By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news
CHEHALIS – The man fatally shot by Centralia Police Department Officer Ruben Ramirez last month was a convicted felon carrying a stolen handgun, only recently arriving to the Centralia area with his girlfriend.
Paul M. Edmundson, 43, was staying at the Pepper Tree Motel and RV Park, using an alias. He had an extensive criminal history over 23 years from multiple states and was in the process of covering up a tattoo on his lower chest of Edmundson, one letter at a time.
But he didn’t steal the burrito that drew a police officer to the encounter at the corner of South Tower Avenue and East Cherry Street the morning of June 29.
Anchor Bank parking lot, June 29, 2014
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer concluded last week that Ramirez’s use of deadly force was justified. Police Chief Bob Berg is expecting a decision from an internal use-of-force review board by early next week at the latest. And Ramirez could be back on the job after that.
The Centralia Police Department’s initial statements that day were the officer shot and killed a man suspected of shoplifting the snack from the nearby gas station, because he reached into his pocket for a handgun as he was being detained.
Meyer’s summary of events offer a slightly different version.
A letter released by Meyer describing his legal analysis to the lead investigator in the case includes 13 pages of information, some which is pertinent to Ramirez’s decision to draw and fire his weapon, and some of which is relevant only to explain the decedent’s actions. Numerous individuals who witnessed portions of the situation described to investigators what they saw.
Including Ramirez, a 15-year veteran of the police department, a member of its SWAT team and a K-9 handler.
The investigative team of detectives from surrounding police agencies – from the counties of Lewis, Thurston, Pacific, Mason and Grays Harbor – was headed up by Thurston County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ben Elkins.
Michelle Milligan, 44, from Vancouver, told investigators she and Edmundson, although she called him Chris, had been dating about three months and came to Centralia about a month earlier.
Of his behavior in previous days, she said: “(H)e was going crazy on everybody; he was just going on a nut.”
That morning, Milligan described going to Fuller’s grocery to purchase vodka and a roast beef sandwich. And then up to the next block to the Chevron service station and mini mart to get burritos and rolling papers.
Milligan and the clerk told how she didn’t have enough money to pay for both, so she left the burritos in the microwave.
Meyer’s summary of facts discovered, some of which was learned through viewing surveillance video, tells how Milligan exited the store and crossed the parking lot to speak with two men, one of whom then came inside and took the burritos from the microwave and left, returning once again to heat them up and left again.
His name is Adam Casperson, according to Meyer.
Chevron service station, South Tower Avenue
The 911 call about shoplifting came just before 10 a.m. and when Ramirez arrived in his patrol car, with his police dog Lobo, he found Milligan and Edmundson sitting in the grass across Cherry Street next to the parking lot at Anchor Bank.
Ramirez told an investigator he began to speak with them and wanted to see their identification because based on his information, they were involved in the theft.
Edmundson was mouthy, Milligan denied stealing the burritos and told Ramirez the one he wanted was hiding in the woods, according to the letter.
But when Ramirez looked at the identification Edmundson handed him, he recognized the name on it of Christopher R. Matthews as the suspect in an assault two days prior at the Pepper Tree.
Ramirez had responded to the Friday afternoon call to the motel where a 50-year-old guest there said that during a disagreement an acquaintance he knew as Chris threw him to the ground and struck him in the eyelid with something sharp.
Ramirez indicated to investigators the man in the ID did not match the man he was talking to at the bank very well, and decided to detain him to determine the connection, according to Meyer.
Ramirez asked Edmundson to stand up.
A customer across the street at a different gas station said he watched the man stand up and turn his back to the officer as if preparing to be handcuffed. Ramirez said the man began to resist by pulling away.
Milligan said the cop was being really, really rough and “Chris” was saying “Ouch, you’re hurting me.”
Milligan said at about that time, the police dog jumped out and started attacking “Chris”. “And the dog’s attacking his arm, and dog’s attacking his leg, and the dog’s attacking him all over viciously,” he said.
Ramirez said because he was dealing with a felony suspect, who disengaged, he deployed his K-9 and ordered him to “engage” Edmundson.
“And Chris is screaming, you know, and I’m screaming, I’m like, you know, I’m like, he’s trying, he’s hurt, can you just tr-, call the dog off him …,” Milligan told investigators.
Milligan said she ran out to the road, screaming for someone to help.
Ramirez called for backup and thought it unusual Edmundson continued to fight through the bites, even as Ramirez ordered him to stop.
Witnesses described seeing the two men and the dog engaged on the ground.
A former Centralia police officer Steve Dawes was at the bank’s ATM with his girlfriend and said he saw the two men on the ground tussling while the dog was biting and the man was resisting and ignoring Ramirez’s commands. Dawes said he had turned his attention back to finish his ATM transaction and heard a gunshot.
Ramirez told investigators that when they were on the ground, Edmundson had his hand underneath his body and he heard scraping sounds. He thought it could be a knife, given the assault from the Pepper Tree, he said.
Ramirez said he looked and saw it was the butt of a gun and Edmundson was pulling it out from what appeared to be his waistband.
Ramirez backed up, told him drop it. Ramirez heard a click sound.
Ramirez fired a single shot from his weapon.
Edmundson died at the scene. A single round penetrated his heart and lodged in his spine.
Meyer’s analysis includes that when making a decision to use deadly force, an officer must have probable cause to believe that the person “poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer.”
The elected prosecutor points out Ramirez made two requests for assistance, that Edmundson ignored repeated commands and gained possession of a firearm, which became, at that moment, a fight for life for Officer Ramirez.
“Officer Ramirez was left with no choice but to draw his weapon and protect his own life,” Meyer wrote.
The firearm recovered was described as a Sig Sauer P938 9mm, stolen out of Longview. It was found in the “cocked” position with a round in the chamber, according to Meyer.
How many dog bites Edmundson sustained was not mentioned in Meyer’s report.
An individual named Michael Caton was interviewed, and told investigators he saw Casperson, Milligan and Edmundson at the Chevron, and that Edmundson had flashed a gun at him and it was not the first occasion.
Caton told investigators Edmundson was dangerous because he was drunk all the time and had a gun.
Prosecutor Meyer who attended the autopsy noted the smell alcohol emanated from the body.
Meyer wrote that Edmundson was originally identified as Christopher Matthews, but fingerprint analysis revealed who he really was. Edmundson’s previous convictions included assault, robbery, burglary and firearm offenses from Utah and California. Just a month before he was killed, he was arrested in Oregon for driving under the influence.
Meyer called the outcome tragic, but wrote had Edmundson survived, among the crimes he would have charged him with related to the events the morning of June 29 were attempted second-degree murder, or in the alternative, second-degree assault.
For background, read:
• Prosecutor Meyer’s letter detailing his investigative conclusions, here
• “Stolen burrito leads to fatal shooting in Centralia” from Sunday June 29, 2014, here
• “Coroner releases name of police shooting victim” from Wednesday July 2, 2014, here
• “Centralia police shooting case now in the hands of prosecutor for review” from Monday July 14, 2014, here