Report details sequence of events that led to 14 gunshots off Hwy. 20
(Update: Adding video)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Two Bend police officers were legally justified in firing 14 shots and wounding a Bend woman who was speeding backward toward a third officer and his K-9 partner in her minivan after a wild pursuit that ended on snowy U.S. Highway 20 about 40 miles east of Bend a month ago, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said Friday.
Hummel also said in his 10-page report that Danielle Nicole Bower, 29, will be charged in late May – a delay prompted by the COVID-19-related court limits – with DUII, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, reckless driving and six counts of recklessly endangering another person.
“Danielle Bower’s decisions to drive while impaired by alcohol, and to flee from law enforcement officers in her minivan, constituted crimes,” Hummel said. “However, the mere fact of committing a crime should never, standing alone, result in a person being shot by law enforcement officers.
“Ms. Bower was shot by two Bend Police Officers because when her car was stopped off the roadway after a pursuit, three officers approached Ms. Bower on foot with guns drawn and yelled at her to stop, yet she put her minivan in reverse and floored the accelerator, propelling her minivan toward one of the officers and his K-9 partner. Fortunately for all involved, the three officers were not injured, and Danielle Bower, while shot, survived and is recovering.”
The district attorney steps in his report through the sequence of events that led to Bend Police Sgt. Tommy Russell and Officer Tim Williams firing on Bower’s minivan, striking her four or five times.
The incident began early Monday morning, March 9, as two other officers, Jacob Koehler and Tiago Oliveira, were at St. Charles Bend, executing a search warrant to draw blood from a suspect in an impaired driving investigation.
Russell heard a radio call from Koehler, seeking immediate help at the hospital, as a white minivan with a female driver was heading toward the hospital exit, ran over curbs and almost hit security guards.
Hummel said Bower drove up to the emergency room at 2:45 a.m., entered the ER with blood on her face, shirt and hands and waved security personnel out to her minivan. She opened the passenger door, showing two empty child car seats and said, “My family left me. They jumped out. They left me.” She got in the driver’s seat, but the guard stood in the open door, preventing her from closing it.
As Oliveira approached the minivan, she closed the door and put it in drive, while the officer told her not to drive away and yelled “stop!” He tried to grab the keys out of the ignition, but she drove off, soon encountering and swerving toward Russell on the loop road. And the pursuit began, with Bower at least twice “flipping off” pursuing officers.
Along the way, on various Bend streets, attempts were made to use spike strips or use the Pursuit Intervention Technique. At one point, a sheriff’s deputy, Jason Wall, asked Lt. Mike Sundberg for permission to use the PIT maneuver, but Sundberg denied it because he believed Bower was driving an SUV and sheriff’s office police does not allow the maneuver to be performed on vehicles with high centers of gravity.
Sundberg later realized Bower was driving a minivan with a low center of gravity and authorized the PIT maneuver, but a curb prevented the full spinout of the minivan the maneuver is designed to achieve. The chase all over Bend never encountered spike strips due to her frequent changes of direction, eventually heading east on Highway 20, reaching speeds topping 70 mph, weaving across lanes and driving recklessly.
After Bower swerved her minivan into the oncoming lane in front of an oncoming car, then swerved back into her lane at the last second., Russell contacted Corporal Jeff Frickey to discuss whether to call off the pursuit, Hummel said. Frickey told Russell it should continue to the danger she posed to others on the road.
Twice, Bower swerved into the path of oncoming semi-trucks, causing drivers to have to serve to avoid a collision. She drove into a ditch but was able to get back on the road and keep heading east.
Eventually, Bower drove off the north side of the highway, down a small embankment and ended up apparently stuck, her front-wheel-drive minivan’s tires spinning in the dirt.
Umnitz and his K-9 partner, Rony, approached the minivan from the rear driver’s side, expecting she could jump out and run, Hummel said. After he yelled for her to “Get your hands up now!”, when he was 5-6 yards behind the minivan, Umnitz saw the backup lights come on and heard was sounded like the driver flooring the gas and saw it jerk backwards toward him, Hummel said, adding that Sundberg witnessed the same.
Williams and Russell said they saw Bower put the minivan in reverse. Russell drew his pistol and yelled “Stop!” while Williams had his rifle deployed. Both saw the minivan quickly accelerate backwards toward Umnitz and his dog.
Russell shot eight rounds and Williams shot six, around 4 a.m. Bower was hit by 4-5 bullets, as well as shrapnel from shattered bullets and windshield and side-window glass.
The officers quickly moved to render aid to Bower and learned an air ambulance could not fly to the scene due to the weather. Deciding it would take too long for an ambulance to reach the scene, Russell and Williams put her in the back of Williams’ patrol car and sped west, with Russell driving and Williams in the back, rendering medical aid and telling Bower to hang on. “Ms. Bower was telling him she wanted to see her kids again,” the DA wrote.
After 17 miles, Russell met up with the Bend Fire ambulance and Bower was transferred to it.
Hummel steps through the legal analysis and said the physical evidence supported Russell’s and Williams’ assertions that they fired their weapons to stop Bower from striking Umnitz. He noted the van was still in reverse when OSP forensic experts examined it, “and tire tracks from the minivan show deep divots in the dirt, indicating hard acceleration, and show that the minivan was backing up and pivoting its rear end toward the north, or away from the highway."
At Bower’s home, police had found her fiancé, Stephen Horne, and another man, Joshua Mondragon, as well as two small children, ages 6 and 2, and blood on the ground in the living room and other blood elsewhere in the house. Horne said Mondragon had come over to their home and all had been drinking.
At some point, Hummel said, Horne said Mondragon had become “wasted” and started “going crazy,” trying to fight him and at one point attacked Bower as well. “Horne said that he had to choke Mr. Mondragon out,” Hummel wrote, and Bower left during the fight.
Bower’s blood alcohol level at the hospital, about three hours after she left home, was .277, more than three times Oregon’s .08 legal limit, Hummel said. Bower’s nose was broken at some point.
With all three people at the home “extremely intoxicated,” Hummel said, “At the end of the day, we don’t know what happened.” He noted no drugs other than alcohol were found in any of the three people’s systems.
Looking for why Bower fled officers at the hospital, Hummel said Bower told officers in the hospital that she did not want to be arrested for DUII. He also said the head injury and the alcohol use “resulted in her acting irrationally.”
In his conclusion, Hummel wrote, “Danielle Bower, her fiancé, and their friend got together to enjoy some cocktails and to catch up. What should have been an enjoyable evening among friends turned into a dangerous and near-deadly incident that put the lives of numerous law enforcement officers, drivers on our roads, security guards and Ms. Bower at risk, all because of the abuse of alcohol.
“ I encourage all involved, and everyone in our community who is struggling with their use of alcohol, to reach out for help. In the past are the days our community viewed those who seek help for an addiction as somehow ‘weak.’ Community members who acknowledge they need help controlling their use of alcohol or drugs are to be commended for taking the steps necessary to better their lives. “
During an in-depth interview with NewsChannel 21, Hummel said some questions have proven hard to answer.
"Why did somebody without a criminal record, a law-abiding citizen who was injured in a fight, why did she flee when the officers were there to help her?” he asked. “It could be one of two reasons. One could be as simple as she drove to the hospital impaired and she didn't want to get arrested for drunk driving. That could be one, also though, she had a head injury, and I saw this in the medical records. We believe it could've been from the assault that happened at her house. It could be that the combination of the injury she had to her brain and the alcohol intoxication had her acting irrationally."
But the evidence was clear on other elements of what took place.
"Each officer complied with the law and acted appropriately,” the DA said. “Whether things could have been done better or differently is outside of my purview. I trust that the Bend Police Department will conduct that review."
"At this time, I am not filing any criminal charges to anyone related to that incident at the house. This is because I am not confident what happened at the house.
"There were two kids in that home. The Department of Human Services is involved, and the safety of the kids is being protected."
"I think we may have become complacent in our community with the rise of opioid addiction and the problems we've always had with methamphetamine. And then with marijuana being decriminalized, we've talked about that. Alcohol has always been the drug that’s most abused in our community and most leads to criminal activity.
“I want to just say that anyone who is struggling with their use in alcohol, gone are the days that we would look down on someone who asked for help. We would think someone is weak if they asked for help. Our community is not like that anymore. if you feel like you need help and may be using alcohol a little too much, and affecting your family or work, please reach out. We will not shun you, but help and support you on your journey."
"I was struck by the length of this pursuit -- it went all throughout the city of Bend, then 34 miles east of town. It's rather striking that someone with that level of impairment could keep their car going for that long. Sometimes what people can do while impaired is really shocking. So that stood out at me."
"Then you ask yourself, should the police have called off the pursuit? Pursuits, when there is a dangerous driver, who is fleeing, those are kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t (situation). If they called off the pursuit, and Miss Bower continued and struck a car full of kids and killed them, I think we would’ve said, ‘Hey, maybe we should have continued the pursuit.' So it’s difficult."
"The officers reported -- and reports are consistent on this - is that once the minivan stopped moving, the officers stopped fire. Six shots, for example, can happen real quick -- bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. I mean, within two seconds, or 1 1/2 seconds.
“The officers knew their colleague was behind them. He was five to six yards behind the minivan. and that minivan moved 12.5 feet in reverse. and that’s from the tire tracks, so that minivan was going right in the direction of the third officer, and his canine partner, it was moving fast and a far distance."
"These cases are heart-wrenching, for so many reasons. Lives are impacted. Certainly when someone gets shot, their life is irreparably impacted. But the lives of the officers are also involved. No officer goes out and starts his or her shift and says, ‘I hope I get to shoot someone.' But in this case, they did show their valor after they made the decision to shoot. they immediately went into ‘Save Ms. Bower's life’ mode. That was their sole mission, and they had a heroic rescue of Ms. Bower."
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter issued this statement regarding the results of the district attorney's investigation:
“In the early morning hours of March 9th, Sgt. Russell, Officer Williams and Officer Umnitz served with honor and distinction as they protected the citizens of Bend. Russell, Williams, and Umnitz were faced with an exceptional set of dangerous circumstances , which District Attorney John Hummel has accurately pointed out in his findings. Russell and Williams only responded with force after Ms. Bower’s actions placed Officer Umnitz at risk of serious physical injury.
"There is little doubt the swift actions of the three officers on scene were crucial to Ms. Bower’s survival. They immediately administered advanced first aid while calling for an air ambulance. When it was determined the air ambulance was unable to respond, they quickly moved Ms. Bower to their police vehicle and transported her back to the Bend area while continuing to provide her with medical care.
"Immediately following the incident, there were things reported in the media that were later proven to be incorrect. One of the most significant facts that was reported incorrectly was that Ms. Bower was shot in the back during this incident. Based on the information provided by the investigative team and Mr. Hummel we know that this was incorrect.
"It is the rare and exceptional incident where members of the Bend Police Department are required to respond with force in the execution of their duties and more frequently rely upon de-escalation to resolve dangerous encounters as reflected in the Department’s Force Report. Officers of the Bend Police Department arrested 4,250 individuals in 2019. Officers were only required to respond with force in 76 of those incidents to protect themselves, others, or apprehend individuals as detailed in the 2019 Bend Police Department Force Response Report.
"When individuals and suspects comply with the law it ensures their safety, the safety of citizens and the officers. As in this attempt to detain Ms. Bower for her unlawful operation of her vehicle, the officers were doing so to protect others in our community and uphold their oath to serve and protect as they attempted to respond to her unlawful actions.
"We look forward to the return of Sergeant Russell and Officer Williams in the near future.”