Portland police and an African-American woman allegedly assaulted by Jeremy Christian are telling significantly different versions of what happened on May 25, the day before Christian killed two men and wounded another on a MAX train.
At a dramatic Friday-morning press conference, Demetria Hester said Christian hit her in the right eye with a bottle of Gatorade at the Rose Quarter Transit Center, prompting her to mace him in the face. Hester said she repeatedly identified Christian as her assailant to as many as four police officers who responded to the scene. Despite that, Hester said the officers allowed Christian to walk away without arresting him.
"I told them they need to catch him because he's going to kill somebody. It happened the next day on the same train I was taking," Hester says.
But in a press release issued after the press conference, the bureau says only one officer responded to the scene when Christian was still there. The bureau says that, although Hester twice was asked if Christian was the assailant, she denied it — and only said Christian was the man who attacked as he was walking away.
"During traumatic incidents such as this, officers often interview people who need more time to process the information," the bureau says in its release.
According to the bureau, once Hester identified Christian, the officer started to follow him in his car. Christian vanished before he could be located, however, and other officers did not reach the scene until he was gone.
"The Police Bureau understands the emotion and fear of hatred that has occurred in our community," Acting Chief Chris Uehara said in the release. "We will continue to lift up, support and protect all community members."
Hester and the police agree the confrontation happened late in the evening. Hester said she was taking the Yellow Line train home from work when Christian boarded the train three stops before the Rose Quarter Transit Center, where she needed to transfer to a Green Line train to get home.
Hester said Christian was ranting loudly about wanting to kill blacks and Jews, and that he ignored her requests to quiet down. Hester said she was sitting next to the operator's compartment and knocked on the door at every stop to get his attention.
When the train reached the Rose Quarter Transit Center, Hester said Christian also rose to get off. She knew he would attack her and she clutched a can of mace, which she used on Christian when he allegedly hit her in the eye with a bottle.
Hester said there were no police at the center station, and she had to wait for her train while Christian washed his eyes in a drinking fountain. She said as many as four officers eventually showed up, but did not believe her claims that Christian attacked her.
After the press conference, TriMet issued a statement that said, "TriMet, Transit Police and our law enforcement partners work every day to provide safety on the transit system and in the region. During the May 25 incident, the operator immediately contacted the Operation Command Center and a supervisor was dispatched to meet the train."
Hester said she was "sickened" to learn that Christian is accused of killing two men and wounding another the very next day. According to police reports, the victims were protecting two African-American girls from Christian's verbal assaults on a MAX train headed to the Hollywood station, where the attack allegedly occurred.
Hester said she was speaking out at this time because of increasing racial tensions in the country, including "our president, his remarks, and the years and centuries of injustice to anyone who is not white." Hester said she was born in Mississippi and has experienced discrimination her entire life.
A number of African-American and religious leaders also attended the press conference, including the Rev. E.D. Mondainé, who leads Celebration Tabernacle Church in North Portland and is vice president of the NAACP of Portland. He said the May 26 MAX attack could have been prevented if police had arrested Christian, which they should have done.
Police have not yet released any reports on their May 25 contact with Hester. After the fatal May 26 attack, a Multnomah County grand jury indicted him on four charges related to it: intimidation, second-degree assault, unlawful use of a weapon and menacing.
Christian also faces 11 charges in connection with the May 26 attack, where he is accused of killing Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and of seriously injuring Micah Fletcher. Those charges are: two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted aggravated murder, one count of first-degree assault, one count of second-degree assault, five counts of unlawful use of a weapon, three counts of second-degree intimidation and two counts of menacing.
Christian has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.