The man suspected of shooting and killing a racial justice demonstrator Saturday night has been identified as Benjamin Jeffrey Smith, 43, of Northeast Portland.
Police confirmed Tuesday morning that Smith remains hospitalized in serious condition. A spokesperson for Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said the investigation is moving forward and Smith could be charged regardless of his condition.
Smith’s identity was first reported by antifascist researchers and the Oregonian/OregonLive. Smith’s roommate and neighbors said he had grown increasingly angry with protests in the neighborhood and across the city, as well as the unhoused community who camp in the area.
Smith’s roommate, Kristine Christenson, told OPB that when she first moved into his apartment seven years ago, he let her stay there for free.
“When I first moved in, he seemed fine,” she said. “He was actually not that bad of a guy.”
She said Smith slowly became more radicalized starting in the later years of the Obama administration and accelerating during the Trump administration. At times, she heard him yelling racial slurs in his room and deriding women.
“As the years went on, he’s just gotten more and more radicalized. He got angrier and angrier,” Christenson told OPB. “I have not been comfortable living with him for a while. I did not feel safe with him, especially this last two years with the whole COVID thing. I think that made him even more angry.”
Demonstrators said the shooting happened after Smith allegedly started yelling at a group of racial justice protesters holding a “justice for Amir Locke” demonstration at Normandale Park. Locke, who was Black, was killed by Minneapolis police serving a no-knock warrant earlier this month.
Witnesses to the Saturday shooting said people attempted to deescalate the situation when Smith allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired into the crowd, killing Brandy “June” Knightly, 60, and injuring four others. Witnesses said a protester returned fire, hitting Smith, who is in critical condition according to the Oregonian/OregonLive.
Knightly became involved with the protest movement after a George Floyd march passed by her home in 2020. Since then, she attended many demonstrations and often worked to protect protesters from traffic and other interference, a job she was also doing on Saturday when she was killed.
Christenson, who said she and her neighbors are shocked but not surprised by what happened, said Portland Police Bureau detectives and special agents with the FBI came to her apartment just after midnight early Sunday morning to ask her about Smith, including whether or not he owned any firearms.
“The FBI is working with Portland Police Bureau to determine whether there are any potential federal violations related to Saturday night’s shooting in Portland’s Normandale Park,” Beth Anne Steele, spokeswoman for the Portland FBI’s Field Office said in an email Monday morning.
Late Monday night, Portland police officers returned to the apartment with a search warrant looking for guns and computers, Christenson said. A copy of the warrant provided to OPB said the police were searching for evidence related to the crimes of second degree murder with a firearm, attempted first degree murder, assault in the first degree, and unlawful use of a weapon.
Christenson didn’t know how many guns Smith owned, but she said that he owned everything from shotguns to rifles and handguns and that Smith sometimes repaired weapons for other people.
“He talked about wanting to go shoot commies and antifa all the friggin‘ time,” Christenson said. “He was just a sad angry dude. … He talked about wanting to do this for a while. He was angry at the mask mandates, he was angry at the ‘damned liberals.’”
Smith’s brother, Aurthur Killion, said Smith had had issues with protesters in the neighborhood but otherwise seemed fine when they last spoke a week ago. Killion, who learned about the shooting and his brother’s alleged involvement when a reporter contacted him, said he hasn’t been able to find out any more details.
“I’ve called every hospital there and all of them say he’s not a patient,” Killion said. “I’ve called both the detectives that were listed on one of the articles I read and neither of them would answer their phone. I called the detective branch itself and got a recorded message and that was it. Your police department in Portland sucks.”
In a press release Sunday afternoon, the Portland Police Bureau described the incident as very complicated and said “investigators are trying to put this puzzle together without having all the pieces.” On Tuesday, Police said they believe people removed “critical evidence” from the scene and are asking those people, or any other witnesses, to contact detectives.