Police said they do not know what started the deadly fight between Russell Courtier and Larnell Bruce.
They do not know why Courtier allegedly got into his vehicle, chased Bruce across oncoming traffic and struck and killed him.
They also do not know why Courtier’s girlfriend, according to court records, encouraged him to run over Bruce, a black teenager from Vancouver, Wash.
But what investigators said they do know is that Courtier, a man with a lengthy criminal history, is associated with a white supremacist prison gang known for violent activities both on the streets and behind bars. The Southern Poverty Law Center called the European Kindred “the most feared white supremacist gang in the Pacific Northwest.” The Oregon Department of Justice considers the gang a security threat group operating in the state’s prison system.
Don Rees, chief deputy district attorney for Multnomah County, told The Washington Post that prosecutors are looking into whether the deadly encounter was racially motivated, and whether Courtier and his girlfriend, Colleen Hunt, should be charged under Oregon’s hate crime statute.
Courtier, 38, and Hunt, 35, are facing murder charges after a grand jury indicted them last month. If enough evidence exists, Rees said, the case can potentially be brought back in front of a grand jury to reindict the couple on intimidation charges.
Under Oregon’s hate crime statute, defendants can be charged with intimidation if they harm someone because of that person’s race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.
Bruce’s death has attracted national attention, but Gresham Police Det. Aaron Turnage, the lead investigator in the case, cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that Courtier targeted the 19-year-old because of his race.
“Right now, we have nothing to indicate that race had anything to do with this crime; this is something we’re continuing to investigate,” Turnage said. “They had a fight between the two of them. Courtier made some poor choices that night that resulted in the death of Mr. Bruce. This is not a hate crime at this point.”
Turnage responded to a call about a car crash Aug. 10 outside a 7-Eleven in Gresham, east of Portland. Surveillance video showed Courtier and Bruce getting into a fight in the parking lot, according to an affidavit of probable cause. At some point, Bruce pulled out a machete before walking away.
Courtier then hopped into his red Jeep Wrangler and drove toward Bruce, following him as the teen ran into oncoming traffic, then onto a sidewalk, the affidavit said.
“Get him baby, get him baby,” Hunt, sitting in the passenger seat, told Courtier as he drove, according to the affidavit.
Witnesses told police that Courtier narrowly missed striking Bruce with the vehicle. But he circled around and chased the teen again, according to the affidavit.
In an interview with detectives, Courtier admitted that he intentionally struck Bruce and that he heard the impact when the teen hit the front of his Jeep, the affidavit said.
Hunt also admitted encouraging her boyfriend to run the teen over.
Bruce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, died at an area hospital three days later.
The teen’s mother, Christina Mines, told Fox affiliate KPTV that she wants justice served; but she has forgiven those who are responsible.
“I hurt inside and I’m just wanting closure,” she told the station. “I miss him so much. I just miss him so much. I want the people that are guilty of this, I want them to know that I forgive them.”
Loved ones gathered for a candlelight vigil at the Rosewood Initiative Center in Portland on Thursday, when Bruce would have turned 20, KOIN reported.
A GoFundMe campaign started last month to cover medical and funeral expenses has raised more than $22,000.
“We lost our son, brother, cousin, nephew and friend to a senseless crime,” the page says.
Investigators do not believe that the suspects and Bruce knew each other before the incident.
Before his arrest, Courtier had been in and out of the Oregon Department of Corrections since 2001 for assault and weapon charges, said Betty Bernt, a spokeswoman for the agency. Courtier was released in January 2015.
Disciplinary records obtained by the Portland Mercury paint a long history of fights, assaults and contraband violations.
The records also indicate that Courtier identified as a member of the European Kindred. At one point, he was caught in prison with a drawing of the group’s logo, a shield with the letters “EK” on it. Later, he was disciplined for getting the logo tattooed on his calf.
In 2005, he was again disciplined after prison staff intercepted a letter he sent to another European Kindred member in prison.
According to the Oregon Department of Justice, the European Kindred is one of a few white supremacist groups that operate within the state’s prison system. Other include the Supreme White Aryan Knights and Aryan Soldiers, according to a 2006 report by the agency.
European Kindred was founded in prison in 1998. David Kennedy, a known white supremacist, organized the gang when he was serving time for burglary in the Snake River Correctional Institute in Ontario, Ore., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The group has at least 300 members in prison and about 125 on the streets of Portland and surrounding cities and towns, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Chapters exist within prisons in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico.
In the years since its founding, the group “became notorious as members committed hate crimes, murders, rapes and home-invasion robberies, along with manning identity theft, methamphetamine distribution and dog-fighting rings,” according to a 2010 Southern Poverty Law Center article.
In 2010, Kennedy, of Portland, was sentenced to 90 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to knowingly providing a firearm to a convicted felon, according to the FBI.
Turnage, the detective, said he is aware of Courtier’s ties with the European Kindred, but investigators have not determined whether his gang affiliation is related to Bruce’s death. He also said he does not know what role Courtier played within the group or how long he’s been a member.
Rees, the prosecutor, said Courtier and Hunt will face life imprisonment if convicted of murder.
Courtier’s attorney, Kami White, was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Hunt’s attorney, Jonathan Sarre, said he cannot comment on the case at this time. He said his client and Courtier have not known each other for a long time, and that Hunt is not involved in any white supremacist organizations.
If investigators find evidence of a hate crime, Courtier and Hunt could be indicted for either first-degree intimidation, a Class C felony that carries a punishment of up to five years in prison, or second-degree intimidation, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.