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News / Northwest

Wife of man killed by Oregon police gets apology, settlement

By Associated Press
Published: March 13, 2023, 2:34pm

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A lawsuit over the death of a man who was killed by Oregon State Police outside his home in southern Oregon in 2015 has been settled for $1.6 million after a lengthy legal odyssey, the Grants Pass Daily Courier reported.

The settlement includes an apology from state police Superintendent Casey Codding, according to lawyers for Robert Box, who was 55 when he was killed by two state troopers investigating a domestic disturbance at his home near Wilderville, Oregon, the newspaper reported.

Lawyers for the Box family complained of roadblocks in the long-running case, including an unusual procedural history on appeal caused by the sealing of records in the case by the trial judge.

On Friday, attorney Richard Adams and co-counsel David Park released a statement they said Box’s widow, Bernadette, wrote in response to an apology letter from Codding.

“I truly hope you take all this to heart and learn from it,” she wrote. “Training needs to be taken to heart. No other family should have to go through what my family has gone through.”

On the night of May 29, 2015, Box’s adult daughter Kelsey, who is partially paralyzed and uses a wheelchair, reported she had been assaulted by her father during an argument at the family’s rural home.

Prosecutors subsequently absolved troopers Gregor Smyth and Heather West of any wrongdoing, saying Box pointed a loaded .44 Magnum at them despite their demands that he not touch the gun.

Smyth fired seven rounds, while West fired four. Box was hit and fatally wounded.

Lawyers for the family argued that Box, who had been carrying a loaded gun, had every right to be armed on his own rural property late at night. They also accused the troopers of essentially ambushing him even though they had been notified by dispatchers that his daughter had fled the home and was not in danger.

After 18 months of pretrial wrangling, Circuit Court Judge Wolke dismissed the case in 2017. In the process, Wolke sealed records in the case after a motion by the plaintiffs to amend the lawsuit based on new evidence. Wolke’s decision to seal everything in the case was unusual and caused unnecessary procedural problems throughout the appeal process that followed, lawyers for the family said.

Last year the Oregon Court of Appeals reinstated the case and remanded it back to Josephine County for a jury trial. The court said the troopers were trespassing when they encountered Box and made several tactical errors in the process.

The ruling on appeal put the case in a settlement posture, leading to the agreement last week.

According to the family’s lawyers, Smyth was terminated from the state police’s SWAT team three months before the Box shooting for a problem known in tactical training as “tunnel vision.”

They said the commander of the SWAT team at the time filed a report concluding that Smyth’s “decision making and overreaction have the potential to lead to someone being seriously injured, or killed, on a real-world operation.”