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Shots close S.E. 39th; suspect found, arrested

Citizen honored for helping police find the shooter
by: Merry MacKinnon, A Portland Police officer and a Multnomah Sheriff’s deputy, guns drawn, stood guard at the corner of S.E. Raymond Street and 42nd Avenue for over five hours on March 12th, as part of the search for a suspect who fired shots at a police officer on S.E. 39th Avenue near Holgate Boulevard.

What started off as a routine traffic stop for an unsafe lane change turned into a one-sided shooting spree and manhunt on Monday, March 12th.

Folks driving home from work, perhaps planning to shop at Trader Joe's on S.E. 39th Avenue south of Holgate Boulevard, found area streets blocked off with yellow 'police crime scene' tape.

'About 5:20 pm, Southeast Precinct Officer Robert Wullbrandt pulled over a black Buick Regal for a traffic violation,' Sgt. Brian Schmautz told us at the scene.

Schmautz said the car pulled in to the north end of Trader Joe's parking lot, followed by Wullbrandt's patrol car. Inexplicably, as the officer was starting to chat with the driver of the auto he had stopped, a passenger 'bolted out of the car's backseat and started running eastbound across S.E. 39th Avenue.'

As Wullbrandt chased after the fleeing man, the subject turned, took aim, and fired his semiautomatic weapon at the officer. Because of Wullbrandt's training, the officer drew his pistol, but resisted the impulse to return fire and risk wounding the many bystanders.

As the gunman neared S.E. Holgate Boulevard, he stumbleed, turned, and shot again, before disappearing around the corner.

The Portland Police Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) was activated, and the area was cordoned off.

Meantime, while the foot chase passed him, Greg Geist was astride his motorcycle, stopped at the red light on 39th at Holgate. 'I heard a gunshot, and saw a man fall,' Geist reported. 'He got up and continued running, chased by a police officer. He had a semi-automatic pistol in his right hand.'

As the alleged shooter continued running in a labored jog, Geist found himself in the dangerous position of being between the suspect and the officer, as Officer Wullbrandt ducked for cover.

Geist watched the suspect hike down Holgate. Still on his bike, Geist followed the armed man into an apartment complex, and noted that he entered an apartment through a particular sliding glass door.

The alert motorcyclist then returned to the intersection to give officers a detailed description of the man he had followed, and pointed out the specific apartment the suspect had entered.

The SERT officers evacuated nearby residents, and closed all streets in the immediate area, even keeping residents from returning home, for their own safety. After several hours, police hostage negotiators talked the suspect into surrendering, and he was taken into custody without further incident.

The suspect, identified as 24-year-old Nicholas Ramon Onuskanvich, was booked into jail on an outstanding warrant for Distribution of Methamphetamine, plus - now - one count of Attempted Aggravated Murder.

Afterward, at a ceremony held on Friday, March 16th, at the Portland Justice Center, Greg Geist's actions were lauded by the Portland Police.

Geist's commendation read, in part, 'Without Mr. Geist's assistance, even with a thorough canvassing of the area, this dangerous suspect might not have been found. Mr. Geist's detailed description of the events and of the suspect were a tremendous assist to all involved.'

Just before she hung a medallion around Geist's neck, Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer said, 'We all wonder, in a crisis, how we would react. Mr. Geist, you acted very well. You helped police officers in a time of real jeopardy. You helped all of us, by getting a dangerous person off the streets. And you did so, exercising good judgment and calculating the risk. I, and all of our officers, appreciate your actions that day.

'On behalf of the Portland Police Bureau, I present you with the Citizens Medal of Heroism.'

After being presented with a card from the Police Association's Robert King, Geist stepped forward. 'When I came here today, I'd hope to meet Chief Sizer to tell her how impressed I was with every police officer I came in contact on Monday. They were very professional and humane. Thank you all.'

Talking with reporters, Geist answered questions: 'No, I didn't feel in danger. My heart raced a little bit when I saw both the officer and the gunman with their guns out. I just followed him, and kept an eye on him.'

Sharing his proud moment with his fiancée, Kim Powers, Geist confided that the couple is to be married August 4th.