UPDATE: The governor’s office clarified Monday night that before it took any action, Thomas Healy’s release date was set for October 2021.
A Salem man charged with shooting and killing another man in a Geer Park encampment in August was in 2020 released early from prison under criteria set by Gov. Kate Brown.
A Marion County grand jury indicted Thomas Patrick Healy, 56, on charges of second-degree murder and possessing a firearm as a felon on Sept. 15, according to court records. The charges allege Healy shot and killed 35-year-old Scott George Tanner on Aug. 27.
Police arrested Healy last week in central Oregon.
The shooting occurred 20 months after Healy was released from state prison. He was one of 567 people Brown made eligible for early release in 2020 over concerns about Covid, according to the commutation list.
Prior to any action taken by the governor’s office, Healy’s release date was set for October 2021, according to agency spokesman Charles Boyle. The state Department of Corrections reduced his sentence due to earned time credits for lack of misconduct in custody and credit for time served while in county custody, Boyle said in an email Monday night.
“Healy was granted COVID-19 early release in December 2020, but would have otherwise finished his sentence in October 2021, almost a year before this crime took place,” he said. The governor’s office did not respond to emails until after publication.
Brown in June 2020 requested the corrections department review people in custody who were vulnerable to serious illness or death from Covid for possible commutation.
People were eligible for early release only if the department’s medical staff determined they were “particularly vulnerable” to Covid, they were not serving a sentence for a crime against a person, had served at least half of their sentence and had a record of good conduct for the last year. They also had to have a “suitable housing plan,” have their out-of-custody health care needs addressed and “not present an unacceptable safety, security, or compliance risk to the community,” Brown wrote in a June 2020 letter to Senate President Peter Courtney and then-Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, now a candidate for governor in the Nov. 8 election.
Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson on Monday confirmed the governor granted Healy clemency.
“As this is an open and pending case, neither I, nor anyone else in my office can comment further,” she said in an email.
Brown also announced a plan in October 2021 to consider early release for dozens of Oregonians serving prison sentences for crimes committed as minors. The plan has been held up by litigation since January, but a state appeals court judge in August ruled that Brown had legally exercised her clemency power in her commutation plan.
Healy pleaded guilty in October 2016 to second-degree burglary and first-degree theft in Lincoln County Circuit Court. Two months later, he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, five counts of second-degree burglary and possessing a firearm as a felon in Marion County Circuit Court.
He was sentenced to seven years and six months total in prison for the two cases in October and December 2016 but was released after his sentence was commuted on Dec. 17, 2020.
Healy has pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges dating back to 1989, including possession of a controlled substance, interference with making a report, theft and criminal mischief, state court records show.
On Aug. 27 at 2:44 a.m., several Salem Police Department officers responded to a call from a woman reporting her husband had been shot in the neck at 261 Geer Dr. N.E and was not breathing, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant.
Officers reported they arrived to find a woman screaming and laying on top of a man later identified as Tanner in the parking lot at Geer Park just south of a baseball diamond. The man was dead upon police arrival from an apparent gunshot wound to the neck near his left ear, the affidavit said.
An officer found a spent bullet casing on the ground about three feet from the victim’s feet.
Police interviewed a witness who was parked near where the shooting occurred. She told police she fell asleep in her vehicle at the park, and later woke to the sound of a male yelling “oh yeah mother (expletive)” and the sound of scuffling before hearing a gunshot. She sat up to see what was happening and saw a forest green SUV drive out of the parking lot onto Northeast Geer Park Drive.
The woman who reported the shooting later told police in an interview that she met Tanner five years earlier and they had been married for three years. She and Tanner became homeless in September 2021 and had since been living out of her car.
The woman said she and Tanner had gone the morning of the shooting to meet up with Healy to get milk Healy had bought for them earlier in the day. She had known Healy for about four weeks and said he was also homeless and lived out of his car.
She told police she pulled into Geer Park around 2:20 a.m. that morning to meet Healy while Tanner sat in the front passenger seat, parking next to Healy, who was sitting in the driver’s side of his car. She walked over to Healy’s car and talked with him, and Tanner eventually started yelling at her, complaining that he was cold because she had left the driver door open.
The woman talked with Healy for about ten minutes before Tanner called her a name and told her to get him a cigarette. While she walked over to her driver door and reached through the window to get Tanner a cigarette, she saw Healy standing outside her front passenger door.
Healy opened the passenger door and “swung” at Tanner, who used his arms to block the punch before trying to kick Healy.
The woman, afraid Tanner would try to fight Healy, said she grabbed his shoulder and prevented him from getting out of the car. She then saw Healy pull a gun from the back of his waistband and point it at Tanner.
She let go of Tanner and ran around the front of the car to try to deescalate the situation when she heard Healy, still pointing the gun at Tanner, say, “I’ll shoot you mother (expletive). I’ll kill you.”
Tanner replied, “Shoot me mother (expletive), shoot me.”
The woman said Healy fired one shot and Tanner fell to the ground. Healy then ran to his car and drove out of the park in an unknown direction.
Salem detectives eventually located Healy in central Oregon, Salem police announced in a statement Nov. 2.
Around 7:45 a.m. that morning, Bend Police Department detectives and the Central Oregon Emergency Response Team arrested Healy in the 20000 block of Willopa Court in Bend, serving a warrant out of Salem.
He was booked into Deschutes County Jail and transferred Nov. 3 to Marion County Jail, where he was being held without bail as of Monday afternoon.
A status check hearing for Healy’s case is scheduled for Nov. 16 at 8 a.m.
This story was updated after the governor’s office clarified Monday night that before it took any action, Thomas Healy’s release date was set for October 2021, before the Geer Park shooting occurred.
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.