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Sexual assault near MAX falls through cracks

Christmas Eve crime only comes to light when victim comes forward on her own

Typically, the media learns of major crimes from the police department's public information officer. But the process reversed in the case of a sexual assault that occurred Monday, Dec. 24, on the MAX transit stop at 181st Street and Burnside Road.

Sgt. Claudio Grandjean, the Gresham Police public information officer, was informed of the assault by television news reporters - about two weeks after the crime. And the only reason the media learned of the case is because the victim herself came forward.

'Channel 8 contacted me, and I didn't know anything about it,' Grandjean said.

Grandjean said he was surprised by the call because a sex crime is usually reported to him by the lieutenant or sergeant investigating the case.

'My next thought was, why don't I know about this?' Grandjean said.

When he checked the police report, Grandjean saw that TriMet officers wrote the report.

'That's when I understood why I didn't get it,' Grandjean said.

Further complicating matters, Brian Schmautz, public information officer for Portland Police, became the spokesperson on the incident even though his agency had no involvement in the arrest. Schmautz said a Portland detective was called into assist with questioning the suspect, Mario Santiago-Montelongo, 28, which led to an upgrade in the charge, to first-degree sexual abuse.

Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso said TriMet has jurisdiction over crimes that happen on its property, regardless of geographic location.

'Because of our agreements with TriMet Police, they take those calls and they become the lead,' Piluso said. 'It's not the Gresham Police Department's job to comment on the public relations piece of another organization.'

But TriMet Communications Director Mary Fetsch said the opposite is true.

'In this kind of incident, the agencies in the jurisdiction tend to take the lead,' Fetsch said. 'Nobody wants to speak on behalf of someone they don't represent.'

Gresham, Portland and TriMet officials will meet in February to talk about who talks when, and under what circumstances.

Speaking of talking, Piluso and TriMet officials also talked Monday, Jan. 14. The discussion was about forming an East Side security precinct, similar to the West Side precinct, which TriMet recently announced.

Piluso said it was a 'healthy' conversation, with no new specifics. Part of the problem, Piluso said, is that nobody representing Portland was in the meeting. A mutual misunderstanding of terms exposed the void.

'It was interesting to me that when TriMet talks the East Side, they are talking about east of the Willamette River,' Piluso said. 'When I talk about the east, I talk about 162nd.'

Piluso said she hopes to schedule another meeting with TriMet - and Portland - about the security precinct in the next couple weeks.