Since the day Brian Babb was shot by a member of the Eugene Police Department, the veteran’s family has questioned the events and policies that led to Babb’s death.
However, Eugene’s police auditor Mark Gissiner says a flawed report by the Lane County Interagency Deadly Force Investigation Team (IDFIT) means the family still doesn’t have closure, and indicates to Gissiner that the way deadly force investigations are handled in Lane County needs a number of improvements.
Gissiner’s concerns range from the fact that the investigative team left the bullet that killed Babb still lodged in the wall of his home to leaving Babb’s body for far too long in the doorway where he was killed.
Babb was shot by EPD Officer Will Stutesman March 30, after the veteran with PTSD called his therapist and told her he had fired a bullet from his 9-mm handgun into the floor of his home. The therapist called EPD, and within an hour Babb was dead.
Gissiner points out that the IDFIT team never fingerprinted the 9-mm weapon later found in Babb’s truck to confirm it was the same gun. Nor was the rifle Babb was holding when he died fingerprinted or DNA tested.
Eugene’s Civilian Review Board (CRB) presented its findings on the Babb shooting in late October and, while it found the shooting within EPD policy, it too criticized the IDFIT investigation.
Under Oregon law, the way deadly force investigations are handled varies county to county. Each county develops a framework and a plan outlining its policies and procedures on deadly force investigations. The plans are then approved by cities within each county and finally forwarded to the Oregon Attorney General for review and approval.
Gissiner says because police shootings are infrequent, the investigation team dispatched to Lane County tends to be inexperienced, leading to flaws.
When the Babb shooting was brought to the CRB for review, Gissiner says the review board’s ability to be precise was “hampered,” and it’s “not fair for the family, the officer and the community that every stone is not turned.”
The fact that the IDFIT team did not recognize that the bullet from the rifle had gone through Babb’s head, rather than remaining in his body, is indicative of the team’s lack of experience in these investigations, according to Gissiner, who suggests EPD conduct an immediate walkthrough of the scene with the involved officer.
Despite EPD’s use of cameras and recordings, there is no recording of the shooting itself, which took place from a tank-like vehicle called a BearCat. A fence in Babb’s yard obscured the view from the camera in the BearCat until after he was shot. There was no audio recording inside the vehicle.
Gissiner points out that though the driver of the BearCat corroborated Stutesman’s claim that Babb raised his rifle before the officer fired, no sightline investigation was done to ensure this was possible.
The IDFIT team arrived nearly three hours after Babb was shot. This meant that Babb’s body was left to lie there for several hours. Gissiner points out that this very thing was what initially spurred the indignation over Michael Brown’s shooting by police in Missouri.
The IDFIT delay also meant, Gissiner says, that valuable information was lost: No overhead or drone pictures of the scene could be taken because of the falling darkness, and Gissiner says the IDFIT setup means there was no incident command at the scene.
Gissiner and the CRB have included in their recommendations that EPD assume incident command and the auditor’s office be called in to monitor the investigation until IDFIT arrives.
Also, because of the delay, the claims of a witness who said he had a partial view of Babb during the events were not validated. Babb’s sister, Stephanie Babb, tells EW, “According to a neighbor watching, Brian never shouldered his weapon. He was turning to go back inside.”
The IDFIT structure made it unclear whether the investigation was criminal or administrative. Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow has since made clear that such investigations should be criminal, Gissiner says. But, because the Babb investigation was not criminal, Stutesman’s testimony was considered voluntary and rather than being recorded, it was simply transcribed, he says.
According to the IDFIT report, Stutesman was not interviewed until April 2, two days later. Meanwhile, Babb’s ex-wife Stephanie Woodcock, who came to the scene to find that the father of her children had been killed, was interviewed right away, during a time she tells EW she was still in shock.
Stephanie Babb says, “I appreciate Mark Gissiner’s candid expression of disappointment at the lack of facts.” She adds that at a recent CRB meeting “a few other board members were just as open criticizing the shoddy and incomplete investigation.”
In terms of the shooting itself, Gissiner says that, given the situation, EPD’s use of the BearCat was appropriate, though he says the vehicle needs state-of-the-art technology such as audio recording and a pole-camera to fully document the incidents it responds to.
But Gissiner says in his report “that the police presence did not de-escalate Mr. Babb” and the “negotiator had facts that should have caused him to recognize that getting a rational response to police commands would be at best difficult.”
Stephanie Babb and the Babb family continue to question the shooting and to work to prevent such incidents in the future. They plan to bring a bill before the Legislature that would change the way police deal with veterans.
Stephanie Babb says, “This is a gross miscarriage of justice. It breaks my heart and has shattered my trust in the people I have always relied on to do the right thing and protect us.”
The full CRB presentation and its recommendations is available at bit.ly/1QuLiN9.