The man accused of killing a woman and shooting four other people during a Feb. 19 racial justice protest was arraigned Thursday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Benjamin Smith, 43, was charged with one count of murder, four counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a firearm. Smith was in a wheelchair when he appeared in court by video from the county’s Inverness jail.
He pleaded not guilty.
According to witnesses and an affidavit written by Deputy District Attorney Mariel Mota, Smith confronted a group of people directing traffic away from a racial justice demonstration at Normandale Park in Northeast Portland and yelled at them to leave the area. According to the affidavit, people can be heard in a video of the altercation telling Smith to leave them alone.
“(Smith) responds by demanding they ‘make’ him leave and he approaches a participant aggressively, who pushes him back,” Mota wrote in her affidavit. “(Smith) continues to yell at participants and a few moments later, (he) draws a handgun and fires at multiple people, striking five.”
June Brandy Knightly, 60, died during the encounter, four others were injured. Court records don’t identify the other victims, but Mota’s Feb. 22 affidavit said one victim was shot in the neck, paralyzing them from the neck down. A second victim was shot multiple times and hospitalized, while two other victims were treated and released.
Smith’s arraignment has been delayed as he received medical care for wounds he received the night of the shooting. According to the affidavit, Smith was shot in the hip after he began shooting at the protesters. Based on witness accounts at the time and court records, someone in the crowd shot Smith. Police originally reported Smith was in critical condition after the killing, but he was discharged from Oregon Health and Science University and booked into Multnomah County jail Wednesday afternoon.
Smith’s roommate Kristine Christenson said Smith had become more radicalized starting in the later years of the Obama administration, and that she heard him yelling racial slurs in his room and deriding women.
“He got angrier and angrier,” Christenson told OPB shortly after the shooting. “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.”
She said Smith owned a number of guns including rifles, shotguns and handguns.
Smith’s next court appearance is scheduled for May 5.
Correction: This story originally misstated how many people were shot at the Feb. 19 protest. OPB regrets the error.