• Mon. May 16th, 2022

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Man charged with murder in fatal shooting at Oregon racial justice protest

An Oregon man accused of killing one person and injuring five after opening fire on demonstrators in Portland was charged Tuesday with murder and other crimes, authorities said.

Benjamin Smith, 43, was charged with second-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and multiple counts of assault, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office said in a statement.

The statement said Smith allegedly “confronted a group of people engaged” in a demonstration protesting the death of Amir Locke, a Black Minneapolis man who was fatally shot by tactical officers carrying out a “no-knock” warrant last month.

Citing video evidence, the prosecutor’s office said Smith allegedly told protesters who had gathered at a park northeast of downtown Portland on Saturday to leave the area.

“Several participants asked Smith to leave them alone,” the statement says. “Moments later, Smith drew a firearm and fired at the crowd, striking five people.”

The shooting ended after someone returned fire, hitting Smith in the hip area, the statement says. Smith remained hospitalized in critical condition, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said earlier Tuesday. 

In a separate statement, the Portland Police Bureau identified the person who was killed as Brandy Knightly, 60. The district attorney’s office said she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Efforts to reach Knightly’s relatives were unsuccessful Tuesday, but Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that when she was fatally shot Knightly had been working to protect protesters from traffic, something she had often done since joining the local protest movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s 2020 murder.

Authorities initially said the confrontation erupted between an armed resident and armed protesters, but Tuesday’s statement from the prosecutor’s office didn’t specify if the people who told Smith to leave them alone were armed.

During a news conference Tuesday, Police Chief Chuck Lovell described the scene as “challenging and dangerous” for investigators.

“Officers didn’t know who the shooters were, how many, where they were at,” he told reporters. Lovell added that “many” witnesses were uncooperative with authorities and some took “critical” evidence from the scene.

Lovell declined to provide additional details about what evidence was taken. He also declined to discuss a potential motive, saying it didn’t “make sense” to speculate.

Smith’s brother, Aurthur Killion, said in an interview Tuesday that his sibling had previously described having problems with protesters who Smith alleged had made threats.

“These people were in his neighborhood walking around with guns … trying to intimidate people,” Killion said, recalling a recent conversation with Smith.

Killion, who lives in Indiana, said his brother, a machinist, had grown to dislike the area so much he was saving up to leave.

A roommate of Smith’s, Kristine Christenson, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that Smith’s political views had became increasingly hostile in recent years.

“He talked about wanting to go shoot commies and antifa,” she recalled him saying, according to the network.

“He was angry at the mask mandates” and the liberals, she added, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Echoing comments from another brother to a local newspaper, Killion said Smith was not a “right-wing nut job.”

“None of the conversations I had with him indicated that,” he said.