Prosecutors in Multnomah County, Ore., said they had insufficient evidence to prove five possible charges against a Clark County sheriff’s deputy accused of coercing his 11-year-old stepdaughter into making a false confession.
Their reason, primarily, wasn’t a lack of eyewitness evidence, but based on interpretation of the law, according to prosecutors’ records.
A deputy district attorney was asked to review evidence last spring relating to Ed Owens and his wife, Kristie, in connection with the 2010 accidental shooting death of their son, Ryan. Vancouver police investigators said the Owenses blamed their stepdaughter for the death, despite evidence it was accidental, and forced her to make a false confession.
Oregon prosecutors were referred the case because the alleged witness tampering occurred in Multnomah County, when the family was driving on Airport Way on the way to the Portland airport.
In a letter released to the media this week after a public disclosure request, Deputy District Attorney Charlene Woods said she could not find elements of the crime to prove criminal mistreatment, harassment, menacing, coercion, or witness tampering. The letter was sent to Clark County prosecutors, who had asked the Multnomah County Prosecutor’s Office to review the case for charges.
According to police reports, on Oct. 27, 2010, the Owens had pulled over the car and demanded the 11-year-old tell them what happened the night of the shooting, when she was watching the boy while her parents were in the garage. After telling them she fell asleep, her mother reportedly slapped her and threatened to spank her with a belt if she didn’t change her story.
The girl then gave a different story, saying she opened the gun safe for her half-brother. The couple taped her new confession and gave a copy to investigators. In reports, the investigators said they could tell the video had been doctored, according to an Internal Affairs investigation.
The deputy district attorney said she could not prove a criminal mistreatment or assault because there was no physical evidence that the girl sustained injuries. Deputy District Attorney Woods said she also couldn’t prove harassment because of an Oregon statute allowing parents to use physical force against children for discipline or for their welfare.
The attorney said she could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the Owenses “only used the degree of force necessary to attempt to uncover the truth surrounding the tragic death of their son,” according to the letter.
As for a menacing charge, the state would have had to prove the Owenses “intentionally attempted to place the child in fear of imminent serious physical injury,” according to the letter. The attorney said, based on the evidence, the threat was spanking, not serious injury.
Regarding a coercion charge — defined as instilling a fear of physical injury in the child if she doesn’t comply — Woods said she couldn’t prove the allegation because the girl made statements that she gave a false confession because she didn’t want to go to foster care, never mentioning a fear of injury.
Finally, relating to the tampering with a witness allegation, the deputy district attorney found it couldn’t be proven because the charge is defined as inducing a witness to give testimony at an official proceeding.
“Here, the shooting was closed out at the investigative level as an accident and there was no official proceeding contemplated,” Woods wrote.