District attorney rules deadly police shooting was justified

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County District Attorney, ruled Thursday that the police shooting that killed an Ontario man March 14 was a justified use of deadly force. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe said today that the March 14 shooting of an Ontario man by two Oregon State Police troopers was a justified use of deadly force.

Victor J. Morales Zavala, 25, died after he was shot by police following a high-speed chase that began in Idaho ended at the Ontario underpass.

The shooting triggered a review by Goldthorpe and an investigation by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office.

In a press release issued Thursday afternoon, Goldthorpe said he reviewed three police car dash cam videos, the autopsy results, a search warrant affidavit, attended a police briefing and studied interviews with police involved in the incident to make his determination. He was also on the scene of the shooting shortly after it occurred.

Goldthorpe said several critical factors led to his conclusion the shooting was justified.

After Morales Zavala’s pickup truck ran over spikes set by police on the highway at the Oregon-Idaho border, the Ontario man drove into town and down East Idaho Avenue where he stopped on the west side of the underpass. He jumped from the pickup, clutching a .22 caliber revolver. Goldthorpe said Morales Zavala ignored repeated orders from police to drop the revolver. Morales Zavala, Goldthorpe said, held the revolver to his head and squeezed the trigger on an empty chamber.

At that point, Goldthorpe said, Morales Zavala made an “unexpected movement of the revolver to the front of his body.”

Morales Zavala then grabbed the revolver with both hands.

“He goes from (holding the weapon) by his head to down to the front of his abdomen in a way that looks like it is going toward the trooper,” said Goldthorpe.

When that occurred, the two OSP troopers opened fire.

“An officer would think that was a threatening movement with the weapon,” said Goldthorpe.

Police fired seven 9 mm Smith and Wesson rounds, and Morales Zavala was hit four times. Three of the shots were survivable but the other round hit him in the chest and killed him.

Pending a public records request, Goldthorpe declined to name the two state troopers involved in the shooting. Both troopers remain on administrative leave pending an OSP investigation.

Goldthorpe said the case was “tragic.”

“It is hard to imagine it ending any other way after he exited the vehicle with the firearm,” said Goldthorpe.

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