On December 9th, around 11:30am Officer Ashpole with the Newport Police Department responded to the Agate Beach RV Park to address a complaint that a person was trespassing. The resident at the Agate Beach RV Park indicated that she wanted the trespasser removed but not arrested. Officer Ashpole made contact with the subject, later identified as Nantharath Thilavanh. When Officer Ashpole contacted the man he had a fire going in a metal container next to the building causing concern to the resident.
Officer Ashpole ran Mr. Thilavanh’s name through the Law Enforcement Data System and found that he had an active warrant for his arrest from Multnomah County. Based on this information, Officer Ashpole attempted to take Mr. Thilavanh into custody. Officer Ashpole asked him to remove the knives from his person and take the hammer out of his pants. At the moment Officer Ashpole mentioned that Mr. Thilavanh had a warrant, Mr. Thilavanh took a hammer that was resting in his hand and turned the hammer so it could be used as a weapon.
Officer Ashpole pulled his firearm and ordered Mr. Thilavanh to drop the hammer. Officer Ashpole was joined by a cover officer, Thomas Lekas. Officer Lekas attempted to de-escalate the situation upon arrival. Based on the video from the officers body cam Mr. Thilavanh was worried that if he put the hammer down he would get beat up. Officer Lekas drew his Taser and ordered Mr. Thilavanh to drop the hammer. He also told him that he would not be harmed if he put the hammer down, he would be taken into custody. Several attempts were made to subdue Mr. Thilavahn with a Taser. Officer Lekas’ Taser record indicates he activated his Taser eight times. All eight attempts were ineffective against him as he was wearing several layers of clothing that prevented the Taser from effectively operating. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Rene Lopez arrived on scene to assist.
According to the District Attorney’s report Deputy Lopez said he considered hitting Mr. Thilavanh with his car to subdue him but attempted a more non-lethal way and attempted to use OC spray to assist in restraining him. Both OC attempts did not deter Mr. Thilavahn. Deputy Lopez attempted to use his Taser on Mr. Thilavahn but the Taser malfunctioned. At this time, Mr. Thilavahn ran from the police officers on to Highway 101. Civilian traffic was interrupted while officers continued to take control of Mr. Thilavanh and the hammer. While wielding the hammer, he at one time approached a school bus that was located on the south side of Highway 101. Officer Lekas informed him that he would be shot if he continued towards the bus with the hammer. The Officers continued to warn Mr. Thilavanh that he would be shot if he did not stop and drop the hammer.
During the entire incident, Officer Ashpole had his firearm and/or Taser aimed at Mr. Thilavanh. Officer Ashpole continued to yell verbal commands for Mr. Thilavanh to drop the hammer or he could be shot. The Officers discussed other non-lethal ways to restrain Mr. Thilavanh; however Mr. Thilavanh was wearing several layers of clothing, potentially concealing additional weapons. He continued to hold the hammer above his head in a threatening manner. His actions were erratic. Officer Ashpole, Deputy Lopez and Officer Lekas, working together as a unit, were unable to remove Mr. Thilavanh from Highway 101. While standing on Highway 101, Mr. Thilavanh lunged at an officer with the hammer raised in an aggressive stance. Officer Ashpole fired three shots from his duty weapon. Mr. Thilavanh continued to wield the hammer after the initial shots were fired and advanced on the officers, at which time Officer Ashpole fired three additional shots.
Mr. Thilavanh was hit by two of the shots. He sustained injuries to his knee and hip area. Additional Newport Police Officers, Sheriff’s Deputies and Oregon State Police troopers arrived and assisted in providing first aid to Mr. Thilavanh. Mr. Thilavahn was taken to Samaritan Hospital in Newport then flown to Good Samaritan hospital in Corvallis. While in the care of Good Samaritan, Mr. Thilavanh has refused any medical treatment. The Oregon State Police took the lead on the investigation, to comply with the Lincoln County Senate Bill 111, Deadly Physical Force Plan. This Plan requires that an agency not involved in the use of force in the incident must take the lead in the investigation. The Oregon State Police provided the District Attorney’s Office with a complete and thorough investigation.
The DA’s office has viewed the video and read reports provided by the Oregon State Police. Medical records and eye witness accounts have been considered. The Use of Force protocols maintained by the Newport Police department have been consulted. Additionally, the Use of Force Training Manual offered by the Department of Public Safety and Standards Training (DPSST) was reviewed. The District Attorney’s office also sought advice from Use of Force Experts when making the decision whether or not Office Ashpole’s use of deadly force was justified. District Attorney of Lincoln County Michelle Branum found that Officer Andrew Ashpole’s actions were justified under the circumstances. Because she determined that Officer Ashpole did not commit a crime, this case will not be presented to the Grand Jury.
Newport resident Randy Getman attended the press conference and added this statement.
“Having seen the body cam narrative of the whole encounter, I’m a lot more comfortable that the officers exhausted every non-lethal force option and means of negotiation before reluctantly firing on the subject. Certain media, and many citizens formed their own early conclusions based on the snippet of video provided by the motorist, which only shows the final moments. It does however, remind us of the need for greater mental health intervention before it leads to a scene like this one.”