Even six months after witnessing the fatal shooting of a man in downtown Bend at the hands of a Bend Police officer, Tony Cota knows what he saw. He was only 50 feet away.
Cota does not waver when asked if the death of Michael Tyler Jacques was justified.
“A man was murdered,” he said. “Do I believe that it was on purpose? No. Do I believe that it could have been avoided? Yes.”
Cota’s description of what he saw is the first independent account that’s been made public. Previously, the only description came from law enforcement officials, who offered limited details in the days that followed before going silent.
But aside from a short interview at the scene, no officer or agency has contacted Cota for a statement, he said.
The Bulletin has not been able to independently confirm that Cota witnessed the shooting and Bend Police Chief Jim Porter would not comment on anything Cota said. Cota was interviewed by Jennifer Coughlin, an attorney hired by Jacques’ family.
Jacques, 31, was pulled over at about 10:30 p.m. Dec. 23 at the corner of Bond Street and Franklin Avenue after two people called 911 to report he was driving erratically.
The 39-year-old Cota, who works for the city of Bend’s Streets and Operations department, was en route to a car accident to deliver sand because the streets were icy. When he saw police, Cota stopped and got out of his vehicle. He had a clear view of the driver’s side of the minivan Jacques was driving.
Cota could also see officers Marc Tisher and Scott Schaier when they approached the minivan. Tisher went around the front of the vehicle to the passenger’s side door, while Schaier came from the back of the vehicle to approach Jacques at the driver’s side door.
Cota said the situation escalated quickly, with Schaier opening Jacques’ door and both officers yelling “put your hands up.” Cota said Jacques remained still the whole time.
Cota said Schaier then shot Jacques twice with a Taser. At that point, the minivan’s wheels spun in the ice and the van lurched forward a few feet, something Cota said he assumed was the result of the Taser shots.
About that same time, Cota said, Schaier fired his gun three times.
“It was pretty quick,” Cota said. “There was no trying to defuse the situation.”
Jacques’ death certificate, which was provided to The Bulletin by his mother, lists the time of death as 10:31 p.m. and the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.
After the shooting, Cota said the officers backed up and yelled for Jacques to get out of the van.
Cota said other officers arrived quickly and the minivan was surrounded by officers with rifles. They broke out two windows of the minivan and pulled Jacques out, at which point the van started rolling forward. Cota said an officer got in and put it in park.
An investigation into the shooting was started by the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, but District Attorney John Hummel quickly recused himself due to a conflict of interest. He previously had hired the attorney retained by Jacques’ mother, Karen Jacques.
The Oregon Department of Justice took over the investigation and has declined to release information on the progress of the investigation.
When asked this week if evidence had been presented to a grand jury, spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson declined to comment. Porter said he has not heard anything from DOJ regarding a grand jury.
Cota found the lack of police interest in what he saw as odd, and he has concerns.
He said he has a strong appreciation for police and wants to give them the benefit of the doubt, but after witnessing the shooting there is something he has a hard time getting past: While Jacques froze and was not complying with police, he was also not acting in a threatening manner, Cota said.
“The last thing that I want to see is an officer being persecuted for doing his job,” Cota said. “I do agree that officers every day are in a situation that most people never have to be in. It is a moment of ‘what do I do,’ and so I give them that, but there was not even time for back up to show up.”
Schaier and Tisher were placed on leave immediately following the shooting, though Porter said Schaier returned to the training division Jan. 26. Tisher, while still a city of Bend employee, has not returned to work.
Coughlin, the attorney retained by Karen Jacques, is conducting her own investigation.
Coughlin said she tracked down the pedestrian that Jacques reportedly ran off the road before police stopped him. The pedestrian told her Jacques was driving quickly and coming around a corner when he lost traction due to poor road conditions. He hit a snowbank but thought he hit the pedestrian.
The pedestrian said Jacques got out of the car and was worried he had hit someone. He drove off after making sure no one was injured.
Coughlin said a toxicology report showed alcohol and prescription drugs in Jacques’ system but refused to elaborate.
Coughlin said the lack of information from justice officials has been hard on Karen Jacques and her husband, Michael Jacques.
“This mother and father are really suffering day in, day out,” Coughlin said.
Karen Jacques has concerns that the investigation is not being done properly, and that from the beginning, Bend Police Department officers tried to make it appear the shooting was justified, which she does not agree with.
Karen Jacques contacted Verizon Wireless to get use history for her son’s phone and claims a customer service agent told her the phone had been used during the same period that police had it. Data shared with The Bulletin shows the phone was used 28 times from 10:58 p.m. on Dec. 23 — about 20 minutes after Jacques died — to 1:43 p.m. the next day. The Bulletin was not able to verify the authenticity of these records.
Karen Jacques also said her son’s friends told her at his memorial in California that officers called them shortly after the shooting to ask them about his behavior and drug use, and if he was paranoid. An email sent from Jacques’ friend Kaitlin Willhoit details such a call, this one reportedly from Redmond Police Detective Tyler Kirk. The shooting was immediately investigated by a multiagency task force comprised of law enforcement officers from several local agencies.
Willhoit told Karen Jacques in the email that Kirk called her on Dec. 28 from a city of Redmond phone line and asked her about Jacques’ drug use, if he was violent, paranoid or suicidal. Kirk declined to comment on the matter, but phone records supplied by Willhoit list a call that day from a city of Redmond phone number.
Karen Jacques was confused about how law enforcement would get phone numbers for Jacques’ childhood friends without going through his phone, and how they could lawfully do that without a search warrant. When asked about going through the phone, Porter said he has no idea if any of his officers searched the phone, or if a warrant was applied for. He said in general, the policy on searching a dead person’s phone would be to apply for a search warrant.
As days turned to weeks and months, information like the phone records and reports of police interrogations of her son’s friends are the only updates Karen Jacques receives about her son. Justice department officials have repeatedly declined to discuss the investigation with her, or tell her where in the process the investigation is, she said.
Karen Jacques has started going to therapy to deal with her grief, but time has healed no wounds.
“It’s the first thing I think of in the morning, and the last thing I think of at night,” she said through tears.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org