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Crook County DA clears deputy in fatal Juniper Canyon shooting; family plans lawsuit

(Update: DA confirms Rodin was unarmed, struck twice)

Nicholas Rodin called 911 to be picked up, claimed to have pistol and knife -- but as it turned out, had neither

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) – A Crook County sheriff’s deputy was justified in fatally shooting a man wanted on two warrants on a gravel road in Juniper Canyon on Feb. 4 because he repeatedly refused commands, said he had a gun and was reaching toward his pocket, District Attorney Kari Hathorn said Friday, releasing her analysis, a 911 call and bodycam video of the fateful encounter.

Deputy Steven Hatcher fired two shots that both struck and killed Nicholas Rodin, 35, on Feb. 4 on Maphet Road near Davis Loop, in Juniper Canyon southeast of Prineville, prompting an investigation by the Central Oregon Major Incident Team, led by Oregon State Police.

Hathorn said Rodin actually had called authorities twice, several hours earlier, to say he had a gun and a knife and to come pick him up before he hurt someone. And he threatened to shoot Hatcher during their encounter, as well.

But as the DA told NewsChannel 21 Friday: “Mr. Rodin, despite telling law enforcement that he was armed with a gun and knife, did not actually have a gun or knife.”

In the introduction to her eight-page report, Hathorn – appointed DA in late February, several weeks after the shooting -- noted that Rodin had twice called Crook County 911 dispatchers around 4:45 a.m. that day, saying “he had a warrant out for his arrest, was armed with a (.22-caliber) pistol and a knife and that he needed to be picked up before he hurt somebody.”

Later, in the detailed analysis, Hathorn quotes the 911 call where Rodin said, “I have a warrant for my arrest. You need to come pick me up before I flip out and hurt somebody.”

She said Rodin, who had two active felony arrest for separate assaults with a dangerous weapon, told dispatchers he’d be walking down Juniper Canyon, but deputies’ attempts to find him that morning were unsuccessful.

Around 1:30 p.m., Hatcher spotted Rodin, who was under the influence of methamphetamine and refused to follow Hatcher’s repeated warnings to lie on the ground and keep his hands where they could be seen.

At one point, she said, “Rodin yelled, ‘I will shoot you first!” and that the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Rodin “stood up and began to approach Deputy Hatcher in an aggressive manner,” stating, “I want to die!”

Rodin was on the cellphone with a friend during the encounter and was holding that and a plastic soda bottle. But Hathorn noted that as Rodin approached the deputy, “he quickly transferred the soda bottle from his right hand to under his left arm, freeing his right hand … then quickly reached toward his hip with his right hand. Deputy Hatcher discharged his firearm twice.”

Before that encounter, "Deputy Hatcher’s actions demonstrate that he considered alternatives, to the extent he had reasonable opportunity to do so," she wrote.

Hathorn noted that Hatcher requested backup, advising without lights or siren, but that based on what Rodin had said earlier, “only upon Mr. Rodin’s approach to a residential driveway was Deputy Hatcher compelled to re-contact Mr. Rodin,” intending “to keep the contact as low key and as slow as possible, to give time for his backup to arrive.”

“In fact, Deputy Hatcher didn’t even get out of his patrol car until Mr. Rodin made sudden movements pulling an object” – the cellphone – “out of his picket, causing Deputy Hatcher to believe that he was about to be shot,” the DA wrote.

State law allows use of deadly physical force if someone “reasonably believes that the other person is using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force,” Hathorn said, having “concluded that the use of deadly force by Deputy Hatcher was lawful and justified.”

Hathorn said Rodin’s refusal to comply with Hatcher’s commands “is difficult to understand,” but noted tests found “a high level of methamphetamine in his system – a substance that causes the user to behave irrationally, even in small amounts,” and also had two other drugs, one the anti-psychotic prescription drug olanzapine in his system.

He “also suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to statements made by his friends and family to law enforcement,” Hathorn wrote.

Portland attorney Michael Fuller, representing the Rodin family, told NewsChannel 21 Friday his team was reviewing the released report and other items and that they have filed a petition to appoint a personal representative of Rodin’s estate. When that is done, he said, that representative will have the authority to file a planned wrongful death lawsuit in federal court, claiming excessive use of force.

“We’re not accusing the officer of murder, some sort of malicious homicide,” the attorney said. “The legal standard is, was it an excessive use of force, or were there reasonable opportunities for use of lesser force?”

“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s not criminal charges brought,” said Fuller, who calls his office the “Underdog Lawyer." He said he is involved in officer-involved shootings “pretty regularly,” and none have led to criminal charges.

No dollar figure will be sought – “we’re going to leave it up to a jury,” Fuller said. He noted that the most common outcome of such lawsuits is a settlement, second most common is a court dismissal and third is a jury trial.

Fuller said the case is similar to the fatal shooting by Portland police of Michael Townsend in June of 2021, in which a lawsuit was filed in state court last month in a bid to push the city to make more regular use of trained mental health responders in such situations, instead of armed officers.

That lawsuit isn’t seeking financial damages, he said, because it ”wasn’t about money to the family, but a desire to have the policies changed.” Discussion with the city is about “whether armed officers should even be responding to mental health calls, unless there’s a danger to society or a crime under commission. In these cases, where there’s not a violent crime going on, should an armed officer be the first responder?”

Deputy Hatcher remains on administrative leave, under sheriff's office policy, Sheriff John Gautney said Friday.

"Now that the OIS investigation is complete, we will complete an administrative investigation, and that will be referred to a shooting review board per policy," Gautney said. "This is standard procedure in an (officer-involved shooting)."

The district attorney's full news release (warning: graphic language):

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.


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