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Sept. 20, 2020

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Portland’s deadly July: Domestic violence, suspected love triangle and gang retaliation among 15 killings

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PORTLAND — A 22-year-old man walking near Woodlawn Park died in a brazen shooting just as evening fell on July 28, killed in a spray of bullets by men who pulled up in several cars, jumped out and opened fire.

Police suspect the ambush of Jordan Lee Louis around 7:30 p.m. may have been in retaliation for a shooting the night before when someone burst into the apartment of a 19-year-old in a rival gang and shot him while he was in bed.

The tit-for-tat killings involve adversaries from the Hoover and Loc’d Out Piru gangs, police believe, and set off another round of shootings to cap one of the most violent months in Portland in 30 years.

The alarming toll – 99 shootings, 38 people wounded and 15 people dead – also includes gruesome domestic violence attacks, fury over an apparent love triangle that left three people dead and disputes between friends that spiraled out of control.

“Some of these are who-done-its. Some of these are domestic. Some of these are retaliatory,” said Detective Division Cmdr. Jeff Bell. “The sheer number and variety stand out.”

Investigators point to a confluence of circumstances causing the surge — the pandemic, summer heat, the diversion of police to handle nightly protests and the city’s elimination of the bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team.

Of the 38 people injured in shootings last month, 34 were either teenage boys or men. Most of them – 25 – were Black, four were Hispanic and nine were white, police said.

So far this year, Portland has logged 376 shootings – on track to easily surpass the 388 shootings reported in all of 2019.

Police Chief Chuck Lovell and Assistant Chief Jami Resch, now overseeing the bureau’s investigations branch after giving up the top job to Lovell in June, said the Police Bureau no longer has a stable of specialized officers dedicated to follow up on the shootings, talk to witnesses and use their relationships to gather tips.

At the City Council’s direction, Lovell disbanded the 34-member specialized unit at the beginning of July and moved six of its detectives to the downtown Detective Division’s assault detail and scattered its officers among the three precincts to respond to 911 calls on patrol.

But with the spasm of bloodshed, the chief has pulled a sergeant and six patrol officers to help homicide detectives. Two weeks ago, he also halted the pulling of any homicide detectives for protest support coverage.

The absence of the specialized gun violence enforcement team has emboldened young people to “be out with guns,” Lovell said.

“They know there’s not someone watching,” he said. “There’s no real deterrent there. I think that’s what’s causing the spike we’ve seen in July.”

The glut of shootings last month is almost triple the 35 reported in July 2019.

“As a chief of police, when you see those numbers, it gives you a knot in your stomach,” Lovell said. “People are dying in your streets, and you’re responsible for the safety of your community.”

***

At least seven of the July killings appear to be tied to domestic violence.

A son experiencing delusions came home to his apartment and thought his mother was possessed by demons. He cut her throat and removed her eyes, telling police he “disassembled the demon,” according to court records.

A 29-year-old daughter is accused of fatally stabbing her 61-mother at her home.

An 18-year-old woman was shot after she was seen arguing with a young man, and police are seeking her ex-boyfriend on an arrest warrant.

Two men and a woman were killed in what police suspect may have been the result of a fit of jealous rage. A 58-year-old man faces a 19-count indictment charging him with murder, domestic violence-related assault and unlawful use of a gun. He has pleaded not guilty.

Others resulted from squabbles that suddenly blew up.

A 26-year-old man was shot and killed over fender-bender damage to a car near the scene of speed racing along North Marine Drive, police said.

Another man died from a pistol-whipping by a family friend upset over being called “cheap,” according to court records.

Two men were killed in separate shootings outside strip clubs.

***

A study of Portland shootings by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform found that brutality essentially begets brutality and exacts an inordinate toll on the city’s Black population.

“The normalization or even expectation of violence can lead to high rates of gun possession, tension and the resolving of minor disputes with gun violence,” according to the study out this year.

The analysis of homicides in the city from 2015 to May 2019 and all shootings resulting in injuries from January 2018 to December 2018 revealed that Black people make up 51 percent of victims, while only 6 percent of the population.

Most shooting victims and suspects were between 25 and 34 years old, followed by 18- to 24-years-olds, the study found. The average age of a victim was 31.

More than 90 percent of suspects and almost 80 percent of shooting victims had been involved in the criminal justice system, either arrested or convicted of earlier crimes.

The study estimated that the cost of one fatal shooting in Portland amounts to $1.4 million, including expenses from police response, emergency care and surgery, autopsy, police investigation, prosecution, victim support and prison. The cost estimate of one non-fatal shooting was $670,000.

Though the City Council disbanded the Gun Violence Reduction Team, concerned that it had targeted a disproportionate number of Blacks in traffic stops, Chief Lovell, who is Black, said he doesn’t believe the team’s officers were racially profiling people.

“If you look at the victims’ side of that, you’ll notice Black people are overrepresented on the victim side too,” he said.

***

Russ Millage, a Grant High basketball and football coach, was away in Seattle for the weekend when when his phone started lighting up on July 25.

Millage learned his cousin had been shot and killed in Portland. He was stunned because his cousin, Tyrell Penney, 27, of Sacramento, had been in the city only for a couple of days visiting family.

Millage got another call. His brother, Masico “Mase” Laveral Walker Jr., had been shot at the same time as Penney and was fighting for his life in a hospital. Walker was hit in the stomach twice and in the back three times.

Millage’s girlfriend drove him straight to the scene of the shooting, a strip club in Southeast Portland.

“I was just in the passenger seat crying and going crazy,” Millage said.

When they arrived at the scene, his cousin’s body still lay outside.

“They were meeting up with somebody and stuff just went wrong,” he said.

Millage ultimately made it to the hospital, and recently spent a night beside his brother’s bed.

Millage and his family had just buried another cousin, DeAnnzello McDonald, 28, who was shot and killed outside a Northeast Portland apartment on June 11.

Millage works as a mentor for juveniles, going into the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center three times a week to talk to at-risk teenagers and try to steer them away from trouble through the local Community Healing Initiative.

“I’m just tired. I’m exhausted,” he said. “I’ve lost two of my cousins who were under 30 from this violence.”

“For people to be out here just shooting people – they didn’t even know my cousin. It’s just scary,” he said. “I just hope we get justice. I just want my family to get out of here.”

After a vigil for Penney, grieving family and friends gathered at the home of Millage’s mother.

There, a fight broke out and a family friend, Aja Rhone-Spears, 34, was stabbed and killed. Police have made no arrest.

Millage’s cousins and brother and Rhone-Spears are all Black.

With Portland’s Black community so small, the loss reverberates, he said. Millage said those committing violence need to realize the pain caused by their senseless acts.

His message”You only get one time around man. Stop the violence,” Millage said. “You’re hurting more than one person. You’re hurting the city, bro.”

***

About 10:35 p.m. last Friday on the final day of July, Kemoh M. Sulimani was about to lead a prayer devotional via Zoom from his Northeast Portland apartment.

He pulled up Psalm 113 on his computer, meditating on a verse that read, “Who is like unto thee O the Lord our God, who dwells on high?”

His meditation was suddenly shattered by a barrage of gunshots. A bullet whistled directly over his head, lodging in a nearby wall.

“I was terrified,” he said, describing how he lay flat on the ground and slowly crawled to turn the light off in his apartment.

After the gunfire ebbed, he learned from police that 150 shell casings littered the street. Bullets hit nearby cars, including his.

The next morning, he wrote on Facebook:

“Pray that our political leaders would make keeping citizens safe their first priority. Pray that those who carry out acts like these will be caught and severely punished. Pray for my peace of mind and protection … Although I know my life is in God’s hand, honestly, I’m still afraid.”

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