Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 27th, 2007 at 1:50 pm
“Our community, via this website, came together to solve a public safety problem affecting bicyclists and pedestrians.”
–Officer Robert Pickett, SE Precinct
It all started back in May of 2006 when I read a post to the Portland Bike Forums titled, I was harassed by a cyclist named James this morning.
The post, left by Erica (last name withheld), detailed a scary interaction with a stranger that occurred while she biked to work in downtown Portland.
Soon, other women in the Forums came forward with similar experiences by what seemed to be the same person. More importantly, Erica’s post caught the eye of SE Precinct police Officer Robert Pickett. Pickett (who posts in the Forums as “PoPo”) had been aware of someone harassing bicyclists and pedestrians on the Esplanade for months but it was only from the information he gleaned from the Forums that he was able to positively identify James.
Once he put some of the pieces together, Pickett launched a formal investigation and prosecution process in April 2006. He contacted the women who had posted in the Forums and used their testimony to help the district attorney build a case against James.
“From the beginning all I wanted was for James to get help.”
–Erica, who was physically and verbally harassed by James.
James had a troubled past that included regular run-ins with the law, but until now, he was always let go due to a lack of evidence.
As the case against him mounted, the Willamette Week published a story (as a follow-up to this story) that detailed the complexities of James’ life. Reporter Angela Valdez wrote of his challenges with bipolar disorder and his inability to pay for much-needed medications.
A few weeks later (on 8/31/06) Officer Pickett posted this message in the Forums:
“With the cooperation of witnesses from this website and other members of the Portland bicycling community, the District Attorney’s office was able to charge James with multiple counts of Disorderly Conduct and Harassment.”
The DA subsequently issued an arrest warrant for James and he was brought in by PPB officers that same night.
A trial was set for earlier this month and according to Officer Pickett, James showed up “clean and well-dressed and reasonable and communicative”. Pickett also reported that James had found a place to live and was no longer living on the streets.
At the trial held two weeks ago, James pled “no contest” to three counts of Harassment, thus ending an 18 month process.
Pickett says the judge sentenced James to a minor fine and a year of probation, during which he is required to continue to undergo mental health treatment.
Looking back at the case, Pickett offered these thoughts:
“Our community, via this website, came together to solve a public safety problem affecting bicyclists and pedestrians. The communicative nexus of bikeportland.org allowed police to locate a number of victims of James’ behavior, in confrontations that occurred in all four quadrants of our city.”
Erica (the woman who made the initial Forum post) told me yesterday that she’s “very glad the way this situation turned out”. She said she was very appreciative of Officer Pickett’s persistence and she offered this perspective,
“From the beginning all I wanted was for James to get help and with this guilty plea he is being monitored to make sure he does so. This whole case was very disturbing and damaging to a lot of women in the bicycle community. I am very proud of those women who stood forward and made a formal report.”
Thanks to everyone in the Forums involved in this story. I think it’s a testament to the power of compassionate police work and to the strength of our community.