WLPD says the arrest was based on caller's description, not racial profiling

PMG FILE PHOTO - A man has accused West Linn police of arresting him based on racial profiling. West Linn police arrested a Hispanic handyman for attempted burglary Feb. 20 after he left a business card at the front door of someone's home in West Linn.

According to police records, a West Linn resident called police around noon Feb. 20 after hearing the man, Juan Fernando Davalos Rojas, at the door. The caller said they believed the man was trying to enter the home before driving away.

Officers pulled Davalos Rojas over on Rosemont Road, believing him to be the suspect because his vehicle matched the caller's description. According to the reports of several responding officers, Davalos Rojas was compliant with their questioning and admitted to placing his business card in the door of the resident, but denied trying to enter the house. Soon after, he was booked in Clackamas County jail for the attempted robbery.

Davalos Rojas told the Tidings he believes he was arrested based on racial profiling.

"They were discriminating a lot just because I'm Hispanic and I have tattoos," he said.

Police Captain Peter Mahuna said the arrest was not based on racial profiling, but the 9-1-1 caller's detailed description of Davalos Rojas and his car.

The case, which was dismissed by the Clackamas County DA for lack of evidence, bears additional relevance because West Linn police are currently under federal investigation for civil rights violations in the case of Michael Fesser, a black man from Portland unlawfully arrested in 2017.

Mahuna said that the case against Davalos Rojas should not have been filed as an attempted burglary, but rather theft of firearms.

While searching Davalos Rojas' car, police found two handguns, which they later learned had been at the resident's property.

Davalos Rojas said he picked up the guns from the yard, along with a set of brass knuckles, to prevent kids from finding and playing with them. When questioned, he told police the guns were in his car before it was searched, according to the police reports.

Mahuna believes that Davalos Rojas knew the guns were there because a month prior to the incident, his aunt lived on that property. Police suspect he stored the guns on the property and went back for them when he left his business card at the door, though Davalos Rojas denied this.

Mahuna said officers asked the homeowner about the guns, and learned they did not belong to her. The captain added that the guns were so old and in such poor condition that they've been unable to trace them to a proper owner.

With the charges filed against Davalos Rojas as attempted burglary and the lack of evidence for that charge, the DA was unable to prosecute the case.

"The sound of the front door handle being turned is not sufficient, by itself, to show

an attempt to break in," Clackamas County DA John Foote wrote in his letter back to the police department.

COURTESY PHOTO - Juan Fernando Davalos Rojas was arrested by West Linn police on Feb. 20. Davalos Rojas told police he didn't ring the house's doorbell or knock because he believed no one was home. He left his business card in the door because he was short on money and looking for work, he explained.

"When I arrived I noticed that as (the resident who called police) opened her front door a business card fell onto the ground," Officer Jabral Johnson wrote in his report of the incident. "I took a photo of the business card and attached it to the report."

Interim City Manager John Williams said he got a brief update on the case because Davalos Rojas also contacted Mayor Russ Axelrod after the arrest.

"My thoughts were that this seemed to be a complicated case, as you note, but that it was being handled appropriately and sensitively by our police department," Williams said.

While searching his car, officers also found a Mexican passport belonging to Davalos Rojas and other forms of identification belonging to other men, as well as a BB gun and a knife.

Davalos Rojas said he was held in jail overnight and later paid $800 to pick up his car from A&B Towing, a company contracted to perform towing for the City of West Linn. According to a Mahuna, the WLPD waived its own impound fee but had no control over what Davalos Rojas paid to pick up his car from the towing company.

Davalos Rojas believes A&B may have also taken tools from his car.

A&B Towing was at the center of the Michael Fesser case, which has rattled West Linn over the past month. Fesser, a black man from Portland, worked for A&B for several years and was arrested by WLPD in 2017. According to court documents, WLPD illegally investigated Fesser at his job as a favor to A&B Towing owner Eric Benson, a friend of then-WLPD Chief Terry Timeus.

According to lawsuits Fesser filed against Benson and the city of West Linn, Fesser had complained to Benson about the racial harassment he faced at work.

After picking his car up from A&B Towing, Davalos Rojas noticed tools were missing from it and contacted WLPD. According to a report by officer Taylor Neil, he called Davalos Rojas Feb. 28 to ask what was missing from his car.

"He told me that he was missing a red and black drill. I knew from the photos (taken at the time of the arrest) that there had been a red and black cordless drill in the back of the SUV," Neil's report reads.

Davalos Rojas also reported that he was missing a BB gun, which Neil acknowledged was also in the back seat of the car when it was towed.

"Both the drill and the BB gun were in the vehicle when it left police custody," he wrote.

On March 11, Davalos Rojas contacted WLPD again saying that he realized the titles to two other vehicles were also missing from his car after he picked it up from the impound.

According to another of Neil's reports, he told Davalos Rojas that, "due to the determined venue of the crime, I had forwarded the investigation over to Portland Police, and he would need to direct all other inquiries to them."

A&B Towing is located in Southeast Portland, though its owner, Benson, lives in West Linn. Last month, the city of West Linn announced that its contract with the tow company will not be renewed.

Davalos Rojas said he placed his card on that door Feb. 20 because he was short on money, but after paying $800 to get his car out of impound and losing his tools, he's worse off than where he started.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.