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Crime, Law & Justice

In 'Hidden Death', Events Leading Up To Landon Payne's Death Explored

LandonPayne01.jpeg
Provided by Ardeshir Tabrizian
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A Eugene man died while in custody of local law enforcement last year. In the Eugene Weekly article, “A Hidden Death”, reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian shares the story of Landon Payne, who was suffering a mental health crisis when police were called in on the night of March 27th, 2020.  KLCC’s Brian Bull spoke to Tabrizian, and asked him to share what he learned of Payne prior to the incident.

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.

(audio segment ends)

KLCC’s Brian Bull, talking to Eugene Weekly reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian, about his investigative article, “A Hidden Death.”  The story was a collaboration between the Weekly and the Catalyst Journalism Project

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For an extended interview with Tabrizian, click here.

For the Eugene Weekly article, "A Hidden Death", click here

Note: Several parties mentioned in Tabrizian's article were approached for comment.  The Eugene Police Department said Chief Chris Skinner was unavailable for comment, while CAHOOTS cited HIPPA in its decision not to respond as the article involved client interactions. The Lane County Sheriff's Office was invited to comment beyond Lane County Jail Captain Clint Mile's statements, but has not yet responded.

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