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An Extended Interview With Ardeshir Tabrizian On The Death Of Landon Payne

Photo provided by Ardeshir Tabrizian.

The following is a longer excerpt from an itnerview between KLCC's Brian Bull and Eugene Weekly reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian on his recent investigative piece, "A Hidden Death" detailing the chain of events leading to a Eugene man's fatal detainment by area authorities in late March 2020. 

Bull:  Ardeshir, you’ve an article in the Eugene Weekly about Landon Payne, who died back in March 2020.  You detail a very troubling incident about how he was handled by law enforcement including procedures that became what you call “turning points”.  Before we get into that, what do we know of Landon Payne himself before his death? 

Tabrizian:  Landon Payne…there was a lot of transition very early on in his life. His parents worked in the wine business, they moved around a lot. But his sister said that Oregon was always his home base for him I guess, and after his parents split up he moved back to Salem with his mom. Like a lot of teenagers, he struggled with depression, started drinking and smoking weed in high school, and went on to battle substance abuse later on in his life. I don’t really have a good grasp on how bad that got as far as his substance abuse, but he did do some time for selling drugs, that in fairness probably would be considered sort of lower level drugs now days.  

But he got out in his mid-20s. Never was really able to hold jobs for too long, was kind of a rolling stone, also often fell behind on child support payments for a couple relationships prior to his wife which is pretty morbid to think about, sort of, the role that those child support payments played in what ultimately led up to his death.

By all accounts though, he was a very bright guy. Very creative and funny. He loved poetry, loved music, especially electronic music. He performed it professionally until his early 30s, and kept it as a hobby after that.

One other thing that I think is important to mention, is that three years prior in 2017, he’d used meth and had a very similar mental health crisis. That time he either fell or jumped out of second story window and ran off.  His wife called Eugene Police, they found him wandering on a median on Delta Highway.  They told him he’s not in trouble, that they’re worried about him, so they detained him and took him to the hospital on a mental hold for his safety and was able to stay sort of on the straight and narrow for the next three years or so.  So just two different outcomes for (a) very similar situation with him having a mental health crisis. 

Bull: Ardeshir, can you detail some of those “turning points” that took place between Payne and law enforcement, leading up to his death in March last year?

Tabrizian: It’s interesting if you look at EPD’s policy; it’s written in a way where – as far as dealing with arrests in mental health crises, officers can do any one of these responses, essentially.  But it is sorta broken down into, “If you see these things, this is how you respond.” And they can arrest people on warrants.  I mean, they have that ability, obviously. But they’re encouraged to use sound discretion. So when somebody’s in that state where they’re clearly having a crisis and they’re not a danger to themselves or anybody else, they haven’t done a serious crime, in his case, he had a contempt warrant that turned out to be unnecessary. They could’ve taken him to hospital, which is something they never quite acknowledged. But when I was writing a draft of this story, just for myself, I broke it down to turning points, where had the people involved made different or better decisions, he might still be alive.  And we ended up leaving those in the story. 

Turning point #1 – the officers make an arrest that was really an unnecessary arrest. Then that arrest deepens his crisis because by all accounts -or at least his wife’s account – is that he sorta  started to calm down when police arrived.  And after they Tased and arrested him, it just turned his panic into delirium as we said in the store.  He was denied medical help, they didn’t take him to a hospital, they took him to jail. 

I really got the sense that the…and this is where it gets a tiny bit confusing…difference in agencies….you’ve got the Eugene Police, which is a city agency, that’s the arresting agency. The Lane County Jail’s run by the Lane County sheriff’s office and so that’s why the sheriff’s deputies were there.…I always got the sense that the jail staff and the deputies didn’t want to book Landon Payne…they were on pretty high alert during COVID.  They were trying to limit inmates. But that really wasn’t an option for them, it’s up to the arresting agency. I think that the (Lane County) Jail Captain Clint Riley even said, “We have no say as to who comes in here.”

So they almost were pleading with Officer Jairo Solario to just sign a release, or at least asking if he wanted to.  And he said no essentially because they’d just have to deal with him again., he said, essentially.. and the last turning point is that they  restrain him.  Holding him down, up to eight deputies, and that’s sort of the point of no return.

Bull: There were warning signs that were overlooked.

Tabrizian: Yeah, just, he…the warning signs I suppose, were that he had an extreme fear of pretty much everything around him.  He was sorta delusional, scared of his family, scared of police, scared of people in general, I suppose. I mean, there’s no other way to describe it, he was having a mental health crisis, he was just panicked and delusional and not hurting anybody but scared and under the influence of meth. And needed help. I haven’t gotten the body cam video from EPD which is a whole other conversation, but anybody that  reads the police reports and talks to his wife, can pretty much tell he needed help, he needed medical help.  Especially after the use of the Taser.

Bull:  The full circumstances behind Landon Payne's death were kept secret for more than a year...what did you discover led to this cover-up? 

Tabrizian: There were several different agencies involved in that.  Essentially the medical examiner ruling the death “undetermined” as opposed to a homicide or an accident, which is really what it came down to, I think really allowed the law enforcement involved to avoid any kind of a criminal investigation.  EPD also, if you read the reports, there’s sort of a big yellow note on every page that said “CONFIDENTIAL.”  And the Marion County court that they sent those reports back to, where his child support cases was…they sealed that record, it was basically the return of service on his warrant, which meant that he was arrested…which is pretty interesting, that was one of the first things that caught my eye, was this 23-page warrant, return of service with a note that said “EPD investigation.” And it was confidential.

EPD did its own investigation, there was no independent investigation, and EPD actually investigated the actions of Lane County Sheriff’s deputies, which is sort of an interesting decision from EPD, because it seems like washing your hands of the whole thing in a way.  I had trouble reaching the family for a while. I left voicemails for his wife and his sister. I sent a letter to his wife, never heard back.

And then it sorta occurred to me as I was re-reading the police reports that it doesn’t seem that they never really told her what happened. If she was told what the officers wrote…she was basically told that he just collapsed before making it into booking essentially.  And so I eventually sent a letter to the sister, and I left a different note on there that basically said,  “I’m very concerned what police are telling you may not be the truth,” and I think that’s what got her to poke his wife a little bit and say “You might want to give him a call.” And she said that’s what ultimately led her to do that. And one of the more heartbreaking things I’ve had to do in my short career is break that news. And tell her what happened.  And listen to her in real time be shocked, and say that she was told he just collapsed and that was it.  And she was understandably trying to move on with her life because there’s not much you can really do.  But she spent over a year thinking that that’s what happened…when she was lied to. 

Bull:  How was this news received by Landon Payne’s family?

Tabrizian:  They were devastated.  His sister said that her trust was broken from this whole thing, and his wife said that she felt lied to. Understandably, because she was. And his wife said that she wanted to get an attorney, and she was not able to because she really didn’t have any information. I think that they were grateful to find out what happened, but really traumatizing for them to spend a year just trying to…not rationalize, but sort of move on with their lives because that’s all you can really do.  But I think it was very traumatic for them to relive this whole thing and through a different lens, I suppose.

Bull: Where has the bulk of your information come from about Payne's death?

Tabrizian:  Most of it just  comes from public records, I ultimately got EPD police reports, I got the autopsy report and the medical examiner’s report, I got memos from the sheriff’s office written by deputies, I’m sure that there’s more that I’m forgetting. There was sort of two months of just waiting, not really knowing what happened, just vaguely knowing something tragic happened at the jail somewhat recently. And once I got those police reports, my jaw just sort of dropped as I was reading it. And then all these documents just started coming in. I requested the video from the jail because there’s two videos from the sheriff’s office. There’s one from a body camera, and there’s one from the wall of the sally port which is where he was restrained, it’s essentially like a secure jail garage, if that makes sense, just outside the booking area. Once I requested that footage, pretty soon after that, Clint Riley, the Jail Captain gave me a call, credit to him for being transparent on this whole thing, he invited me down to the jail and ask any questions I had.  And my only condition was that I was to get the footage myself. But the medical examiner doesn’t talk about individual cases with the press, I contacted him a couple times. Dan Davis.  I got a no comment from EPD.  No response from Cliff Harrold, the Lane County Sheriff…I think it ultimately just shows that nobody wanted to take responsibility, or still nobody wants to take responsibility for Landon Payne or their roles in what happened to him.

Bull: Does this raise concerns about how future cases of mental crises might be handled here in the City of Eugene? 

Tabrizian:  Absolutely. And I think that this probably happens in Eugene and elsewhere more often than a lot of people even think, it just goes unreported. And I think that law enforcement just  in general are just not as well trained in dealing with people in mental health crises, and unfortunately those same people are the ones that have to deal with those folks most of the time. Based on talking to experts, I think a lot of them just also probably forget their training at times.

I think that there was one exchange in that video, and the jail captain even pointed it out where the sergeant who was on duty at the time,  Lance Jester, was talking to Officer Solairo, EPD,  and when he’s asking about citing or releasing him (Payne), he basically just says “We just didn’t have any other option.”  I think that was his exact quote. And they did have an option, they could have taken him to the hospital. But it really points to the fct that there is really no place for these folks. I know that the jail captain would like to see a crisis center opened up.  The District Attorney, Patricia Perlow said that they’re working really hard to open a crisis center. And I’m not an expert, but I think that’s absolutely a much better solution, there needs to be a place for people in Landon’s state that are having a mental health crisis to be able to go get the help they need that’s not the jail. So they’re not treated like a criminal and ultimately others don’t have to go through what he did and what his family did.

Bull: Ardeshir Tabrezian, I appreciate your time and information. I hope this article raises awareness to some of the issues you’ve raised. Thank you again.

Tabrizian:  Thanks for so much, Brian, I appreciate the time.  Thanks for having me.

Copyright 2021, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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