Oregon police defend Taser attack on 87-year-old gun woman

Police in Oregon have defended using a stun gun on an 87-year-old woman who died an hour later.

Phyllis Owens died after sheriff’s deputies closed in on her as she reached for a handgun, an officer said.

“We had to respond,” said Detective Jim Strovink of the Clackamas County sheriff’s office.

An officer hiding in the shrubbery around her rural home jolted the woman with the Taser gun on Thursday afternoon and she collapsed unconscious.

She died soon after in hospital. An autopsy report said heart disease was the cause of death.

Two Clackamas sheriff’s deputies had gone to her wooded housing development near Boring at about 2.30pm after a man using a digger to replace her water line reported that she had threatened him with a gun, Mr Strovink said.

“She came out waving the gun and had him up against the backhoe,” Mr Strovink said. “She yelled at him: ’What are you doing here at this time of night?”’

The worker called for help, and deputies arrived to find the woman on her porch, Mr Strovink said.

Approaching her, they talked her into putting down the weapon, he said, but she quickly picked it up again.

The probes of the officer’s Taser hit her left arm and hip, said Dr Larry Lewman of the state medical examiner’s office.

Owens had a history of heart disease and that was the cause of death, Dr Lewman said. “A healthy person would not have died this way,” he added.

Mr Strovink said Owens had recently been discharged from hospital and was reportedly suffering from dementia. He said it was not clear how she obtained the weapon.

The two deputies, who were not identified, were on administrative leave - standard practice if the death was considered the result of lethal force, although Mr Strovink said it was not.

“But we’re handling it as if we had actually shot her,” he said. That included an investigation involving outside officers.

Mr Strovink said that when the woman grabbed her handgun from the porch railing, officers would have been justified in using their firearms, but they did not.

“They did a commendable job in using a minimal amount of force,” he said.

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