WALLA WALLA -- A man who shot at a College Place police officer nearly a year ago was found not guilty by reason of insanity at a hearing Monday afternoon.
Jay D. Jeffrey, 43, entered the plea in Walla Walla County Superior Court to a charge of third-degree assault.
Based on mental evaluations, Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht then signed an order determining that Jeffrey was legally insane when the shooting occurred at the house where he was living.
Jeffrey -- who was released on bail months ago and is in treatment -- now will undergo an updated evaluation by an expert at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake. Officials say it remains unclear what brought on the insanity episode that led to the shooting.
The evaluation will determine if Jeffrey is a substantial danger to other people or himself, and if he needs to be confined or can continue to receive outpatient treatment and monitoring. He will be under court jurisdiction for up to five years. If he remains free, he still will be subject to various conditions of release.
Jeffrey was deemed competent for his case to proceed following an evaluation after he was arrested. His trial on initial charges of first-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and aiming or discharging a firearm had been scheduled to start Monday, but was canceled because of the not-guilty finding.
If Jeffrey was convicted as initially charged, he would have been locked up in prison for about a decade. But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden said in an interview that psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Johnson, who worked at Eastern State, was expected to testify at trial that Jeffrey was legally insane at the time of the shooting.
Therefore, Golden was anticipating a jury would have acquitted Jeffrey outright on a diminished-capacity defense. Had that occurred, Jeffrey would have gone free with no required monitoring.
"Something was better than nothing," Golden told the U-B. Therefore he agreed to a plea bargain with defense attorney William McCool. The reduction in charges included in the agreement limits the time Jeffrey will be supervised by Eastern State from a maximum period of life to a period of five years.
Officials said that on May 3, 2010, Jeffrey held police officers at bay outside his home -- which at the time was 639 S.W. Second St. in College Place -- for about 6 1/2 hours in a standoff that began about 10 p.m.
Two College Place officers had arrived at the residence to check on reports from neighbors that Jeffrey had weapons and was acting strangely. Jeffrey was inside and wouldn't allow the officers to enter, but directed one of them -- Robert Benfield -- to go to an open sliding glass door at the side of the home, according to a police report filed in court. Jeffrey then fired three rounds at Benfield, who was nearly hit, the police report says.
The two officers retreated for cover and backup personnel from other law enforcement jurisdictions arrived at the scene. About 2 a.m. May 4, Jeffrey fired a weapon while in the house and walked outside twice carrying two different firearms, according to police. He surrendered at 4:25 a.m.
Several supporters of Jeffrey, including various family members, attended Monday's hearing.
The two officers did not attend. But Golden told Schacht they "are not very happy about (the plea agreement)." Higher-ranking command staff understand the legal issues, however, Golden said.
Golden told the Union-Bulletin on Monday that Jeffrey's actions were inexplicable, out of character and he has since been successfully complying with release conditions. "Nobody can figure it out," Golden said.
McCool added that Jeffrey was on medication for depression at the time and a combination of medications, a physical illness, lack of food and lack of sleep could have contributed to his actions. It is believed Jeffrey suffers from bipolar II disorder.
Jeffrey now lives at 1950 E. Melrose St., Apt. D-1, in Walla Walla according to his release order filed in court.
Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.