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Grand jury clears Salem police officer of wrongdoing in deadly shooting

An officer shot and killed Tayler Osborne on April 11 in a struggle after responding to recover a Mazda Miata that had been reported stolen.
Credit: Marion County D.A.'s office

SALEM, Ore. — A Marion County grand jury unanimously decided that a Salem police officer was "lawful and justified" in shooting and killing a man during a struggle on April 11, the Marion County District Attorney's office announced Wednesday.

According to a narrative prepared by the D.A.'s office, a caller contacted dispatch that day after reportedly spotting a friend's stolen Mazda Miata in the parking lot behind Johnny's Bar & Grill, near the intersection of 17th Street Northeast and Center Street Northeast.

The caller stayed on the phone with dispatch while Salem police responded, reporting that two men were sitting in the Miata. Shortly before officers arrived, the caller said that the two men had gotten out of the car and entered a blue GMC Yukon parked adjacent.

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When Salem police officers arrived, they ordered the occupants of the Yukon to get out. There were three men inside, identified as Matthew Calkins and Christopher Esman — who the caller had said were in the Miata before — and Tayler Osborne.

According to the D.A.'s office, the men all got out of the car and the officers looked inside the Yukon. They reportedly spotted a large bag of a white crystal substance on the driver's seat which they believed to be methamphetamine, the barrel of a rifle tucked between the driver's seat and a center console, and what looked to be the barrel of a tan Glock pistol under the front passenger seat with a matching magazine on the floor nearby.

After officers separated the three men, Calkins allegedly told police that Osborne dealt drugs out of his Yukon, had large amounts of meth and "oxycodone pills," and had a "Tiffany blue" 9mm pistol hidden inside the vehicle. Calkins also said that Osborne had been smoking meth before police arrived.

Osborne allegedly denied knowing anything about the white substance, giving police consent to remove the bag from the driver's seat but refusing to let them search the rest of the vehicle.

Calkins and Enson were given citations for allegedly stealing the Miata and were released from the scene, which the D.A.'s office said was due to "Covid protocols still in place" at the Marion County Jail. Meanwhile, officers took Osborne into custody for potential drug and gun charges while waiting on a search warrant for the man's Yukon.

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One Salem officer, identified as Officer Susan Slivkoff, had Osborne cuffed in the back of her car. The D.A.'s office said that Osborne later complained of being thirsty, and Slivkoff offered to give him a drink of water.

When Slivkoff opened the rear door to the patrol car, she reportedly saw that Osborne had slipped his handcuffs to the front. She took him out of the back seat so she could cuff him behind his back again.

"Although Tayler Osborne had appeared cooperative and compliant up to that point, when his left hand was released from the handcuff he immediately pushed Officer Slivkoff and began to run towards his Yukon in an attempt to escape from her custody," the D.A.'s office said.

Slivkoff kept hold of Osborne's right wrist as he tried to escape. Another officer, identified as Corporal Joshua Buker, ran to help. The three soon fell to the ground in a fighting heap.

"During the fight, Taylor Osborne punched Corporal Buker in the face causing two cuts and a black eye," the D.A.'s office said. "Additionally, Taylor Osborne grabbed at Corporal Buker’s duty belt with his left hand in an effort to get Corporal Buker’s gun. Although Corporal Buker was able to control Tayler Osborne’s left arm, Tayler Osborne was able to use his right hand to grab Corporal Buker’s taser."

The taser went off twice during the struggle. The D.A.'s office said the two officers reported feeling the shock. That, according to Buker's testimony, justified what happened next.

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"Corporal Buker believed that Tayler Osborne would incapacitate him or Officer Slivkoff with Corporal Buker’s taser, which would give Tayler Osborne access to Corporal Buker or Officer Slivkoff’s firearm or give Tayler Osborne an opportunity to escape to his Yukon where additional firearms were located," the D.A.'s office said. "Corporal Buker drew his firearm and fired twice at Tayler Osborne from a distance of less than three feet."

Osborne initially remained alert after the shooting, lying on his back at gunpoint, and the D.A.'s office said that he "continued to try to get up from the ground." It wasn't until a number of other officers arrived on the scene that they began rendering first aid. Osborne was pronounced dead at Salem Hospital.

An autopsy confirmed that Osborne had been shot twice, with both rounds passing through his left lung. Toxicology was not done because of blood transfusions that Osborne received at the hospital.

A later search of the Yukon confirmed some of the officers' initial suspicions, but not others. The two visible guns — the rifle and the "Glock" — were both airsoft replica guns, the D.A.'s office said.

Investigators did find a blue 9mm Smith & Wesson pistol. The D.A.'s office did not mention any ammunition found for the 9mm, and crime scene photos show that it was not loaded with a magazine. The search also found $1,140 in cash, 142 grams of meth, and 641.5 blue "M30" pills that may have been laced with fentanyl.

"Due to the extreme danger in law enforcement handling these pills a sample was taken and has been submitted to the Oregon State Police crime lab for testing," the D.A.'s office said. "The results of that testing are not yet available."

The shooting was investigated by Oregon State Police, with the D.A.'s office presenting evidence to the grand jury. That included security camera footage of the scene from two angles, and testimony from three Salem police officers, including Slivkoff and Buker.

“This incident highlights the dangerous work our law enforcement officers do every day," said Marion County D.A. Paige Clarkson. "I am grateful they returned home to their families that night. The grand jury should be commended for their diligent and careful review of all the evidence. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family of Tayler Osborne. Nobody wants these outcomes.”

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