By Eric Gorski
MEDFORD - A nine-year veteran Medford police officer providing back-up for a drug bust Sunday night fatally shot a fleeing suspect he incorrectly thought was armed and responsible for firing shots earlier near several other police, authorities said Monday.
When an undercover drug arrest in a Medford parking lot escalated to a 100-mph chase on Interstate 5, Officer Keith Mak responded. He followed a sports car driven south by the suspect, Mark Andrew Lawson, until it crashed into a median barrier and spun to a stop.
According to investigators, Lawson fled the crash scene on foot, and Mak chased him. When Lawson suddenly turned and faced the officer, Mak told investigators he thought the man had a gun and was going to shoot. But Lawson didn't have a weapon, either on him or in his car, police said Monday.
Mak shot Lawson in the head. Lawson, 30, who listed a Southern California address, was pronounced dead more than three hours later at a Medford hospital.
At a news conference Monday, police did not speculate about whether the shooting was justified. An investigation will take up to two weeks, when
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jumps into car,
the case will be presented to a grand jury, standard procedure in a police-related shooting, said Beth Heckert, a Jackson County deputy district attorney.
Mak, 46, was placed on paid administrative leave, which also is standard procedure.
The district attorney's office provided this account:
At the Target store, Lawson agreed to sell 11 ounces of methamphetamine to undercover agents of the Jackson County Narcotic Enforcement Team. When a patrol car moved in to arrest him, Lawson fled in his car, driving erratically up to 45 mph through the parking lot.
An Oregon State Police trooper working with the narcotics team fired three shots at Lawson's car after it nearly ran over another officer. Mak, who was at the scene, gave chase onto I-5. The crash occurred within three miles.
Mak told investigators he thought Lawson had fired the shots during the attempted arrest. Narcotics team officers also told Mak that Lawson was armed and dangerous, police said.
Medford Police Chief Ray Shipley, citing the continuing investigation, would not say Monday what led officers to identify Lawson as armed.
Nor would investigators say whether Mak ordered Lawson to stop before he shot him, or communicated with him in any other way.
Earlier in the day, Lawson told an undercover officer he had more methamphetamine at his motel room, investigators said. Police later arrested his wife, Susan Lawson, after finding a small amount of suspected drugs in the motel room. She later was released.
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