FBI investigates whether Northeast shooting spree was racially based
Nineteen-year-old Joshua Ridley hasn't had an easy life. During his childhood, he bounced among foster homes, psychiatric hospitals, a trailer park in Northeast Portland and his grandmother's home in Amarillo, Texas.
His father died a year ago of a drug overdose; he's tried running away and committing suicide. And, relatives say, he's never fully recovered from the brain surgery he had a year ago after a bike accident in Northeast Portland.
Now, Ridley could be facing federal hate-crime charges.
The Portland FBI announced Wednesday that it has opened a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a firearm was used in commission of a federal hate crime early Sunday when four young, white males Ñ including Ridley Ñ allegedly went on a shooting spree with a sawed-off shotgun through part of Northeast Portland.
If he is convicted, it could mean a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Local activists have called for full prosecution, saying the youths' actions should not be excused.
'There is no doubt in my mind: They were nothing other than race-based crimes, not some young kids 'just having fun' and under the influence,' said Robert Larry, president of the Portland branch of the NAACP. 'If we minimize this type of behavior to anything other than what it is, it perpetuates these types of crimes.' Ê
But Ridley's family thinks the charges are bogus and have been trumped up by police because the incident happened just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day in which civil rights are celebrated.
'I'm heartbroken over all of this, and I'm scared for him,' said Ridley's mother, Rae Davis of Molalla. 'He's got problems, and he's mixed up, but he's a good kid. I'm hoping that the truth will at least come out.'
She and other relatives said they cannot fathom the idea of Ridley committing a hate crime, noting that he comes from an interracial family Ñ with both black and Hispanic cousins Ñ and has lived in diverse communities his whole life.
Davis said that her son told her he was under the influence of alcohol the night of the incident and barely remembers what happens. She said that he needs to take responsibility for his actions but that the hate-crime charges are unjustified.
The family was shocked when they heard that Ridley had been arrested after a police chase from Portland to Vancouver, Wash., with three of his longtime friends: Andrew T. Sherwood, 15, of Northeast Portland; Brian S. Heath, 21, of Gresham; and Denis P. Fahey, 18, of Redmond. None has a prior criminal record.
Police allege that shortly after 1 a.m. last Sunday, Ridley drove his 1991 Chevrolet Camaro through Northeast Portland as one or more people in the car shot at houses and cars through the car's T-top. No one was hurt, but police are looking for a man who they think had the shotgun pointed at him.
Police said at least five property owners were victimized, and they could collect more reports. A Multnomah County grand jury will hear the charges Monday if the FBI does not pursue the case.
In the meantime, Ridley, Heath and Fahey are being held without bail in Clark County awaiting extradition to a Multnomah County jail. Their arraignment was scheduled for Friday.
Each is charged with five counts of intimidation in the first degree, five counts of criminal mischief in the first degree and five counts of unlawful use of a weapon with a firearm. Intimidation in the first degree, which is Oregon's hate-crime law, is a Class C felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years.
Hate crimes are based on a person's perception of the victim's race, color or sexual orientation.
'Thankfully, they don't happen that often,' said Don Rees, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney. 'But when they do, they're extremely serious.'
Sherwood, a juvenile, is being held at the Donald E. Long Detention Facility in Portland.
Police Chief Mark Kroeker said earlier this week that the young men targeted the inner-Northeast neighborhood 'because they believed it was predominantly African-American.'
Mike Ridley, 20, said his brother called him from jail shortly after the arrest and said 'he never told the cops that was why he did it.' Mike Ridley suspects that another person in the car might have admitted having racial intentions but that his brother did not.
Police recovered the shotgun they believe was used in the spree in a vacant lot behind a trailer park at Northeast 82nd Avenue and Killingsworth Street. Joshua Ridley had bought the shotgun recently from a gunsmith, had it professionally cut to 23 inches and intended to use it for target practice in the mountains, according to his cousin, Lee Gonzales, 23, of Amarillo, Texas.
The NAACP's Larry said that as president of the King Neighborhood Association, he's been working with the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Northeast Coalition of Neighbors to alleviate the 'very obvious divisions' that exist between the black and white communities in some gentrified areas of Northeast Portland.
'I moved to Portland in 1973 from Phoenix, Arizona, a very openly racist state,' Larry said. 'I was never called a 'nigger' growing up there. It wasn't until I move to Portland that I had been subjected to this type of racism and abuse.'