Officer aims, squeezes trigger, hears ‘click’

December 6, 2017 GMT

COTTAGE GROVE — A city police captain aimed his handgun at an armed man in the middle of Interstate 5 last month and pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t fire, according to a search warrant affidavit filed last week in Lane County Circuit Court.

Cottage Grove police Capt. Doug Skaggs tried to load another round, but moments later the gunman’s demeanor changed, and Skaggs subdued him with a Taser, according to the affidavit filed by Oregon State Police Detective Cale Day.

Skaggs was the first officer on scene about 9:30 a.m. Nov. 17 as the incident unfolded.

Steven Lind Smith, 66, of Cottage Grove reportedly had been driving erratically on the shoulder and weaving in and out of traffic. Smith then stopped his Mazda pickup truck on the centerline of two I-5 lanes north of Cottage Grove and got out with a handgun, waving it around in the air, the affidavit said. The incident created a long traffic backup.

According to the affidavit, witnesses said Smith repeatedly pointed the gun at other drivers stopped in their vehicles and then at his own head. At one point, a witness told police, Smith kneeled on the ground with the gun to his head. At other times, he was ranting and raving, and threw the gun on the ground.

According to the affidavit, one witness said, “There was no sequence to Smith’s actions. It was like watching a loop with him taking turns pointing (the gun) at different things: himself, (a witness) and other cars.”

Skaggs was in the southbound lanes when he saw the Mazda stopped in the middle of the northbound lanes and a man kneeling on the highway, the affidavit states. He went to the scene and was familiar with Smith because he had been contacted by Cottage Grove police numerous times in the past.

According to the affidavit, Day wrote that Smith walked toward Skaggs, turned around and walked away, then walked toward him again. Smith yelled expletives at Skaggs and was uncooperative, the affidavit states. At one point, Smith walked away from Skaggs, bent down and picked up the handgun, then walked toward Skaggs again. According to the affidavit, Smith began raising the gun toward Skaggs.

“Skaggs made the decision to shoot Smith,” Day wrote in the affidavit. “He squeezed the trigger on his firearm, but it failed to fire.”

Skaggs heard his gun click, but nothing else happened, the affidavit states. He then tried to use the slide on the gun to load another round into the chamber, but when he looked up, “he saw that Smith’s facial expression had changed, and he was holding the gun in a less menacing way,” Day wrote.

Smith then threw his gun over his shoulder behind him, so Skaggs pulled out his Taser, which he used to subdue Smith before arresting him.

Smith was charged with menacing, unlawful use of a weapon, pointing a firearm at another and harassment. He remains an inmate of the Lane County Jail.

The search warrant affidavit sought to search Smith’s smartphone, the Mazda pickup truck, five unfired .38-caliber cartridges and a handwritten note. The contents of the note were not disclosed.

Smith’s trial is expected to start Jan. 17.

An Interagency Deadly use of Force Investigation Team has not investigated the incident because Skaggs’ gun did not fire, Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow said Monday. However, had Skaggs’ gun fired a bullet that missed Smith, an investigation would have occurred, Perlow said.

Follow Chelsea on Twitter @ChelseaDeffenB . Email chelsea.deffenbacher@registerguard.com .