Timothy Warren was driving his FedEx truck through a verdant neighborhood in Portland, Ore., when the man he would soon kill screamed that Warren was going too fast.
Warren stopped his truck. He was exhausted, he tried to explain to Joseph Magnuson that day in late September, and just wanted to get done with his work.
Magnuson was unrelenting and hurled numerous aggressive insults and racist slurs at him.
That was something Warren, who is black, could not abide.
He stepped out of the truck, and both men yelled at each other.
Magnuson took a swing. Warren swung back, connecting a single blow above Magnuson’s left eye that sent him tumbling to the ground.
Magnuson, 55, briefly lost consciousness, then died later that evening.
Prosecutors, however, have decided not to charge Warren, 41, with a crime. He did not intend to kill Magnuson and acted in self-defense during the Sept. 26 incident, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office said in a memo released Monday.
Magnuson’s death from the fall was precipitated by “extremely poor health,” a medical examiner concluded, and the punch itself was not fatal, Senior Deputy District Attorney Adam Gibbs wrote.
Warren was within his legal right to challenge Magnuson’s “racist vitriol,” Gibbs noted, and said that Warren’s decision to confront Magnuson — rather than ignore him — was not legally significant.
Prosecutors and police pieced together the events using accounts from six eyewitnesses with different views of the fight; three of them observed the entire encounter. They all maintained that Warren had driven at an acceptable speed and that Magnuson started the incident and then escalated it.
“They report,” Gibbs wrote, “that Mr. Magnuson then ‘very aggressively’ began yelling at Mr. Warren to slow down. Mr. Warren stopped his truck while Mr. Magnuson continued to berate him. The witnesses agree that Mr. Magnuson called Mr. Warren a ‘fucking nigger’ in combination with other aggressive and abusive phrases ‘over and over again.’ ”
The three witnesses who saw the entire incident said Magnuson threw a drink before he threw the first punch.
Warren cooperated with police and gave statements consistent with eyewitness accounts, Gibbs wrote in his memo.
He could not be reached for comment.
Magnuson was living in a van near the park where the deadly encounter occurred, district attorney spokesman Brent Weisberg told The Washington Post.
A friend of Magnuson who lived with him, identified only as “Mr. Bayle,” told prosecutors that he did not see the altercation and only heard Magnuson yell at Warren to slow down. But he said he believed nothing would have occurred had Warren kept driving.
“However,” the prosecutor wrote, “the decision by Mr. Warren, who is black, to not let the racist vitriol to which he was being subjected go unanswered is not of legal significance . . . Mr. Warren was within his right to exit his vehicle and verbally challenge the manner in which Mr. Magnuson was addressing him.”
Oregon law does not carry a “duty to retreat” provision that would have required Warren to reasonably remove himself from danger, Gibbs wrote.
“Mr. Magnuson’s actions, as reported by all three witnesses and Mr. Warren, gave rise to a reasonable belief on Mr. Warren’s part that a limited use of force was necessary to prevent injury to himself,” Gibbs wrote.
The announcement by the prosecutor’s office on Monday was the first public mention of Magnuson’s death and the ensuing investigation, the Oregonian reported; it was unclear why prosecutors had only recently released information about the incident.
It was the fourth homicide in Portland this year later determined the result of self-defense. The people defending themselves in three of those incidents, including Warren, were working when they were attacked, according to the Oregonian.
It’s unclear whether Warren still works for FedEx; a company spokeswoman declined to answer a question about his employment status.
The company said it “fully cooperated with law enforcement during the investigation of this unfortunate incident. We extend our condolences to all those affected,” FedEx Ground spokeswoman Nikki Mendicino said in a statement.