Exclusive photos: See why police took decisive action to protect a trapped, frightened woman who gave officials a moment-by-moment description of the situation, on her cell phone …
During evening rush hour, SE Foster Road is closed to traffic, while police try to negotiate with a reportedly-armed man who was threatening to shoot a woman hidden inside the house.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
“I’m going to kill you,” shouted an angry-sounding man so loudly, police could hear him outside the house, on the evening of Wednesday, February 6.
“I’m going to find you wherever you are, and kill you,” and man screamed, adding that he was also going “shoot it out” with the police gathered outside the well-kept rental home, mid-block on SE 61st between SE Holgate and SE Foster Road in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood.
Police keep the area clear of citizens, while a SERT crew gets into place.
The irate man was later identified as 61-year-old Thomas Stephen Elia; the woman at whom he was shouting had taken shelter in the basement, hiding in a crawlspace under the porch.
“My girlfriend and her son got out a basement window,” revealed a man who identified himself only as “Raymond” to reporters.
“This started last night,” Raymond added. “He flipped out; he pushed a bookcase over. He’s really a big guy, about 6’ 5”.”
In addition to being a big man – jail records confirm Elia as 6 ft 5 in, 220 lbs – he also reportedly “had access to a handgun”.
Officers take turns talking with the threatened woman, hiding in the basement, keeping her calm during the hour-long ordeal.
“At 4:59 p.m., an adult female caller reported to the 9-1-1 dispatcher that her 61-year-old boyfriend assaulted her daughter, and that her daughter and 16-year-old grandson were hiding in the basement,” confirmed Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson.
“Due to the suspect reportedly being armed, and then in the process of searching the house for the caller, sergeants at the scene activated the Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) and Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT) to respond,” Simpson continued.
A SERT armored personnel carriers arrive, and the officers prepare to deploy.
Tense moments followed as the SERT and CNT crews rushed into the area; but an officer on the phone kept the woman calm and quiet, so the suspect would not find her in the basement.
Just outside the quarantined area, over a PA system, officers could be heard encouraging Elia to answer his phone – to which came the response, “I have a gun. I’m going to kill her and kill the police.”
After failed attempts to get the reportedly-armed suspect to answer his phone, East Precinct Captain Mark Kruger, the Critical Incident Commander at the scene, directed SERT to immediately initiate a hostage rescue. That was at 6:35 p.m.
Moments after the “flash-bang” devices are set off, a Portland Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief races into the area, with a paramedic unit following close behind.
Two minutes later, the boom and shock-wave concussion of about six “flash bangs” (non-lethal explosive devices) echoed through the neighborhood. “These are used to disorient and distract the suspect as the SERT officers make entry,” Simpson explained.
“Once he was confronted inside the residence, he immediately complied with SERT officers and was taken into custody without incident or injury,” Simpson said. “The suspect was not armed at the time of his arrest.”
With the suspect safely in custody, SERT officers enter the home to free the trapped hostage.
Officers found the woman still hiding in the basement, and helped her exit. Simpson added, “She was unharmed during the entire episode.”
Officers recovered a .22 rifle in the suspect’s vehicle but did not locate any guns in the residence.
After successfully taking the suspect into custody, SERT officers debrief after the mission.
Mayor surveys scene
In addition to the myriad police officers, plus SERT and command staff, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales also responded to the incident.
“I came to observe,” Hales began. “Obviously I don’t have any operational responsibility in a situation like this. As the Commissioner [currently] in charge of Police Bureau, I come to as many situations like this as I can, to learn. I certainly got to see a lot, tonight.”
Hales continued, “Things don’t always go well in cases like this. This time, they did. The combination of quick action, careful planning, and thoughtful and improvisation at the scene kept the situation under control.”
Mayor Charlie Hales speaks out about the successful mission he had just witnessed.
Asked if witnessing the evening’s successful operation might affect decisions to cut the Police Bureau’s budget, Hales quickly responded, “[My] being here really has nothing to do with the budget.
“I’m out observing how the City works for us with lots of ways,” Hales added. “I’m going out to major fires; I’ll be out with some of the paving crews in a couple of weeks. I’m in the field learning about the Police Bureau, but it’s not the only bureau.”
His described his job as bureau leader as “setting the tone” that the Chief and all of his men and women follow, Hales explained.
“That tone needs to be one of de-escalation, community policing, and problem-solving. Frankly, I saw all three of those in action here tonight. That’s my hope and expectation [of this bureau], and that was certainly realized tonight.”
61-year-old Thomas Stephen Elia is booked on two counts, after the standoff ends. MCDC booking photo
Elia was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center at 10:11 p.m. on charges of Assault in the Fourth Degree (Domestic Violence/Felony) and Menacing, with combined bail set at $16,000.
At his arraignment, as a condition of bail, Elia was told to have no contact with the woman, her daughter and son.
Simpson later revealed, “It was reported us that Elia is going through a sex-change [process]. His medication, and perhaps self-medication, could have contributed to his behavior.”
© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News