By Cheryl Martinis
Correspondent, The Oregonian
SALEM - A Salem police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man who pulled a semiautomatic pistol from under his pillow during an early morning drug raid, a Marion County deputy district attorney said Wednesday.
Authorities will never know why Luis Carrasco-Flores reached for his SigSauer pistol when police kicked open the door to his bedroom about 5:15 a.m. Friday. Carrasco-Flores was hit by several shots and died shortly afterward.
But Salem attorney Brian Whitehead said that plenty of other people might have reacted the same way if they were awakened suddenly with a flashlight in the face and forced to decide in seconds whether it was an intruder or police.
Additionally, residents of the apartment told authorities that Carrasco-Flores was aware of a robbery and murder last May at an adjacent apartment. Whether that spurred him to reach for a gun in unknown.
Although few people Wednesday wanted to second-guess the police officer's decision, many lamented that there wasn't a way to avoid the situation.
"They need to find a different way to take care of that problem without losing lives," said Jose Carrasco, a cousin of the dead man. "I'm not just talking about my cousin - but anybody."
Although drugs were found in the apartment, there was no evidence that Carrasco-Flores was either a dealer or user, said Deputy District Attorney Stephen Dingle.
Autopsy reports indicated that no alcohol or drugs were present in his system.
Carrasco-Flores, 45, was the father of a dozen children who live in Mexico, his cousin said. He said he came here about two years ago to earn more money for them, worked at a nursery and was in the process of moving out of the troubled apartment complex that was raided Friday.
"There was a lot of robberies before the shooting," his cousin said. "He was afraid. Everybody was afraid."
Dingle released detailed information about the shooting during a morning news conference. He met again Wednesday afternoon in a two-hour session with Hispanic community leaders and law enforcement agencies.
Both groups vowed to strengthen their relationships after the shooting of a Hispanic man last year, and both agreed that Wednesday the work needs to continue.
In August, Salem police shot 63-year-old Salvador Hernandez, alleging that he threatened them with a knife during a drug raid. But a roommate said Hernandez merely was fixing breakfast. A grand jury ruled the shooting justified, but a federal review is under way.
Salem police added that the two incidents were the only shootings to result from more than 1,000 drug searches that have taken place in the past decade.
Once police verified that drugs were present at the complex, Dingle said, they obtained search warrants for three apartments.
Officers arrived at 5:15 a.m., so that they could hit all three apartments at once without someone alerting the occupants.
Officers wearing labeled raid gear yelled "Police!" and "Policia!" as they entered the apartment and Roberts kicked in the door to the bedroom. Carrasco-Flores apparently had been asleep on his stomach on a mattress. Roberts, a 15-year-veteran, said he saw him pull the pistol from under his pillow. Roberts fired.
Roberts fired six shots. One missed. Four others struck Carrasco-Flores but didn't disable him, Dingle said. Roberts fired a final shot within inches of Carrasco-Flores.
More than 20 people from the three apartments were arrested or cited and released on drug-related charges.
Whitehead said Roberts was justified under the circumstances. But he questioned whether a raid was the best way to roust street-level drug dealers.
"The guy was an innocent victim," he said.
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