Lawmaker: Proud Boys violence in Gresham needs investigation
A state lawmaker is pressing for further investigation into a violent confrontation during a right-wing demonstration outside an abandoned Kmart in Gresham.
In a letter citing video evidence, Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, asked elected leaders in that city to deploy more police to future "far-right protests, as their intentions are clearly not peaceful."
"This protest included activity from the notoriously violent gang, Proud Boys," Ruiz wrote in the letter to city leaders on Sept. 16. "The video seems to indicate the victim repeatedly requests protesters allow them to leave. Instead, the violence and trauma continue."
A public records request seeking any correspondence in reply to the letter turned up empty, but city spokeswoman Sarah Cagann says Police Chief Travis Gullberg and other city leaders will meet with the lawmaker to discuss his concerns. Police officials, meanwhile, have forcefully defended their conduct.
Juniper Simonis, a freelance ecologist and outspoken police abolitionist, told Pamplin Media Group they were punched in the head and are now being treated for traumatic brain and jaw injuries, as well as paying more than $8,000 to repair their car's hatch window, which was shattered by a cinderblock, and fix dents from the doors being kicked.
"It was terrifying," Simonis said in an email, saying they feared for their life and the life of their service dog, Wallace. "Time slowed down and I was constantly trying to get us out of there."
Flag wave at shuttered store
The incident happened around 4 p.m. Saturday, August 28 during a flag wave style gathering outside the defunct Kmart store at 440 N.W. Burnside Rd.
It was just one week since the Proud Boys brawled with counter protesters outside another abandoned Kmart on 122nd Avenue in East Portland — but unlike the events of Aug. 22, only a few people showed up to demonstrate against the flag wave.
In a Twitter thread, Simonis said they had planned to spend the day taking photographs of Mt. Hood, but turned back due to hazy weather, and were looking for a place to eat when they happened upon the Kmart and decided to pull into the parking lot.
Videos posted by Simonis on social media show a crowd of people shouting and surrounding Simonis' car and captures the audio of glass shattering. The 37-year-old also described people targeting them with slurs based on sexual orientation.
"Politicians, hate preachers, 'patriots,' anti-masking anti-vaxxing people, and others are using (Proud Boys) as security at events, and they are roving off site to target and attack people, including random passersby," Simonis said.
Police defend response
In the aftermath of the incident, Simonis has slammed the police response and questioned why the incident, first reported by the Washington Blade, wasn't covered by local media.
Simonis posted photos of their police report showing it wasn't recorded as a bias crime — the legal term for a hate crime — and posted an analysis of FBI crime data showing that Gresham reports far fewer hate crimes then Portland, even when taking account for population size.
Another part of the police report marked Simonis' sex as "unknown." Simonis identifies as nonbinary but is legally female.
"I have no faith in Gresham PD to do anything with regards to this incident or future such bias crimes," said Simonis.
A spokesman for the Gresham Police Department, Capt. Claudio Grandjean, admitted that the report misgendered Simonis but said the officer who wrote the report was given bad info by a dispatcher. Another section was marked "bias crime (no bias)" by someone in the records department, he said.
Responding to Rep. Ruiz's letter, Capt. Grandjean said the department is focused on solving gun violence crimes, noting that roughly 40 injury shootings and 11 homicides have occurred so far this year, one fewer than the city's record.
"We don't have the resources to investigate a lot of things that should be investigated," the police captain said, touting the city's 90% solve rate for homicides.
Grandjean argued the event would have stayed peaceful if Simonis hadn't driven into the parking lot.
"A way to minimize harm is to not drive (near) a bunch of people and yell expletives at them," he said. "Juniper told the officer that they wanted to report the vandalism for insurance purposes, which is another way of saying they want to get it documented and no investigation."
In a separate interview, Tom Walker, president of the Gresham Police Officers Association union, defended Officer Gerrit Hoekstra, who took the report.
"Our officer essentially did exactly what this person wanted us to do," said Walker. "For us to determine a bias crime, we would have to have a victim that's willing to cooperate to proceed with charges."
Simonis called the law enforcement officials' statements inaccurate and victim blaming.
"In no way is driving into a parking lot (especially one with open businesses) an escalation," they said via email, "nor an invitation to assault me and vandalize my car while spewing hate-filled speech."
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