Find out what police say they’ve been doing to reduce gang violence, well before the latest violence occurred – a gang shootout at this outer NE Portland park …
Portland Police Bureau officers respond quickly, and in force, to the apartments that border the north end of Argay Park, on July 22.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Typically, outer East Portland gang hotspots are along the MAX Light Rail line; especially at the 122nd and 162nd Avenue stations.
When shots rang out in an Argay Terrace park, in the far northeast area of outer East Portland area now patrolled by the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct after the recent realignment, citizens were surprised.
All quiet while on patrol
Jane Roffey Berry, the Chair of the Argay Park Patrol, told us she and team members were indeed patrolling the park just before the trouble began on July 22.
“This was one of those pleasant Portland summer evenings,” Roffey Berry recounted. “As we walked, we saw a grandfather was having batting practice with his girls’ baseball team. In the picnic area, a family was enjoying an outdoor dinner, and children were having fun in the play area. There were activities in all areas of the park.”
It wasn’t unusual, Roffey Berry continued, to see a large group of Latinos near the fence that separates the apartments from the north end of the park. They were engaged in a pick-up soccer game. “There were many families – moms, grandmas and males from early teens to grandfathers, all out enjoying the evening.”
The Park Patrol ended their tour a little after 8:00 p.m., Roffey Berry said. “After we left the park, we heard the ‘pop-pop-pop’ sound we attributed to firecrackers. We didn’t remark about it; it happens here too frequently.”
As they passed the home of friends, she saw them ducking below a vehicle, and said the shots sounded close by. “Police cars drove in from every direction; many pulled into the two apartment complexes just north of the park.”
Police respond to ‘shots fired’ call
“About 8:20 p.m., Portland Police Officers responded to Argay Park, in the 4100 Block of Northeast 141st Place, on a call of gunshots being fired in the park,” confirmed Portland Police Bureau (PPB) spokesperson Detective Mary Wheat.
“It appears that no one was injured by any gunshots – but, multiple shots were fired,” Wheat continued. “The Gang Enforcement Team (GET) also responded to assist, because it appeared that this incident involved gang activity.”
Because the officers, detectives, and gang team members coordinated their efforts well, Wheat added, “good police work” on their part turned up two guns and other evidence. They identified the people involved, and the shooters. At first, officers detained five suspects, and went on to arrest four of them.”
Edward Reyes-Portillo (left) and Robin Christopher Harbuck (center) were among four arrested in connection with the Argay Park shooting. Facing a charge of attempted murder is Jorge Hernandez Ventura (right). Police didn’t release the booking photo of Ricardo Sanchez-Cruz.
Wheat reported that 19-year-old Edward Reyes-Portillo and 19-year-old Robin Christopher Harbuck were both charged with one count of Criminal Mischief in the First Degree.
More serious charges of one count of Attempt Murder and four counts of Attempt Aggravated Murder were brought against 19-year-old Jorge Hernandez Ventura and 17-year-old Ricardo Sanchez-Cruz.
Neighbors commend police presence
When the Argay Neighborhood Association was shifted from East Precinct to North Precinct, association chair Valerie Curry said she had had some initial concerns.
“Chief Sizer promised we’d have good coverage after the realignment,” stated Curry a day after the park incident. “The bureau has kept their commitment to our citizens here. In fact, we’ve written to thank North Precinct Commander James Ferraris for the enhanced patrols in the area.”
Portland Police Bureau’s Gang Enforcement Team leader, Lt. Mike Leloff, agrees there has been an increase in gang-related shootings here, but he says they’re unrelated.
Calls Argay incident a gang rivalry
The following day, July 23 the Portland Police Bureau’s Gang Enforcement Team (GET) called a press conference at the bureau’s North Precinct office.
Lt. Mike Leloff, in charge of GET, attributed the event in Argay Park the previous night to a rivalry; “A shooting between two gangs.” He declined to comment further on the case before it reaches the Grand Jury.
Seven shootings in seven days
Asked if the rash of daily shooting incidents were due to gang wars, Leloff replied, “We’re still analyzing why. Some of it is simply that it’s summer; some of them are event-driven. He added, “These are isolated events. Two [shootings] happened at an event to which two rivals had come, tensions began, and led to shooting after the event.”
Leloff declined to speculate as to why there has been a spike in shootings. He did note that gang membership and affiliations have increased dramatically over the last two years.
East Portland veteran cop Commander Chris Uehara, now with the Tactical Operations Division, talks about how the Bureau plans to fight gang violence.
East Portland veteran cop comments
At the press conference, we also spoke with a veteran East Portland crime-fighter Chris Uehara, now Commander of the bureau’s Tactical Operations Division, which oversees the GET unit.
“I was the night lieutenant at East Precinct from 2000 to 2007,” Uehara recalled. During that time, he ran the successful Crime Reduction Unit that focused on reducing crime associated with illegal drugs and gang activity along the MAX Light Rail lines.
“Gang violence has not only moved into East Portland, but throughout greater Portland,” Uehara commented.
Housing and transit attracts gangsters
“People go where they can afford to live; and there’s a lot of lower-income housing in outer East Portland and Gresham,” Uehara explained. “Whether they’re documented gangsters, gang affiliates, or just have relationships with people who live in the outer East Portland – they go where they know people. We’re seeing more of them even into the deep southeast and the Lents area now.
“The MAX Light Rail line and made it more convenient for gangsters to move easily while working at their drug trade. Obviously, MAX was meant for the general public to use as a convenience – but to be honest, people who are involved in gang structures use whatever is most convenient for them to fulfill their needs.”
Uehara said the GET officers would be coordinating with other units, especially district patrol officers. “We will move specialized teams from hotspot to hotspot.”
Leloff says police will “hold accountable” anyone who perpetrates violence, especially with a gun.
Has message for gangsters
When asked if he had a message for gangsters, Uehara referred the question to Leloff: “Our message is clear; there are consequences for your actions. We will hold you accountable for your actions. We will find you and put you in jail. We are also working with those in prevention and intervention programs.”
The outreach workers and services have worked very hard to get young people jobs for the summer, Leloff commented. “But, if you fire a gun, or in a find you and hold you accountable for your actions. That’s what the community wants; that’s what the community deserves.”
© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News