There was a confrontation between two people over a stolen bicycle on Friday. It happened near the intersection of South Sheridan and Moody in the South Waterfront neighborhood.
Given what I’ve learned in the past few days, the facts above are just about the only ones I have total confidence in. And yes, they are much different than the story we ran on Saturday when we reported that a bike rider had been confronted by gunpoint and had their bike stolen. Suffice it to say, this story has been a mess — as stories that rely on hearsay and assumptions tend to be.
First, I regret not being able to present a more complete picture of what happened. Second, I want to share why that story came out the way it did and offer new details from people involved in the confrontation.
We first learned about the incident on Friday when OHSU Knight Cancer Institute sent out an email to students and staff that someone was “robbed at gunpoint for their electric bike.” That email (which also mentioned that the gun-toter was “white male driving a grey BMW SUV”) likely originated from Portland Police phone log trackers who reported a “robbery with weapon” at this location. OHSU, and all colleges, are required by law to report to their communities when they they’ve been informed a crime may have been committed near campus.
Given those two reports, I received a call from our writer Lisa Caballero (I was in Seattle with family all day) saying that we should do a post because the community needed to know about this threat. That sounded reasonable to me, so I gave Lisa the OK to publish a story.
Soon thereafter we heard from a source that the bike and incident seemed to match very closely with a recovery of an e-bike posted by a Portland group called Timberwolves Cycle Recovery PDX. This is an Instagram-based group of folks we profiled late last year that’s led by Portlander Royal Johnson. Royal and his crew track stolen bikes and take part in regular recovery missions.
Below is the post from Saturday about the recovery (that’s Royal Johnson in the green sweater):
On Monday, I messaged Royal via the Timberwolves Instagram account and asked if he was involved in the incident. He initially said, “No, we were not.” Then I followed up with the link to the post above that described the recovery of an electric bike on Friday and included a photo showing the bike on the rack of a light-colored BMW. It was an obvious match.
Royal then acknowledged his involvement. He said the bike in question did not belong to the person who called the police and that the bike was reported as stolen in September 2022 (you can see this bike listed #4 in this list of stolen bikes Timberwolves have been looking for). Royal said he even matched the serial number of the bike. “There was no gun either,” he told me. “This person is making that up.”
Royal maintained that his group doesn’t carry guns. He also described how he approached people in nearby tents. Royal claims one of them admitted the bike was stolen and that he then took the bike back and “left peacefully.”
Royal also shared the name of the man who reported the bike as stolen. I’ve reached out to him for comment but haven’t heard back.
I then heard from someone who says they tipped off the Timberwolves about the bike and were present for the entire incident. The witness (who asked to stay anonymous) says they were biking up the path and saw the “this $3,000 electric bike” parked near some tents. The witness says they recognized the bike because it was posted as stolen on several social media accounts they follow. Upon seeing it they contacted the Timberwolves account and Royal showed up a few minutes later.
The witness says she and Royal walked up to the bike and matched the serial number and other unique features to the stolen bike report and determined that it was a match. By then, someone emerged from one of the tents. She said she stepped back and didn’t want to be involved in the confrontation, but that Royal stepped forward and engaged the man from the tent. The man claimed the blue bike wasn’t his, woke up a different person from another nearby tent, and then left the scene.
“The other guy who came out of the tent was not stoked that the bike was being repossessed,” the witness recalled. “And so he tried to confront Royal about it, but Royal was very firm.”
The witness said there was never a gun used or brandished by her or Royal at any time during the incident.
It remains odd to me (and others) that the person even called the police to begin with, given that they had a stolen bike in their possession and were living in a tent. Not that unhoused folks can’t use police services, but I would assume most of them wouldn’t be keen to invite police officers into their lives.
The witness also found it odd that he called police, and said perhaps the man who made the call, “Was just kind of not in the right state of mind to understand what was really going on.”
As we shared in the update to our initial story, the police only reported out what the caller (the man who lives in the tent) told them on the initial phone call — that he was asleep and someone tried to take his bike and then the person (Royal) showed them a gun when confronted about it. According to the man who lives in the tent, the blue electric bike was initially stolen from his sister, and was merely taking it back to her.
On a follow-up question to the PPB about the conflicting story I heard from the witness, the officer said, “We only have what the victim reported to officers. The victim is the one who made the call, and there were no witnesses who have contacted us.” (I shared this with the witness in case they wanted to contact police and share their side of the story.)
I hope this helps clarify not just the incident, but how and why we reported things out the way we did. I regret how messy the story was, but in my experiences over the years, stories like this are often just inherently messy. My job is to take responsibility for what we publish, explain my thought process, clean-up existing stories when necessary, and offer as much clarity as I can. I felt like warning people about a possible gun-related confrontation on a popular bike path was the right thing to do even though we didn’t have all the information.
Thanks for reading. If anyone has more to share about what happened on Friday, please get in touch.