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Wallowa County Grand Jury Finds Use of Deadly Physical Force Justified
06/05/2009
Mona K. Williams
Wallowa County District Attorney
Enterprise, Oregon
Office: (541) 426-4543 ext. 26

On June 3, 2009 the Wallowa County District Attorney, Mona K. Williams, with the assistance of O. Scott Jackson from the Oregon Department of Justice, presented to the Wallowa County Grand Jury the results of the investigation into the officer-involved shooting of James A. Blair on May 21, 2009 in the city of Wallowa, Oregon.
 
The Grand Jury found that the actions of Oregon State Police Trooper Brian Miller and Senior Trooper Berry Taft, and Deputy Kevin McQuead of the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office, which resulted in the death of James A. Blair, were a justified use of deadly physical force.
 
The following is a summary of the evidence presented to the Grand Jury:
 
At approximately 8:08 p.m. on the night of May 21, 2009, the dispatch officer for the Wallowa County Sheriff received a call from a citizen of the city of Wallowa reporting an incident of public indecency at 308 N. Pine Street, Wallowa, Oregon. The location is directly across the street from the Little League field where a game had just ended.
 
Trooper Brian Miller was first to arrive at the scene where he talked to neighbors and determined that the suspect, James A. Blair, was inside his residence at 308 N. Pine Street. Trooper Miller parked his marked police vehicle about a block from the residence where he could see the residence and, for safety reasons, awaited the arrival of additional law enforcement officers.
 
Approximately 20 minutes later, Deputy Kevin McQuead arrived at Trooper Miller's location. Deputy McQuead and Trooper Miller were met there by the reporting citizen who told the officers that during the Little League baseball game earlier in the evening she had seen Blair committing three different acts of public indecency in the presence of children.
 
Shortly thereafter Deputy McQuead and Trooper Miller were joined by Senior Trooper Berry Taft. The three officers then approached the residence in their marked police vehicles with Deputy McQuead and Senior Trooper Taft parking across the street from the front corner of the residence and Trooper Miller going around the ball field and parking at the rear of the residence.
 
Deputy McQuead and Senior Trooper Taft approached the front door of Blair's residence while Trooper Miller stayed where he could see the back door. Deputy McQuead knocked on the front door, but Blair did not respond immediately. After a short period of time Blair did open the front door but not the screen door. Deputy McQuead and Senior Trooper Taft were both in full uniform displaying badges, and Blair acknowledged that they were "cops" but refused to come outside the residence to talk to them. Trooper Miller, hearing that a conversation was occurring, moved from the rear of the house to the front corner where he could see Deputy McQuead and Senior Trooper Taft and hear what was being said.
 
After repeated attempts through conversation to get Blair to exit the residence, Deputy McQuead informed Blair that he (McQuead) would have no choice but to come inside to get him. At that point Blair told Deputy McQuead that if he tried to come inside, he (Blair) would shoot himself. Blair then turned and quickly moved into the living room of the house. Upon hearing the threat and seeing Blair move into the house, Deputy McQuead broke through the screen and opened the locked screen door. Deputy McQuead entered the house with Senior Trooper Taft right behind him. Neither officer had drawn a weapon prior to entry.
 
As he entered the small living room, Deputy McQuead saw that Blair had picked up a handgun and was leveling it at him. Deputy McQuead yelled at Blair, saying "no" and tackled Blair, pushing him into a window at the side of the living room. Blair fired one shot from under Deputy
McQuead's arm that missed Senior Trooper Taft by inches and was lodged in the wall in the area of the front door. Senior Trooper Taft then joined the struggle to disarm Blair who was still trying to fire his handgun.
 
As Blair had fired, Trooper Miller had entered the room, saw the struggle and realized the danger represented by Blair. Trooper Miller fired his handgun twice, hitting Blair once in the shoulder and once in the head. Blair went limp after the second shot, and Senior Trooper Taft was then able to remove the gun from Blair's hand and set it safely aside. The entire incident, from the time Deputy McQuead broke through the screen to the time Blair was disarmed, took approximately 11 seconds.
 
Senior Trooper Taft confirmed that Blair was deceased. Deputy McQuead radioed that shots had been fired and requested an ambulance. After confirming that none of them had been shot, the three officers secured the scene and awaited the arrival of medics and additional officers. The scene was kept secure through the night by employees of the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office.
 
Detectives from the Baker City and La Grande offices of the Oregon State Police arrived in Wallowa County within hours of the incident and immediately began the process to obtain a search warrant for Blair's residence. The warrant was issued by Judge Russell B. West at 7:55 am on May 22, 2009 and first executed at 9:02 am on the same day.
 
Investigators discovered that the handgun fired by Blair had one spent casing, five remaining live rounds and was in a half-cocked position, indicating that during the struggle Blair was attempting a second shot. Also discovered in the living room, in the area of the struggle, was a second, fully loaded handgun. In the bedroom was a night stand with an open drawer containing what appeared to be the holster for the handgun fired by Blair and a bag full of ammunition.
 
The investigation was conducted by representatives of the Oregon State Police, the Union County Major Crimes Team and the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office with the assistance from criminalists with the Oregon State Police Crime Labs in Pendleton and Portland.
 
An autopsy was performed by Dr. Karen Gunson, the Oregon State Medical Examiner, on May 25, 2009. The cause of death was reported as a gunshot wound to the head and chest.