LONGVIEW — Newly released surveillance and police body cam footage shows the dramatic events that led up to and followed the death of Kalama resident Michael Veatch, who was struck and killed by a St. Helens, Ore., police vehicle on Oct. 9.
The footage shows officers handcuff and attempt to revive a man, later identified as Veatch, while he was lying in a roadside ditch in the early-morning darkness. It also captures the moments when Veatch, 33, pointed a gun at a St. Helens gas station employee.
Veatch died when St. Helens police Officer Elijah Merkwan made a “split-second” decision to strike him with his vehicle after officers received numerous reports of a suspect matching Veatch’s description shooting at people, cars and property, Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier concluded on Dec. 3 in finding the police actions justifiable. Veatch “was actively trying to kill innocent civilians,” the DA wrote.
In store surveillance video that begins at 5:10 a.m. that day, a figure identified as Veatch approaches the gas station door as an employee is walking inside and briefly points a gun at the employee through the gas station door. The figure then walks off.
About a minute later, a glass window in the store shatters and there is the sound of apparent gunfire. Employees and customers in the store drop to the ground and hide.
Body cam footage from later that morning shows a person who appears to be Veatch lying prone in a brushy ditch on the side of Highway 30. Officers in the video say he was struck by one of their vehicles and thrown into the ditch.
As they approach with handguns drawn, officers order Veatch, who appears limp, not to move. After handcuffing Veatch, officers attempt unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. About three minutes pass from the time Veatch is handcuffed to when officers begin use of a defibrillator.
A distraught person questions officers near Veatch’s body in the body cam footage several minutes later. That person, who appears to be Michael Veatch’s brother Matthew Veatch, pleads with officers to let him see his brother. Several law enforcement officers are nearby during the exchange.
According to Auxier’s report, Veatch reportedly fired shots at the St. Helens Chevron at about 5:26 a.m. and then started driving along Highway 30.
Witnesses reportedly saw and heard more shots from his vehicle, including from an AK-47, before he stopped in the middle of the road. Surveillance camera footage from the area caught the sound of 23 rapid-fire shots, and officers later found an AK-47 in Veatch’s truck.
Two victims said Veatch approached their cars with a handgun pointed at them. When they drove away, he fired at them, according to Auxier’s report.
According to interviews with Merkwan, he knew he had a “brief opportunity to intervene.” It would take too much time to get within firing range of Veatch, Merkwan said, so he made a “split-second” decision to strike Veatch with his vehicle.