On the evening of May 29, Freddy Nelson Jr. was fatally shot by an armed guard while sitting in his truck in the parking lot of a North Portland shopping center.

Unlike the two fatal shootings by Portland police officers this year, Nelson’s death — the 37th homicide this year and the second that day — received no media scrutiny and triggered little public outrage.

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Yet, his death serves as a case study for another notable law enforcement problem the city is grappling with: powerful business interests turning to private security to do the work of police officers, enabling them to wield force against vulnerable Portlanders with a fraction of the oversight.

An investigation by OPB dove deep into the shooting by a guard with Cornerstone Security Group and the many warning signs about the conduct of the company that preceded it.

People line up outside a business with large glass-window walls and a sign that reads "BottleDrop"

The Delta Park Center BottleDrop location where an armed guard fatally shot Freddy Nelson, a bottle drop regular, on May 29, 2021. The guard was an employee of Cornerstone Security Group, a company hired by the real estate company TMT Development to manage the crowd of folks lining up to recycle empty bottles and cans for cash.

Rebecca Ellis / OPB

Around 6:30 p.m, a guard approached Nelson’s truck in the parking lot of the Delta Park Center. OPB identified the guard through state records as Logan Gimbel, 28, and found he was one of three guards working for Cornerstone who was not licensed to carry a gun.

Nelson was well-known at the shopping plaza. Attorney Tom D’Amore, who is representing the family as they consider litigation, said Nelson had a strained relationship with the Cornerstone guards, who allegedly followed him when he was on the property.

It’s not clear why Gimbel approached Nelson’s truck that day. The police have not updated the public beyond a 100-word release pushed out three days after the shooting. Cornerstone Security Group declined to comment due to the ongoing police investigation.

Records from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training show one of the owners of Cornerstone told the agency that Gimbel fired after Nelson “acted as though he was going to run over Gimbel with his car.”

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Two eyewitnesses dispute the account, saying the car never left the parking space.

The Multnomah County District Attorney said the police turned over the case to them last Wednesday, and they’re reviewing the investigation.

A picture of a paper funeral program. The program features the smiling image of a man and the words "In Loving Memory of Freddy Theodore Nelson Jr."

The funeral program for Freddy Nelson, who was fatally shot by an armed guard near the Delta Park Center BottleDrop, May 29, 2021. The guard was an employee of Cornerstone Security Group, a company hired by the real estate company TMT Development to manage the crowd of folks lining up to recycle empty bottles and cans for cash.

Courtesy of the Nelson family

The guards had been hired by TMT Development, a prominent Portland real estate company that owns the Delta Park Center.

TMT Development had originally hired the armed guards to patrol the plaza. But, last spring, they asked Cornerstone to also start enforcing order on the long lines that were growing outside of the Bottle Drop. TMT Development said the lines had grown out of control during the pandemic and other businesses were complaining.

The management of BottleDrop initially objected, warning there could be “an unintentionally violent confrontation” between guards and patrons. The BottleDrop ultimately agreed to pay for one guard — but ended their contract with Cornerstone in May after two guards detained a man leaving the BottleDrop’s bathroom.

The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, which oversees the city’s various BottleDrop locations, filed a complaint with DPSST that the guards’ conduct “was excessive and unnecessary” and possibly in violation of state law regarding citizen’s arrests. The complaint was dismissed.

OPB found this was one of many warning signs the company might be ill-suited to interact with some of Portland’s most vulnerable residents.

Two guards said the company offered no de-escalation training and banked on the guards, many of whom had military or law enforcement backgrounds, to know from prior experience how to defuse a tense encounter. Six former and one current employee said they felt upper-level management at Cornerstone tolerated a toxic workplace, where managers routinely made offensive jokes and sexual harassment was a regular occurrence against the few female employees.

Andrew Grabhorn, one of Cornerstone’s first employees, recalled sitting in the passenger seat of the patrol car of one of the company’s owners in early 2019 when the owner turned to him and asked if he knew what a “K-party” was. Grabhorn said he did not.

“He said, ‘It’s a party your buddies throw you after you get your first kill — I can’t wait for mine,’” Grabhorn recalled.

Read the full story here.

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