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Are you safe in Gresham?

Gresham police chief says random acts of violence happen everywhere, all the time
by: Mara Stine Jamie Patchin of Gresham waits on the same bench for the same bus as Muriel Morgan, 84, who was the victim of an unprovoked attack at the Cleveland MAX station on Wednesday. She thinks there needs to be more security on MAX.

It's been a tough crime week for Gresham residents.

First, police bust a methamphetamine lab in Rockwood, then a woman tells police she was raped by two men in broad daylight behind a store at the Gresham Station Shopping Center on Monday afternoon.

Then a young man was stabbed during a fight at Gresham's skate park Tuesday night.

But what really sent the community reeling was the random attack on two women - one of them 84 years old - at the Cleveland Avenue MAX station on Wednesday afternoon.

An allegedly mentally ill man from Tennessee punched Muriel Morgan, 84, about 20 times in the face and head after punching another woman who ran away. Morgan sustained a broken nose, two black eyes, a concussion and a cut on her head requiring three staples to close.

Crime is nothing new for Gresham. But Rockwood is usually in such headlines, not the Civic Neighborhood or the downtown core, said Nicole Harding of Gresham.

'Usually that kind of stuff happens closer to Portland, so it was kind of weird that it's creeping over to this side of Gresham,' she said as she and her husband, Nick, and their 3-month-old daughter headed for a walk around the skate park and Main City Park.

But the downtown core is not becoming more crime ridden, said Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger.

'Random acts of violence sometimes occur everywhere,' he said.

Harding's husband, Nick, agrees.

'I think it's just some weird things,' he said. 'I don't think of this as a bad area.'

Nick and his wife said the rash of crime doesn't make them feel any less safe, but both agreed they are now uneasier.

'Definitely got to watch out,' Nick said.

Tanner Nashif, 17, of Gresham doesn't feel less safe at the skate park - and he said he was there when Tuesday night's fight broke out.

'It's just crazy,' he said as a group of young men skated through the park on a hot Friday afternoon. 'I've never seen anyone get stabbed before.'

He pointed out that he didn't recognize anyone from the two groups involved in the fight as skate park regulars. And although they were carrying skateboards, 'they weren't even using the skate park.'

Junginger said that since the skate park opened, about a year and a half ago, there have only been a few minor fights there, which is pretty common for skate parks.

'But this stabbing is truly the first serious assault that we've had there,' he said, adding that detectives have identified a person of interest in the case.

Monday's reported rape at Gresham Station turned out to be a false report.

'We now know that no rape occurred, no suspects existed, and the public is safe from this threat,' Junginger said during a Friday afternoon press conference.

As for Wednesday's attack on two women at the Cleveland Avenue MAX station, Junginger said the randomness of it makes such crimes difficult to prevent - especially when the suspect reportedly is mentally ill.

'I think with the dwindling resources in mental health, it is causing more people with mental issues to be on the streets, and it does tax our resources,' he said. 'If there were more services and facilities for them, then it would probably reduce the number of contacts that we have with them. And it would reduce any contact with citizens.'

Even though his department is understaffed, he's not sure even having police on the platform would have prevented the attack.

'It still could have occurred with an officer standing there,' he said.

Jamie Patchin of Gresham said she was very upset to hear about the attack, especially because it involved an elderly woman. She works as a certified nursing assistant at a Gresham assisted living facility, so she has a soft spot for senior citizens.

'I think there needs to be more security, especially in those areas along MAX,' in part because many elderly residents rely on it for transportation, she said while waiting for the same bus to Redmond and Bend as the elderly victim.

But she's torn on the question of whether Gresham is becoming less safe or whether this week's rash of crime is just a string or isolated incidents.

'Kind of both,' she said. 'I think there's just random stuff that happens, but it's also not safe because there's not enough security.'

James Moreland of Portland heard about the women being attacked at the Cleveland Avenue station on the television news.

'It bothered me because I take the MAX quite often,' he said, adding that he seldom sees any problems.

But he took the train to the station, which is the last one on the blue line, on Friday to see the MAX stop for himself.

'I think this place is fairly safe,' he said after sitting for about a half an hour on the same bench Morgan was attacked on. 'Even though they say they're going to beef up security, I haven't seen one of them drive by.'

The attack hit close to home for Moreland.

'My mom is two years younger than that lady' who was attacked, he said. 'I guess I'm bothered by the security around here and people not sticking up for her. There had to be people who saw it. There had to be. Somebody beating up an old lady - if I ever saw anything like that happen, oh yeah, definitely I'd intervene,' he said.

Even if they guy was 200-plus pounds and possibly unstable?

'I'm 225 pounds,' he said. 'And I tend to react before thinking things through.'

Moreland said the real issue is the lack of funding for mental health and rehabilitation services.

'It's a norm to see crazy people,' he said, adding that he just saw a man at the 162nd Avenue and Burnside MAX screaming at people as they passed by. 'But there's no money for them,' he said, adding that they end up on the streets or in jail. 'And that's why the crime is so bad.'

Even so, he doesn't think crime is getting worse in Gresham.

'I don't feel less safe here,' he said. As for this week's meth lab bust, falsely reported rape, stabbing and the MAX station attacks, 'I think it's a random cluster,' he said.

In light of the crimes, Gresham police are cruising by the skate park and MAX stations more often during their patrols, Junginger said.

Because of the recent increase in criminal activity in the Gresham area, TriMet is 'stepping up patrols' at stations and transit centers, said Mary Fetsch, TriMet spokeswoman.

'Obviously, this one is almost unheard of in our history - the severity, it being unprovoked and involving two victims,' Fetsch said. 'It's so rare. The other thing that's just so disconcerting about it is it was 2:20 in the afternoon. Tragic.'

It's location at the Cleveland station also is rare, she said.

These were the first assaults at that station since 1999 when TriMet started keeping crime data, she said.