The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Man charged with murder in Portland, Ore., shooting at protest against police violence

A Portland police officer at the scene where one person was shot dead and five others were wounded at Normandale Park on Feb. 19. (Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

A man accused of opening fire on a group of protesters in Portland, Ore., on Saturday, killing one and injuring four others, has been charged with murder, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Benjamin Smith, 43, faces charges of murder, attempted murder and assault over the fatal shooting, which according to prosecutors in Multnomah County happened when he confronted a group that was gathered for a demonstration against police violence.

The shooting near Normandale Park in northeast Portland, a frequent meeting point for such protests, left Brandy Lynn Knightly, 60, dead. She was shot “at close range in the head,” and the authorities found her dead when they arrived at the scene Saturday evening, according to an affidavit. A medical examiner had determined that Knightly’s cause of death was “homicide by gunshot wound,” the police said.

Two of the other victims were hospitalized as of Monday, according to the affidavit, with one of them in critical condition after being shot in the neck and paralyzed from the neck down. The other was shot multiple times, including in the abdomen.

Smith was apparently shot by a protester who returned fire, according to initial statements by the police, who later added that the shooting concluded after he was injured. Smith was hospitalized in “serious” condition with a gunshot to his hip that required surgery, prosecutors said, adding that he was expected to survive and that police had been at the hospital since he was admitted.

Demonstrators had gathered near the park to protest police violence after the killings of Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man who was shot by Minneapolis police this month during a predawn “no-knock” raid while he was lying on a couch, and Patrick Kimmons, a 27-year-old Black man killed by Portland police during a 2018 altercation.

Smith, who according to the affidavit is White and lives in Portland, confronted the demonstrators between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, “yelling at them and demanding they leave the area.” Initial statements by the police described the shooter as an “armed homeowner,” while an address associated with Smith is near the park.

Protesters told him to “leave them alone and return home,” the affidavit said, and Smith responded, “demanding they ‘make’ him leave.”

Smith then “aggressively” approached one of the demonstrators, who pushed him back, according to the affidavit. Smith continued to yell at the protesters, it said, and then drew his gun.

It was not immediately clear whether Smith had legal representation.

Smith had a history of ranting about Black Lives Matter, homeless people and covid regulations including mask mandates, his roommate, Kristine Christenson, told the Oregonian. Records show that in 2010, Smith was convicted in Multnomah County of harassment and criminal mischief.

The authorities this weekend said the investigation into the shooting was “very complicated,” as police said that some witnesses were unwilling to talk to them. “Critical evidence was removed from the scene by witnesses,” according to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, which asked that the evidence “be returned to investigators immediately.”

A police briefing scheduled for Sunday morning was canceled after it was disrupted by protesters.

“Most people on scene left without talking to police,” Portland police said in a statement. “Detectives believe a large number of people either witnessed what happened, or recorded the incident as it unfolded. This is a very complicated incident, and investigators are trying to put this puzzle together without having all the pieces.”

Loading...