DA releases harrowing account of robbery, pursuit and a fatal police shooting in south Salem

An armed Michael J. Compton tried to commandeer one car, yanked keys for another car from a 79-year-old woman and led police on a foot chase in a south Salem business district before dying in a gun battle in which police officers struck him 18 times to stop him, the Marion County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release Friday, Feb. 3.

A Marion County grand jury on Friday unanimously found that five Salem police officers were justified in shooting and killing Compton on Monday, Jan. 23, in a morning gunfight at one of Salem’s busiest commercial districts.

A statement released Thursday evening by the office of District Attorney Paige Clarkson said the officers fired 68 shots at Compton after he ran from and then shot at officers as children on a school bus watched.

Eighteen bullets struck Compton, and an autopsy found he died from gunshot wounds to his back.

VIDEO: WARNING – Graphic image: Police shooting in south Salem

A security camera captures video of Michael J. Compton, wresting car keys away from a 79-year-old Salem woman as she enters Planet Fitness in south Salem on Jan. 23, 2023. Compton fled with her keys and was later killed by Salem police after he fired at them. (Marion County District Attorney’s Office)

Grand jurors heard testimony from 16 witnesses including the Oregon State Police, which led the investigation. They also reviewed exhibits including videos, photographs, scene diagrams, dispatch recordings, ballistic information, firearms and autopsy conclusions.  

The district attorney’s office gave the following account of the police chase and shootout.

At 9:02 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 23, the Salem police received a 911 call reporting that someone had attempted to steal a car at gunpoint in the parking lot of Walmart, 5250 Commercial St. S.E.

At the time, Haley Lyons was driving on the west side of the Walmart parking lot with her passenger, Cooper Pietrok, when a man jumped in front of their vehicle and pointed a gun at them.  

The man, later identified as Compton, 27, told them to “get out of the car” and “I’m going to shoot.”

Pietrok described the gun as small, black and semiautomatic.  He told Lyons to “floor it,” and Compton jumped to the side of the car as it quickly accelerated south in the parking lot. Then, Pietrok called 911.

Meantime, Compton walked to the parking lot of Planet Fitness, 5240 Commercial St. S.E. Lyons and Pietrok at the time were still in the parking lot, watching Compton from a distance, and described him as “zigzagging” through the parking lot while looking into vehicles. 

When Compton saw a responding police vehicle, he started running toward Planet Fitness, Pietrok recounted.

Joan Riley, 79, was entering Planet Fitness to meet friends for their regular workout. She had her keys around her wrist when Compton stepped into the entryway and approached Riley from behind. He grabbed at her keys and said “give me your keys” three or four times.  Riley held onto them. 

As Compton continued pulling on Riley’s keys, he also grabbed her wrist, pulling her outside, a scene caught on the business video.  Riley began to scream “Help!”, and several gym employees and patrons chased Compton into the parking lot as he made off with Riley’s keys. 

She was injured during the incident, as her right middle fingernail was bent back and bleeding, according to the statement.

Officer Robert Acosta of the Salem Police Department by then had responded to the Planet Fitness parking lot and saw Riley being attacked. He turned on his lights and sirens and tried to get his patrol car between Compton and people in the parking lot.

As Compton ran, he threw Riley’s keys over his shoulder. 

Acosta could see that Compton was holding something in the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. The officer watched and pursued as Compton crossed Commercial Street. Compton alternated between walking and jogging, headed north on the sidewalk toward the intersection of Southeast Barnes Avenue and Commercial Street. 

This area is a busy intersection, particularly at that time of day. Commercial Street is the major thruway into downtown Salem from south Salem, with heavy traffic, several businesses, restaurants, at least one coffee shop and “numerous pedestrians” nearby, the district attorney’s office said. .  There is also a city bus stop about 20 yards from the intersection of Commercial and Barnes. 

Acosta drove his patrol car north on Commercial and pulled into the southbound lanes, blocking the lanes in an effort to stop Compton. Emergency lights and the siren had been activated on the patrol car.

Compton walked west down a berm into a Napa Auto Parts parking lot, 5105 Commercial St. S.E. 

“At the time of his attempted stop, Officer Acosta was considering the pedestrian traffic at that busy intersection; that Compton matched the description of the armed, attempted carjacking suspect from the Walmart parking lot; and that he saw Compton attack Riley in the entrance way of Planet Fitness,” the district attorney’s statement said.

Another officer, Reece “Dru” Mathis, had responded to the carjacking call. 

As he was responding, dispatchers relayed updates over his radio about the Planet Fitness incident and said Compton appeared to be carrying a gun, the statement said. When Mathis arrived at the intersection of Barnes and Commercial, he saw a school bus directly ahead of where Compton was going. Mathis stopped his patrol vehicle just south of the school bus, which was carrying seven students to Judson Middle School.  

 Mathis ordered Compton to “Stop!” and “Show me your hands!” Compton replied “No.” 

He saw Compton take cover between two vehicles in the Napa Auto Parts parking lot.

 “Compton pulled a small, black, semi-automatic handgun from the front of his sweatshirt, pointed it at the officers and opened fire,” according to the statement.

Compton ran towards the auto parts store entrance while firing over his shoulder at Acosta. He and Mathis by then were returning fire.

“Compton appeared to get hit in the leg and fell behind a white Jaguar sedan parked near the front of the Napa Auto parts store.  When he fell, Compton dropped his handgun,” the district attorney’s office said.

A driver was sitting in the Jaguar at the time and ducked down as the gunfire broke out. The Jaguar was not struck.

More Salem police arrived.

“As they responded, Compton picked up his handgun, sat up, and again opened fire toward the police,” according to the statement. “Over the next 33 seconds, Compton twice more attempted to sit up and shoot police officers. In total, five Salem police officers fired at Compton who never followed commands, showed his hands, dropped the gun, nor made any motions to surrender.”

The entire exchange of gunfire – starting with Compton pointing his firearm at the officers and ending when officers stopped firing – lasted about 50 seconds.  

In total, Acosta fired 29 rounds and Mathis fired 26.

A gunman fired nine shots at police with this semiautomatic handgun during a morning confrontation in south Salem on Jan. 23, 2023, according to authorities. A Marion County grand jury ruled on Friday, Feb. 3, that five Salem police officers were justified in shooting and killing Michael J. Compton. (Marion County District Attorney’s Office)

The other arriving Salem officers who shot at Compton were identified as  officer Justin Carney, Corporal Kristy Fitzpatrick and Corporal Adam Waite, according to the statement.

Carney arrived moments after the initial rounds were fired, and he parked his patrol SUV just north of the intersection of Barnes and Commercial. As he did so, Compton shot at the officer, with a bullet striking his patrol car windshield. Carney got out his AR15 rifle and fired two rounds at Compton, who by then was on the ground behind the Jaguar firing at officers.   

Fitzpatrick, staging behind Mathis’ patrol vehicle, fired one round.

As Waite arrived on his motorcycle, he couldn’t see past the school bus parked on Barnes, but he could hear shots.  Waite was unsure if the shots were from beyond the bus or inside the bus itself.  But once he arrived, he could see Compton firing at officers. 

“Because Compton was immediately identifiable as a shooter,” Waite positioned behind the bus and fired nine rounds at Compton, the district attorney’s office said.

When Waite was sure that Compton no longer posed an immediate threat, he banged on the bus driver’s window and told her to leave. Several students were on board en route to school.

 “The children were able to see the incident and heard the gunshots.  No students were injured during this incident, and the bus was not hit. The school bus driver testified before the grand jury,” according to the statement.

The investigation showed that Compton fired nine times, pointing his gun at police at least three times.

 In total, officers fired 68 rounds at Compton.  He was hit 18 times. 

Salem police approached Compton, who quickly “succumbed to his injuries” and died at the scene. When officers approached Compton, they found the pistol between his legs, underneath his body. 

No pedestrians, bystanders or officers were injured during the shootout. 

The incident is the first fatal shooting this year by Salem police officers.

A local city bus was also parked on Barnes at the bus station about 20 yards west of the intersection of Barnes and Commercial.  The bus captured “relatively clear video of much of the incident” and was presented to the grand jury, according to the statement.

The video captures the gunfire and a grainy scene of Compton falling to the ground and continuing to aim at pursuing officers.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Keizer Police Department assisted the Oregon State Police with the investigation. 

The state police investigated the shooting because it involved police deadly force. Marion County requires that an uninvolved law enforcement agency conduct such investigations.

Compton pleaded guilty in Clackamas County to reckless driving in 2013, strangulation, menacing and fourth-degree assault in 2016, interfering with a peace officer in 2020, driving under the influence, fourth-degree assault and recklessly endangering another person in 2021 and second-degree theft in April 2022, court records showed.

He also had a warrant for his arrest from Lane County on charges of criminal driving while suspended, attempting to elude a police officer, driving under the Influence and resisting arrest, according to the statement. He had a pending arraignment for a 2022 case in Clackamas County Circuit Court for two counts of second-degree criminal mischief.

Compton lived in Clackamas County and had failed to appear in court for two pending criminal cases, court records showed. 

Compton had no previous criminal activity in Marion County and no known contacts with the Salem police, the district attorney’s office said. The grand jury did not hear evidence of Compton’s criminal history. 

After the grand jury’s ruling, representatives of the district attorney’s office, the Salem police and the Salem-Keizer School District met with several parents who had children on the school bus to give them a summary of what occurred and answer questions.   

“We would like to thank the Salem-Keizer School District for their collaboration to ensure that the parents of these children had the information they needed to appropriately respond to their children’s concerns.  This was a traumatizing incident for everyone involved.” said Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy, who led the investigation with Deputy District Attorney Shannon Sullivan, in the statement.  

The Marion County District Attorney’s Office also met with members of Compton’s family “to explain the legal determination and answer any questions that they had.” Compton’s family told prosecutors that Compton was suffering from mental health issues at the time of his death.

“Mr. Compton’s family expressed overwhelming frustration with the fact that their loved one had recently been in jail in two separate counties but was released before his mental health issues were stabilized,” according to the district attorney’s office.

“It’s not the police officers’ fault, I don’t blame them,” Compton’s father said in the statement relayed by Clarkson’s office. 

“He blamed the inability of parents to access mental health services for their adult children and jails that release individuals who aren’t stable and safe,” the district attorney’s office said.

“The children weren’t the only victims here,” Clarkson said in her statement  “I am thankful that Ms. Riley, Ms. Lyons and Mr. Pietrok were able to go home that night. And in particular, our community owes a debt of gratitude to the five brave officers from the Salem Police Department whose heroism that morning placed themselves in mortal danger in order to ensure the rest of us were safe,” Clarkson said.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Compton did not take the 79-year-old woman’s keys at gunpoint. Salem Reporter apologies for the error.

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.