillo family is devastated by the tragic and preventable loss of their son,” said Ron Sayer, a Salem-based attorney representing Misty Castillo in the lawsuit, in the news release. “They reached out for help to those sworn to protect and serve. We hope this case shines a light on the dire need for police departments to utilize behavioral health and crisis negotiation officers when responding to community members experiencing mental health crises. Lives depend on this critical training and the judgment, skill and discipline of officers to apply it.”

A photo collage Misty Castillo has of her son, Arcadio Castillo III (Courtesy/Anderson Strategic Communications)

The district attorney gave the following account of events following the grand jury ruling in August 2021, which differed from those laid out in the lawsuit.

The 911 call by Castillo III’s mother was interrupted, and the sounds of a struggle and screaming could be heard as the line went dead. She later told police her son followed her, assaulted her and took the phone from her.

The dispatcher’s call back to her phone went straight to voicemail.

Bush arrived to find Castillo III’s mother with injuries to her hand, wrist, knee and lower leg as a result of her son slamming her into her car, knocking her to the ground and then dragging her across the cement. She told Bush that she needed his help and that he needed to go in the house and protect her husband.

Bush walked to the front door and heard two male voices, one of which “seemed to be growing increasingly agitated,” the district attorney’s office said in the news release. After opening the door, Bush ordered Castillo III to drop the knife several times. Castillo III walked slowly toward Bush, then stopped, turned and began to walk away.

The district attorney’s office said in the release that Bush viewed the moment as an opportunity to get Castillo III’s father out of the house to safety. Bush took a step inside and motioned the father to come outside.

As he did, the release said, Castillo III turned and rushed toward Bush with the knife raised “in a stabbing position,” closing the previously 12-foot distance to 5 feet. Bush fired four shots in rapid succession, causing Castillo III to collapse to the floor.

Bush called for medics and began “life saving measures” on Castillo III, the district attorney’s office said. Castillo III died at the scene.

His mother said in an interview with police that night that her son’s anger and violence had been escalating over the past few months and that, before she called 911, her son hit and kicked both her and her husband and threatened them with a butcher knife, the district attorney’s office said.

When she told her son she was calling 911, he said “he wasn’t going to be leaving his house and that if anyone tried to take him from his house, he was going to stab ‘em,” the release said.

The grand jury heard testimony from Oregon State Police detectives and reviewed dozens of exhibits including pictures, a neighboring house’s Nest security camera video, and recorded statements from Misty Castillo and Arcadio Castillo Jr. taken the night of the shooting. The parents also testified before the grand jury in person and under oath. 

This story was updated after the Salem Police Department provided a response.

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

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!