LOVE AND RAGE
"Do not let anyone quench your fire. Do not let them dismiss your love nor pacify your rage. My love, do not water yourself down."
Charles Landeros returned to Cascade Middle School in a panic on the morning of Jan. 11.
Less than two hours earlier, Landeros, 30, had dropped off their daughter for her second day of classes at the west Eugene school.
Landeros was a graduate of Willamette High School, a decorated Army veteran, a former University of Oregon student, an activist — and, in the last year, an extremist who called for the overthrow of the government and violence against police while catching the attention of the FBI.
"I have spent most of my life fighting and advocating for marginalized people," Landeros wrote in 2017, referring to people of color and the LGBTQ community. "I will spend the rest of my life working for the social justice movement."
Editor's note: Charles Landeros preferred the gender-neutral pronouns "they," their" or "them," and that is how Landeros is referred to in this story. However, quotes from people interviewed about Landeros were not altered to reflect that preference.
On that fateful January day, Landeros also was a concerned father. Landeros had enrolled their daughter at the middle school earlier in the week after she ran away from her mother, Landeros' ex-wife Shayla Landeros. Now, Shayla was at the school, asking to check in and speak with her daughter. Alerted by the school, Landeros was scared she’d take their daughter.
A short time later, a Eugene police officer, called in to mediate the dispute and joined later by a second officer, shot and killed Landeros during a struggle in front of the school. The shooting's criminal investigation, which included a review of video footage from the two officers' body cameras, showed Landeros pulled out a handgun and fired twice — narrowly missing one of them — after being physically removed from the school.
District Attorney Patty Perlow ruled the fatal shooting was legally justified under state law. The Eugene Police Department is set to start an internal review of the officers' actions. Both officers have returned to work after being placed on paid leave, standard protocol in the wake of an officer-involved shooting. Landeros' family members, concerned that Landeros' race may have played a factor in the shooting, have pledged an independent review.
A separate review by The Register-Guard, which includes previously unreleased details about the interactions between Landeros and the officers prior to the deadly altercation, suggests the shooting occurred as Landeros' anti-police views and effort to save their daughter collided in a deadly flashpoint. It also provides the most complete picture to date of why and how Landeros, a former pacifist with no criminal record whom friends and family described as a loving individual and father, came within inches of maiming or killing a police officer.
"He's not a person that wants someone to get pushed around," Landeros' father, Frank Landeros, told investigators shortly after the shooting. "He's been pushed around a lot so if you push him a little bit more, he was probably hyped up on whatever got him going to (the) school.”
The circumstances that brought Landeros to the school a final time began unfolding years earlier.
Editor's note: This story is largely based on files compiled during the criminal investigation of the fatal shooting of Charles Landeros and other public records, as well as interviews with Landeros' ex-wife Shayla Landeros, acquaintances and friends. The investigative file included police reports, audio interviews, transcripts, body camera footage and other records.
The attorney representing Landeros' family earlier declined an interview request and did not respond to questions provided via email.
Born in Hong Kong to Filipino and Mexican parents, both U.S. citizens, Landeros arrived in Eugene in 1989, still an infant.
Kendal Adams befriended Landeros when they were young children, and they remained close into their early 20s.
Adams remembered a fun-loving, flamboyant kid who was 100 percent invested in what they enjoyed doing.
He recalled Landeros hurtling down the Washington-Jefferson Skatepark on Rollerblades at 2 a.m., or charging, shirtless, into the middle of the fray while playing paintball.
"When he's super-passionate about things, he's an all-in or nothing type of guy," Adams said.
Landeros attended Cascade Middle School and Willamette High School, enlisting in the Army before graduating in June 2006. Friends said Landeros joined the military to pay for college. Landeros, who spent the bulk of a six-year military career assigned to Fort Drum, N.Y., served as a UH-60 Black Hawk transport helicopter mechanic and crew chief — the soldier responsible for everyone on the aircraft.
"I see myself working on a multi-billion dollar aircraft, and it makes me proud to know that what I do as a living keeps people alive up in the air," Landeros said in an Army recruitment video. "It's a lot of responsibility, and I'm proud they trust me with it."
Wilson Luther, who supervised Landeros from late 2007 to early 2008 as a company sergeant, recalled Landeros' politics generally were more liberal than the soldier's peers and Landeros sometimes questioned authority. But Landeros' political views at the time weren't anything out of the ordinary, Luther said.
"He showed up. He did his work. He went home," he recalled.
Landeros finished two year-long combat deployments, first to Iraq starting in October 2008, and again to Afghanistan starting in October 2010, Landeros' discharge record shows.
Landeros received the Air Medal, among other awards, during the Iraq deployment for "exceptionally meritorious service" during combat missions, according to the citation.
But the deployment apparently took a toll. Adams said he noticed Landeros was quieter and not as outgoing after the deployment to Iraq, but Landeros never went into detail.
"I know he had a hard time with it," Adams said.
Landeros mentioned experiencing firearm trauma in a podcast last year but provided no further explanation. Landeros noted knowing "firsthand the harrowing effects of living with" post-traumatic stress disorder in an application to the Eugene Human Rights Commission in 2017. Landeros also told the university's board of trustees that they had watched friends die on the battlefield. But Landero's ex-wife told investigators she didn't know if Landeros was ever diagnosed or received treatment for PTSD.
Landeros was honorably discharged in 2012 and returned to Eugene, having lined up a helicopter mechanic job that required frequent overseas travel for long periods.
Landeros had married Shayla in Lane County in August 2007, and she and their oldest daughter joined Landeros in New York during their time in the Army. While the daughter was not Landeros' biological child, Landeros described in court papers being "the only father she has ever known." A year later, the couple welcomed the birth of a second daughter, Landeros' biological child. The couple separated several months later, and Shayla returned to Lane County.
In the fall of 2012, according to court records, Shayla moved to Florida with their two daughters and told Landeros she wasn't returning. Shayla told The Register-Guard she moved to get away from a threatening domestic situation — not involving Landeros, who was working overseas.
Landeros filed for divorce and sought a temporary restraining order seeking the return of their daughters.
Landeros temporarily moved to Florida, and the family returned to Oregon under strained circumstances the following year. The couple's divorce was finalized in April 2013.
The parents agreed to joint custody, according to the divorce decree, but Shayla retained "final decision-making authority for decisions involving medical care, education and the religion of the children."
"He's a good dad and he loved his kids," Shayla told The Register-Guard. "That never, never was in question."
In 2014, Landeros used the GI Bill to enroll at the University of Oregon, according to the registrar's office.
Landeros worked as a sex educator and survivor advocate with the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team, a group of students committed to ending sexual assault on campus.
Sexual assault on campus isn't going to get fixed "unless enough people care and care enough to stand up and say, 'This isn't right,'" Landeros told a UO student blog.
Emma Sharp, who became friends with Landeros while also working with the advocacy team, said Landeros quickly emerged as a leader in the group during their three-year tenure.
The friends attended basketball games and went salsa dancing. They'd spend hours sitting in front of her apartment talking, Sharp said.
"Charlie had the biggest heart," she said. "They were someone I could always reach out to and talk to."
Over time, Sharp said Landeros began "digging their heels in more" about injustice and oppression.
"I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing," she said. "I see that they were growing into a person fighting for voices that can't be heard because they had a voice that could be heard."
While many people saw Landeros as a "militant, angry organizer," Sharp recalled Landeros as a caring father. When she last saw Landeros in November, Sharp recalled Landeros talking about vegetables they were donating from a community garden to help feed the homeless.
"With them, there was so much love and so much pain," she said. "As a friend, it was hard to see where the love began and the pain ended."
Eugene resident Tara Ann Griffin, who befriended Landeros in June 2015, said Landeros was always fun to talk to, always with a glint in their eye. She described Landeros as an "incredibly decent person" who deeply loved their daughters.
The two talked politics, and Griffin said Landeros was staunchly opposed to the presence of police officers at protests Landeros was attending.
"He was insistent that self-defense be a part of everyday life, that it was important to be prepared," she said.
On Oct. 6, 2017, Landeros led a group of students onto the stage and forced the cancellation of a major speech UO President Michael Schill was preparing to deliver. The loud but peaceful protest criticized rising tuition costs and sought a ban on white nationalist groups on campus, among other grievances.
Afterward, Landeros decried the university for marginalizing the voices of students.
"The students are the ones bringing in the money. Why are our demands completely and utterly destroyed and ignored? No longer. ... We are the students," Landeros said. "We will be heard. Expect resistance to anyone who opposes us."
The university began disciplinary proceedings against Landeros and other students for violating its student conduct code. Landeros was found guilty of a charge of disrupting the university but vowed to appeal. The university's spokeswoman said the outcome of student conduct cases is confidential.
Landeros left the university at the end of the term without earning a degree, according to the registrar's office.
Landeros couched the plight of people of color and the LBGTQ community as a fight for survival.
"We're reaching out and we're saying we need help," Landeros told the Eugene City Council last year, testifying in support of a resolution supporting children whose parents entered the U.S. illegally. "... We can look at history and see what happens if it's just us fighting. We're just going to be gone, and this country will continue on."
To prevent that from happening, Landeros turned to guns.
Records suggest Landeros started Community Armed Self-Defense, which provided firearms training, particularly for people of color and the LGBTQ community, after leaving the university.
Brynn Powell, Landeros' partner for 1 1/2 years and an assistant instructor for the group, said in a podcast that Landeros started the group in response to the threat of violence by white nationalists.
Powell told the interviewer in the podcast that she and Landeros had been unarmed and individually had "personal vows towards pacifism and nonviolence until ... ." She trailed off and then changed the subject.
"We do this for our survival," Powell said. "We don't just do this because we love the Second Amendment so much."
Landeros said guns provided the sense of power that Landeros found lacking in traditional expressions of civic engagement: registering to vote, joining organizations and attending public protests.
Landeros also described the group as a "building block" of liberation and revolution that required similar groups to stand up and arm themselves.
"We need the tools to actually fight," Landeros said. "Otherwise what's going to happen is we're going to be slaughtered by the state."
In February 2018, the same month Landeros obtained a concealed handgun license, Luther, Landeros' former sergeant, contacted the FBI.
Luther had gotten back in touch with Landeros on social media. But their periodic discussions about politics had taken an extreme turn.
Luther reported to the FBI that Landeros "has legitimate plans to cause riots and uprisings with the goal of destabilizing local governments."
He shared screenshots of an exchange in which Luther said Landeros "wants to use his military training to train others (non-whites preferably) to kill the 'ruling class.'"
The FBI opened an investigation and agents interviewed Shayla. Landeros declined to be interviewed.
The agency closed the investigation in late summer 2018 due to insufficient evidence.
On Jan. 11, about an hour before a Eugene police officer fatally shot Landeros, a concerned resident contacted Springfield police.
The department had posted on its Facebook page a story about a California police officer who was shot and killed. The resident reported that an account belonging to a "Charlie Landeros" had posted the following comment on the story:
"Death to all pigs."
Toward the end of 2018, Landeros’ oldest daughter began having problems, and a schism erupted between the two parents over how to address them. Their daughter ran away to stay with her father at Landeros’ west Eugene home on Jan. 6.
"She wanted what he wanted," Shayla told The Register-Guard. "I wanted something different."
Landeros enrolled their daughter at Cascade Middle School without Shayla’s permission and without any legal right. Shayla, not Landeros, had final say under the divorce decree about where their children attended school.
On the morning of Jan. 11, Landeros dropped their daughter off for her second day, pledging not to embarrass her by hugging her in front of her friends.
At about 10:15 a.m., Shayla arrived at the school to see if her daughter was a student there. She was concerned about her daughter’s welfare because she hadn't heard from her.
Principal Natalie Oliver called Eugene police officer Steve Timm, the Bethel School District's school resource officer. A district spokesman said it’s been district practice to call police in to clarify and interpret custody paperwork when there are disputes between divorced parents.
Timm wasn't happy when Oliver texted him to notify him that Landeros also had been contacted and was en route. At 10:27 a.m., Timm called for backup, and Officer Aaron Johns, another school resource officer, agreed to drive over.
Landeros and Powell drove to the school together. Powell said Landeros was panicked that Shayla would take their daughter.
Upon his arrival to the school, Timm spoke with Shayla in an office and concluded from the divorce decree that it was "crystal clear" she was the custodial parent. Toward the end of their talk, Timm said Shayla told him, "Oh, by the way, he (Landeros) is under investigation by the FBI and he hates cops, and he hates the government."
Landeros and Powell arrived at the school, wearing backpacks and carrying concealed handguns unbeknownst to school employees and the police officers. District policy prohibits firearms in schools, but it isn’t against state law for holders of valid concealed handgun permits to do so; Landeros and Powell had valid licenses. Shayla and Powell each told investigators that Landeros carried a gun at all times.
Oliver escorted them to another office and told them a police officer was on the way. Powell then left the office and started to walk out of the school to return to their truck parked outside. Oliver later said it was her impression Powell was nervous about the police coming.
"We didn't have a plan," Powell answered when investigators asked her about the couple's intentions. She added that they didn't want the daughter to know that Shayla was at the school.
"They didn't want to hurt anybody," Powell said, referring to Landeros. "They just wanted (the daughter) to be safe."
When Johns showed up, Timm activated his body camera at 10:41 a.m. and stepped into the office where Landeros was waiting.
After confirming that the divorce decree remained in effect, Landeros asked if the legal document allowed Shayla to physically take her daughter "right now." Timm said yes.
Landeros argued that Shayla couldn't physically take her. Timm disagreed.
"Well, then can I take her?" Landeros asked.
“No, you can’t,” Timm replied.
Timm later recalled Landeros’ question as a statement: "'She is not taking my daughter from the school,' or something similar to that," he quoted Landeros as saying.
Oliver then told Landeros that Shayla earlier indicated to her that Shayla just wanted to check in and it was unclear if the mother wanted to remove her from the school.
The principal offered to check with Shayla and get back to Landeros about her intentions.
But Timm wasn’t interested in a negotiation between the two parents; he wanted Landeros out of the school.
Timm told investigators "red flags" went up when he met Landeros. Timm described Landeros’ dress — they had on a "Smash The Patriarchy and Chill" T-shirt, bulky jacket and black beanie — as "survival gear." Timm saw that Landeros carried a knife at the waist and had a large backpack that investigators later found stored additional rounds of ammunition. Timm also thought it was weird that Landeros and Powell had put on backpacks before coming into the school.
Timm said he didn’t think anything good was going to come out of Oliver’s intervention, that the situation would "blow up."
"So since I knew that she had the authority to take her daughter, I did not want him there when that exchange took place," he said.
The police officer asked the father when did Landeros’ daughter come to stay with Landeros?
Landeros: "Uh, why?"
Timm: “Well because I’m asking.”
Landeros: "I’d rather not, I’d rather not ..."
Timm interrupted: “Okay, then I’m asking you to leave.”
Landeros agreed and grabbed the backpack.
"If you don’t want to answer questions, then we’ll see you," Timm said as Landeros walked out of the office.
Johns, who came into the office a minute earlier, recalled that the discussion was going fine and he expected things to wrap up shortly — until Landeros refused to answer Timm’s question about the daughter. Johns said he interpreted Landeros declining to answer the question as a "big (expletive) you" to Timm.
"And at that point I sensed the hostility," Johns recalled later. "... So now I'm kind of — like, OK, it's not going to be as easy as I thought it was going to be, so I'm standing there prepared."
Johns started to follow Landeros out. Timm called Johns back, relating what Shayla told him earlier about the FBI investigation.
"He needs to leave the school, OK?" Timm said quietly.
Johns and then Timm walked up to Landeros, standing near the school's front entrance.
Landeros told the officers that Landeros was waiting to hear from the principal about Shayla’s plans for their daughter. Landeros told the officers they didn't have authority to order them to leave. Timm disagreed.
Landeros’ daughter happened upon the scene on her way to the principal’s office. She needed her locker combination. She wore a black long-sleeved shirt with the word "Florida" emblazoned on its front that her father had given as a gift. Surprised to see her father, she forgot about the locker.
Landeros saw their daughter, yelled her name several times before shouting for her to "go" while moving. Johns shoved Landeros out the door.
"I'm not going to get into a fight with someone in a front entranceway with all these kids around," Johns explained later.
Landeros' daughter, unsure what was happening, dropped her school books and followed her father outside.
Johns attempted to pin Landeros against the wall. Timm informed Landeros they were under arrest.
Landeros tried to break free. "Let go of me," Landeros yelled at the officers as they struggled.
In those final seconds, Landeros' love and rage appear to fuse and combust. At 10:45 a.m., everything happens at once.
Timm sees Landeros sweep back the jacket. The officer expects to see the knife but ...
"He’s got a gun. Gun!" Timm yells.
"Dad! Dad!" the daughter yells.
Timm's body camera shows the gun pointed at Timm on two separate occasions.
Landeros fires twice. The second shot narrowly misses Timm, the officer said later. The officer stumbles, recovers, and draws and fires his weapon as Johns and Landeros are struggling on the ground over Landeros' gun. Both officers later said they feared for their lives. Timm aims at Landeros' head after his first shot missed.
"LET GO OF ME! LET GO OF ME!" Landeros screams.
Timm fires. Landeros goes limp.
Landeros’ daughter stands just behind the officers. On the opposite side, Powell, having heard the gunshots from the truck, appears.
Landeros, motionless on the ground between them, lies dying as their screams fill the air.