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By Rebecca Woolington
on April 21, 2015 at 6:15 PM, updated April 21, 2015 at 6:44 PM
Beaverton police shooting
Two Beaverton police officers were justified in their fatal shooting of a 29-year-old woman who pointed an unloaded rifle at police last fall, the Washington County District Attorney’s Office has concluded.
Chelsea Fresh was struck in the chest and torso outside her home Nov. 20 near Southridge High School. Officers Dan Coulson and James Beane fired a combined eight rounds from their AR-15 rifles after police say Fresh pointed a rifle at them.
Just before she was shot, Fresh also started moving toward police with her weapon, Washington County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jeff Lesowski wrote in a letter to Beaverton Police Chief Geoff Spalding. Authorities hadn’t released that detail before.
“In this case, after making specific threats to kill police, Ms. Fresh advanced towards officers while raising a rifle which she claimed was loaded,” Lesowski said. “At the time the officers fired, the only reasonable conclusion was that she was about to use deadly force against them.”
Lesowski’s letter also reveals for the first time that the officers each fired four shots at Fresh. She was hit four times. Both officers fired the same type of rifle, and police said it was unclear whose shots struck her. Investigators later found that her rifle was unloaded.
The prosecutor said their actions were justified and reasonable. Because there was no evidence that the officers committed crimes, the case would not be presented to a grand jury for review, he said.
Lesowski’s letter is dated March 25, but the district attorney’s office released it only recently after a request by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
After the shooting, some readers and residents took to social media to ask whether police could have found another solution.
Lesowski noted that Coulson was wearing a personal camera on his uniform, but that he inadvertently left it turned off before the shooting. Lesowski said the camera would not have captured useful footage anyway because Coulson was lying on his stomach while on the call and the camera was on his chest.
Officers responded to the home in the 12000 block of Southwest Conestoga Drive at 3:51 p.m. after Fresh’s boyfriend had called 911 reporting that she was drunk, suicidal and trying to get a knife, Lesowski wrote. She had assaulted him and threatened to kill him, he said.
Fresh’s boyfriend also told police that she was upset because she was losing custody of her child. There were two rifles inside the home, he reported, but no ammunition. The information was relayed to officers.
Police set up outside Fresh’s house and parked an SUV out front. Beane and Officer Chester Lamb took cover behind it. Coulson was lying on the ground to the west of those officers, Lesowski wrote.
Officer Steve Anderson, a crisis negotiator, reached Fresh on the phone. In 18 phone calls, spanning 27 minutes, he spoke to her, Lesowski wrote. He tried to calm Fresh, the prosecutor said, but she told him she had rifles, was suicidal and would “shoot it out with police.” She told police she had ammo for the guns and that was also radioed to officers.
Fresh opened her front door, demanding cigarettes. Neighbors heard her yell, “I’m armed and dangerous” and “I will kill you,” according to Lesowski’s letter.
She opened the door multiple times, yelling at officers, he said. Police said that she came out of the home several times with the rifle.
Lesowski’s letter details two times. One time, she opened the front door while holding one rifle and yelling at police, then she went back inside. Minutes later, she returned outside, holding two rifles, the prosecutor said. She quickly moved down a walkway toward the police SUV, raised one of the rifles in her right hand and pointed it toward the SUV, Lesowski said.
Beane fired from his AR-15, and Lamb fired a 40 mm less-lethal weapon, which shot a blue rubber bullet about the size of racket ball at Fresh. Coulson also fired his AR-15, Lesowski wrote.
Fresh was struck and fell to the ground. Medics tried to revive her, but she died at the scene.
The shooting occurred at 4:41 p.m., 50 minutes after officers received the call, according to police. In the days following the shooting, police said officers didn’t have a chance to use a less-lethal weapon, such as a Taser or the rubber bullets before they fired the deadly rounds.
Lesowski noted that the investigation, conducted by the Washington County Major Crimes Team, took longer than usual because investigators were awaiting results from toxicology tests. The tests showed that Fresh had a blood-alcohol level of .19 percent and had also taken an unspecified antidepressant, sleep aid and anti-seizure medication, he said.
Earlier this month, the officers involved in the shooting were honored at the department’s annual awards ceremony with medals of valor for their actions. At the ceremony, the department noted the officers responded according to their training to protect themselves and the community.
— Rebecca Woolington