Street family members beat youth for alleged assault, authorities say
Jessica Kate Williams was not the first victim of the violent street family led by convicted murderer James D. Nelson.
According to law enforcement officials, in the weeks before the 22-year-old Williams was killed, family members forcibly shaved the head of a young female follower for violating one of the group's unwritten rules. She left the group soon after, authorities said.
A short time later, family members attacked and seriously hurt a homeless male juvenile after Williams falsely accused him of assaulting her, officials say. The names of the two victims were not released because they are minors.
According to law enforcement officials, when Nelson discovered that Williams had lied about the youth assaulting her, he ordered the family to beat her in their camp under the Southwest Front Avenue overpass at Arthur Street.
At Nelson's direction, according to a probable cause affidavit that detailed statements by witnesses to the attack on Williams, three members of the family then led Williams across the Willamette River and killed her.
Law enforcement officials say a Multnomah County grand jury is trying to decide whether to charge the 27-year-old Nelson with murder in connection in the killing. Their decision could be announced later this week.
In the meantime, a 13th member of the group was scheduled to be arraigned Monday on coercion and assault charges. Crystal Dawn Ivey, 17, was arrested after showing up at Central Precinct for an interview with detectives Thursday.
Despite the previous alleged assaults, local street kids say they are shocked by the killing. Some called the family the 'Goof Troop' and considered it harmless.
'They were just goofy,' one homeless teen confided. 'They were always acting dramatically, getting into loud arguments over small things. I thought they were a bunch of drama queens.'
Release not announced
Kenneth Cowdery, executive director of New Avenues for Youth, is upset that Multnomah County did not warn anyone that Nelson was in town.
In 1992, Nelson was a Sacramento, Calif., runaway who fatally stabbed another homeless juvenile in Portland. He pleaded guilty to a murder charge. After serving 10 years in Oregon prisons, Nelson was released March 24, shortly before he showed up in downtown Portland.
'The county tells us when sex offenders move to the area so we can warn the kids to watch out for them,' Cowdery said. 'It shouldn't be too hard for the criminal justice system to do that when someone's about to be released who preys on street kids.'
Multnomah County Commission Chairwoman Diane Linn agrees.
'We're looking at what happened to see what could have been done differently. We're all hoping to learn from this terrible tragedy,' said Linn, who has made helping homeless juveniles one of her priorities.
Nelson first stopped by the so-called Portland Peace Encampment in Terry Schrunk Plaza, across the street from City Hall, in late March. He immediately stood out from the other homeless people staying there, according to several participants. He loudly berated the young woman he was with, in violation of the camp's rules against aggressive behavior, they said.
'It wasn't my business that they were together, but that kind of behavior wasn't what we were all about,' one camper said. 'I went up to him and told him so.'
At least two other participants were not put off by Nelson's behavior, however. Carl Richard Alsup, 17, and Crystal Ann Grace, 19, soon left the camp with Nelson to live under the Front Avenue overpass. Other street kids also gravitated to the dusty site cut off from surrounding streets by a chain-link fence.
Both Alsup and Grace have been charged in the fatal attack on Williams; Alsup remains at large.
The killing comes at a critical time for the three publicly funded agencies that serve Portland street kids Ñ Janus Programs, Outside In and New Avenues for Youth. Multnomah County is negotiating new contracts with the agencies. They include changes designed to move more homeless juveniles off the streets.
Among other things, the county wants to limit the time that street kids can be served by the agencies before enrolling in education, job training and housing programs.
Some social service providers worry that the requirements will drive street kids away from the agencies, however.
'If that happens, the result could be more street families,' said Joy Cartier, executive director of P:ear, a downtown art gallery and juvenile services agency that does not receive any public funding.
Linn agrees. She said the commission will hold a public hearing in July to consider further refinements to the system.
'We don't want any bureaucratic rule to prevent street kids from receiving services they need,' she said. 'If there are other needs that have to be met, we want to do that.'