Trio’s crime spree stopped by sharp-eyed sergeant

See how, by acting on a hunch, this East Precinct police sergeant put the brakes on three gun-toting crooks. How did a standoff with one of the thugs end? Read this …

SE Powell Blvd. was closed from mid-afternoon until 10:30 p.m. as police and SERT officers tried to coax a suspected gunman out of a home he’d invaded.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Joey Conn walked in on three armed thugs committing a home-invasion robbery at his Centennial neighborhood house in the 2500 block of Southeast 168th Avenue, shortly after 3:00 p.m. on December 7.

This crime, which included Conn being pistol-whipped before the trio ran off, kicked off an eight-hour police action that closed SE Powell Blvd. from SE 112nd Avenue to SE 122nd Avenue.

Acting on a hunch, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Sgt. John Anderson (shown here previously speaking at a Parkrose Business Association meeting) said he was the first to spot the thug’s getaway car.

Sergeant spies get-away car
Portland Police Bureau East Precinct’s day sergeant, John Anderson, told us his role in this story. He said it started when he heard a radio dispatch call about the home invasion robbery.

“After you’ve been a cop for a while,” Anderson began, “you sometimes get a hunch about where to be.”

Anderson headed east on SE Powell Blvd., he continued, looking for the smaller, white Chevrolet identified in the dispatch call. “The license plate number stuck in my mind. The number on the plate reminded me of the name of a company with which I deal.”

Trapped on a dead-end street
When he saw a small, white car, Anderson related, he spied the plate – and it matched the description. “I made a hard U-turn and headed west. Fortunately a TriMet driver let me in. I followed the car, and turned south on SE 118th Avenue – it’s a short dead-end street.”

As he pulled up at the end of the road, the trio of suspects had abandoned the car with engine still running. “I saw two of them hike over the fence westbound. I radioed asking for more cars – and to come with their sirens on. Hearing the cars approaching often encourages [fleeing criminals] to give up.”

Makes a second, armed home invasion
But, almost immediately after the suspects split up and ran, the 911 Center received a call from an apartment a block away. The resident reported that someone had forced entry to his apartment and hit him with a gun.

During the struggle, a shot was fired. “Fortunately for that man,” Anderson said, “the gun jammed after the round went off.” The suspect then fled the apartment.

Within minutes, officers had two of the three suspected home invaders pinned down, waiting for police backup before taking them into custody.

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct officers stand back while SERT officers search in darkness – because of the early winter sunset – for the armed, accused criminals who didn’t ditch their guns.

Kicks in the door of a third residence
As patrol cars swooped into the area, folks from a house in the 11600 block of SE Powell Blvd. ran from their house.

“They told us that it sounded like someone kicked in the door leading to the washroom and basement of their house,” Anderson told us.

Officers secured the home and surrounded the yard. Anderson activated the bureau’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT). “When we have a situation with armed individuals on the run, or in a standoff, barricaded in a home, the SERT team has the equipment and training to deal with it.”

The holed-up suspect then broke into the main part of the house, said Anderson. “It looks like he smoked some cigarettes and stole money from the house while he was in there, surrounded by police.”

Spreading out over a two-block area of Powellhurst-Gilbert, officers combed yards, outbuildings and brambles.

SERT combs blocks
Because there was talk that there were others involved and still on the loose, Anderson reported that the SERT officers made a careful, yard-by-yard search of two-block area.

“Using our night-vision scopes, I could see them moving through the area. At one point, they used a ladder to climb over brambles. Those are long blocks where Powell Court curves around. They searched every shed and thicket in the area.”

Holed-up suspect gives up
Because the suspect had invaded the house of innocent citizens, officers hesitated to shoot tear gas into the house.

“They set up a loud-hailing system and kept telling the guy to surrender,” continued Anderson. “Finally, a SERT officer shot a ‘SAGE’ round — a rubber baton – through the home’s front door window. The suspect gave up and was taken into custody about 10:20 pm.”

Police say they’ve charged (shown left to right) 28-year-old James Gerald Richardson, 20-year-old George Edward Rowe and 27-year-old Travis Edward Saltsman each with four counts of Robbery in the First Degree.

Three in custody
Police initially took 28-year-old James Gerald Richardson and 20-year-old George Edward Rowe into custody. Finally, after the hours-long standoff, they led 27-year-old Travis Edward Saltsman away. Three handguns were recovered.

“Thanks to good police work, Anderson said, “we contained the suspects in a relatively small area.”

We learned that a total of 67 officers were on-scene; the number grew to 120 when the SERT officers joined the mission.

“This was one of the more intense situations I’ve been in years,” Anderson concluded. “We’re not going to risk the public’s safety when we know there are three armed guys, on the run, forcing their way into houses.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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