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.
Can’t blame Lisa for running the original story, it seemed like urgent news. Kudos for publishing this reflection on it. Hard to imagine what y’all could’ve done better given the circumstances.
I think how it was reported was good, the benefits of alerting the community to a potential danger outweigh the costs of having the initial story be at least somewhat wrong.
I’m guessing the guy who had the stolen bike called the police because he was mad about the confrontation and thought the police would buy his story and arrest Royal. Maybe something about Royal made the thief think the PPB would be inclined to believe that he had a gun.
Thank you cc_rider, that “benefit” is why there is a Clery Act. OHSU’s letter went on to explain that
The person that owns the bike is a former friend of mine, Robert Cornelius. I recovered his bike even after we’re no longer friends. If he doesn’t want to set the record straight that is on him. Again there was no gun. Please stop using my name with gun in it.
I didn’t say you had a gun or even imply it.
I wasn’t saying that to you cc rider
Thanks for the clarification! This is a crazy story, but I don’t think BP made any errors in their reporting. I appreciated that you provided an update when that was available, and the comment from the first-hand witness was very informative. The original story struck me and other readers as very unusual, and people had questions- now we have answers. Thank you!
Congratulations and thanks to the Timberwolves. Apparently, if we don’t take back our bikes, our MUPs, and our public spaces ourselves, no one else is going to do it for us.
The initial story was based on credible sources, didn’t exaggerate any details and was helpful to the community. This follow up is far more than almost any other news agency would do unless it was a slow day as the real story is much less sensational. It’s pretty rare to get any additional details about these reports from PPB especially with traffic fatalities and it’s a disservice to the community. Thanks for the update.
The credible source being… a police report? From a unhoused person offering muddled details about how they were in possession of such a bike to begin with.
Is armed robbery of bikes in broad daylight a thing that’s ever happened in Portland? Until it is I would argue the initial post was not credible, irresponsible to parrot, and harms BPs reputation towards unbiased reporting on unhoused / MUP / Bike Theft topics.
The police log and Clery warning from Knight Cancer did not mention a homeless person. I checked the police log to verify the Clery warning.
Ok, the word “homeless” was not used. The 911 call was to a tent, and it was ‘something something e-bike something something’. If the calls weren’t actually recorded I bet it would have just been thrown away because mostly the PPB aren’t interested in bikes. A gun was mentioned but all we know from that is, maybe there’s an SUV somewhere with a bike and a gun in it?
I would agree that the most surprising thing about this tale is that the person called 911 at all.
X, I’m not sure I’m following you. I was responding to Brad who is saying that the reports I based my story on were not credible because the call to police was made from a tent.
My simplest response is that I had no way of knowing the call was made from a tent.
And, if you think about it, if the original Saturday article hadn’t been written, most of the information we all now know wouldn’t have come out at all.
Several commenters are making the mistake of thinking that what we know now was what was known on Saturday. It wasn’t. And I had no way of getting more information on a Saturday.
This story unfolded over several days, and may even continue, because Jonathan did some bang up investigating.
Oh but you forget, Brad, it was multiple sources because multiple people parroted the police report. Because that’s how sources work I guess.
What police report, what multiple people?
Bah, I don’t really hold a strong position about it, I think I misunderstood what a “police log” was. It just seems like both the “police log” and the Clery warning got their information from the same place, but I get you didn’t have access to that.
I work very near there and had a colleague send me the Clery notice – from the Knight only, not the whole university. Some filtering may be useful in the future, but I actually found the whole story to be important, from the initial report to the this post. Glad you followed up. There are a host of important things here: the vulnerability of the people living rough, the lack of enforcement related to bike thefts, taking the law into one’s own hands, and most importantly, why people aren’t riding as much any more.
A while back, a friend of mine was #metoo‘d. The first I knew of it was just by seeing thumbnails of screenshots from the Notes app on iPhone. I call it the Template of Doom, and here is another:
“First, I regret not being able to present a more complete picture of what happened.”
I’m known to be critical, but BikePortland was working with the information on hand and corrected the record when more of it became available. Is this even a gaffe?
As for my friend: hate the sin, love the sinner.
I think it’s important to note that the person that filed the false police report potentially put Royal in very real physical danger. Or any random white male that happened to be driving in the neighborhood in a bmw suv, per the police description.
After all, the police would have believed they are dealing with someone armed with a gun who just robbed someone. This completely false police report (Not a white male, not in a suv, not brandishing a gun, not robbing someone) could have had deadly consequences.
I hope that this person that was in possession of a stolen bike, clearly under the influence in public, and filed a false police report is held legally accountable. These things are still a crime, even in Portland, are they not?
It’s not at all surprising that an intoxicated person illegally camped on public property and in posession of stolen goods knows exactly what levers to press to get what they want in Portland. We have welcomed this behavior, created an entire industry committed to fulfilling their requests, and adapted nearly every public institution to serve them first, before others. And somehow people are surprised. Have they been paying attention?
Liberals and progressives who champion actual working class people who are busting their ass to pay rent and buy groceries is so 2010…
I don’t see a single political “faction” that does champion actual working class people…aside from unelected Progressives and Bernie Sanders.
Elizabeth Warren. The existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a big deal.
Fair point and I almost mentioned her in my comment. I guess I had forgotten about her control of the CFPB (which the GOP wants to absolve, and I’ll bet more than a few neo-libs would like that just as much).
I’m a big Liz Warren fan, I have two of her t-shirts.
The CFPB was her brainchild, she is responsible for its existence. I’ve sent information from its website to a couple different people I know who were getting jerked around w mortgage issues.
Warren is a proud capitalist which makes her, by definition, an enemy of the working class.
Hey Soren! Whose definition?
I personally know many working class people who are fine with capitalism.
Funny, I just got a fundraising letter from LW.
If only she could ban residential real estate speculation, then we might move the needle for working class.
Couldn’t agree more.
People can be “fine” with lots of things that are bad for them, like they have been “fine” with various “other forms” of government in the past. People are “fine” with car dependence, that’s how we got here. In the end, someone has to notice this problem and point it out to people.
Is Bernie his own faction since he votes with Biden and Democrats in the Senate 91% of the time last 2 years?
He is completely supportive of this administration.
Stating he somehow is more supportive of working class people than Joe Biden is, is just gaslighting from the disaffected liberals.
That is the reason I put “faction” in quotes. Bernie isn’t competely supportive of Biden’s administration and he only votes as a Democrat, not always with them, as you pointed out. Biden’s interference with the railway strike is an example I can think of. The lip-service of union support from Biden, AOC, et al has not been the reality.
Are there actual bills you think Bernie shouldn’t have voted for that he did? Just talking about a voting record is pretty nonsensical. There are a lot of negotiations before a bill even gets read on the floor, and he has a hand in a lot of that.
Senator Bernie Sanders.
Yeah, that’s right. I had avoided the area (don’t ride there frequently anyway, but do sometimes when it’s sunny). I’m very glad to know this wasn’t an armed robbery.
Actually, the whole way this played out and was reported is an excellent window into how bicycle theft is occurring in our town. It highlights how the thieves believe they can use violence & threats, how limited the law enforcement response is, and the risks that are inherent in citizens trying to step into an enforcement vacuum. Very insightful coverage of the story.
Bike thieves get sympathy here if they live in a tent… A lot of the comments on the article yesterday were skeptical of the story and defensive that a person in a tent would be labeled a thief and make up a story..
This is what we are up against and why the Timberwolves are doing what they are doing.
They are not fools like some of the defenders of this Mad Max third world are…
What would you propose? Every person who sleeps in a tent is a dirty stinking liar who shouldn’t be trusted no matter what the circumstance is? Giving someone who claimed to be the victim of a crime the benefit of the doubt is not being a “defender of this Mad Max third world”, it’s being a regular person. It was an incomplete story, and you are jumping on people who were not willing to skewer a homeless person just because they were homeless.
Come on, I never said that all people who sleep in tents are liars..
The story was highly questionable from the get go and most people who read it thought so..
The initial report from the police was bad and there was zero follow up so I doubt they believed the story either and just put it out because they are not doing their jobs in this city.
No one skewered the homeless person except the people who got the bike back.
Thanks for proving my point.
No, a regular person does not see a story about a person who lives in a tent under two highways with no access to charging infrastructure, but has a multi-thousand dollar ebike and that bike is stolen at 11:30am by a “white guy in a BMW with a gun” and go, yeah, we better find that white guy. Regular people say, “that sounds pretty ridiculous, it will be fascinating to see how this plays out”, and it played out precisely how a few commenters suggested it would and they were called classist for even suggesting it.
BikePortland, thanks for the coverage…even how messy it was.
That said, being in the shared mobility business, with lots of stolen asset recoveries often unplanned ‘while grocery shopping, etc.’ – I just find it [don’t know the best word for it, sloppy? dangerous?] for ‘Timberwolves’ to wake up folks in tents without local police being on site, as backup to reclaim a bike.
Sleepy or druggy folks can act in random ways…generally 96% of my recoveries are without police help. I only call if they are asleep or outnumber me 3x. Generally ‘folks’ just let me recover the identified as stolen asset – those next to the bike/ scooter say they don’t know whose it is / its not their’s/ its a friend’s. May be PPB has crappy response or ‘non response’ times when Timberwolves calls(?); I don’t know. (Honolulu PD is 10 to 20 minutes once I call for a recovery back up.)
The cops are on strike, which is the reason people are recovering bikes on their own. I mean look at the response here, false report filed of a bike theft, they just auto message nearby folks and do no follow up, when further questions are asked the response is they haven’t heard anything from the “suspect” in the original report, so what could they possible do, certainly not investigate a supposed theft at gunpoint. Do suspects often call up to give statements? It makes no sense unless you understand that they are just saying nonsense to distract from the fact that they are on strike.
Comment of the week
If they were on strike, there’d be no police activity whatsoever. And yet people are still getting arrested daily.
PS> When I first saw the Timberwolves photos of the bike as shared by BP, I was struck by how fresh and minty clean the e-bike was still after ~6 months in the wilderness AND any lack of personalization by the original owner (no 529 registration sticker or other stickers…unless they were removed).
I hope the original owner files an updated police report to better document this whole shebang.
The only other way this reporting would have been more clear would be to return to the ‘golden 1990s’ back when we would have had to wait a month for the BTA newsletter to be mailed out…this always gave more time for the details to settle out. 😉
I appreciate the diligence in describing your reporting/editing process and elaborating on what happened a great deal. It’s illuminating and useful.
I want to point out the one and only paragraph that did not seem useful. Just this one part.
On what basis do you find it odd that a person in a tent would call the police? What is the extent of your experience with people living in tents?
Personally I interact with dozens of people in tents every week. But my experience can’t begin to capture the diversity of Portlanders who have found themselves in such circumstances. This year’s point-in-time count reported something like 5,000 people living outside.
But I can tell you, while many people in tents (like me) are reluctant to call the police, it’s by no means universal. When people feel threatened, they take action. For some people that includes calling the police. One neighbor living in a tent called the police when people drove by and shot BBs into his tent, hitting him in the head. What would you do? Personally, I can’t answer. That’s a shitty experience I’ve fortunately never had to contend with. I like to think I’d have a better option, but until it happens…I don’t know.
People living outside are not a monolith. I’ve met graduate students trying to get back to completing their degree, former nurses, former homeowners and construction workers, people trying to hold down jobs or keep a phone line active however they can. People make their own choices about what resources are appropriate, and for some people that means 911 might be the call they make when somebody takes something they feel belongs to them.
I know nothing more about this situation than you do, and I admire your candor about the opacity of the situation. But I’d urge you not to make assumptions about who will or won’t call police in what situation. Until you’ve walked in their shoes, or whatever footwear they’re able to come up with that day…you don’t know.
>People make their own choices about what resources are appropriate, and for some people that means 911 might be the call they make when somebody takes something they feel belongs to them
Sure, but the bike doesn’t belong to them. It’s equivelent to calling the cops because someone took someone else’s drugs, or their stash of stolen catalytic converters. It’s self-incriminating to do so.
The PPB has a dedicated bike recovery officer. When I found my stolen bike on CL, he met me at the house and helped me recover it. He was very calm and kind to everyone involved.
I know a lot of people may distrust the police but just want to put that experience out there in case anyone else is in this situation. In this case it may have been a better outcome than calling an unofficial group.
Fyi I think that part of the PPB got unfunded back in 2020..
Atbn — what year did you use the services of the PPB bike recovery officer?
One possibility is that they had purchased (or were given) the bike from someone else, and considered it legitimately theirs
Axoplasm, yes …That is ‘a scenario’ within a ‘realm of possibility’.
It happened to our shared micro mobility service once…a human went to our city hall to transfer ownership of one of our city registered/ licensed share vehicles (still marked with our trade name and livery vs being painted over). They presented a hand written cash “receipt” to the clerk…who then looked up the registration and called us since we don’t sell our vehicles to the public. So either this human lost their $100 or they were trying to scam the city (and us).
Oh c’mon. This story was so obvious from the start. First thing I thought when I read it was that the homeless person had a stolen bike and it was repossessed by the owner. I think that is the first thing most people thought. Usually the obvious answer is the answer.
The original story didn’t mention a homeless person. It quoted from an OHSU Clery alert warning of an armed robbery, and it cited the police log as a second source.
What are “Portland Police phone log trackers”?
unofficial twitter accounts that look official but that are just run by random folks who have access to dispatch calls or some sort of radio calls made to EMS from police.
Also, keep in mind, this was a Saturday. The PPB Public Information Office website says they are available M-F. Similarly, OHSU administration is M-F.
Six months is a long time for a bike on the streets. It was likely sold, resold, re-stolen and traded repeatedly before the guy in the tent received it.
Thanks for the follow up! Keep on biking! Thanks superhero Timberwolves! Thanks journalistic inquiry!
I really appreciate the clarification of what happened here (as far as it’s known so far). It’s unfortunate that not everyone will read the follow up who read the original, and all they take away is “armed robberies for bikes are happening in Portland”. I don’t know what else to do though.
One continual problem that people have while sleeping rough is that any useful stuff they may have is liable to be stolen at any time. They are just as often the victim as the thief, although that’s _not_ my take on the initial story which I frankly did not believe.
I’ve profiled lots of people in dubious possession of a bike including (once) a dude riding single on a tandem, flat shoes on SPDs, etc. I later found out it was stolen from my friends. You just can’t tell.
It’s perfectly credible to me that an honest working person could find themselves on the street with their stuff. Imagine how you would negotiate living in a tent with the collection of tools that you happen to own at the present, or however many of them you are able to carry all day in a pack because the rest are gone?
A person who has to deal with any court or bureaucracy has to leave all interesting metal bits outside somewhere. It’s ridiculous that the county courthouse doesn’t have lockers. Perfectly innocent people have a need to go in the courthouse sometimes, and God help anybody who has to deal with the Social Security administration. Their security is so edgy you’d think it was the IRS.
IMO Royal Johnson is a loose cannon and vexatious to the bike community. He’s been connected to incident with a gun in the past and I don’t believe him one iota. It was cringe to see him and his and his shady crew get the spotlight on BP last year and this recent debacle comes as no surprise.
He’s the hero we need. Not every hero is squeaky clean.
Those are strong allegations and not at all what I have witnessed in person on any of the many rides I’ve seen him or his crew on. You should provide proof to back up those claims.
Don’t lie, this has been a mixup that you’re not taking advantage of, I’ve never been involved with none of that.
We recover bikes, not do harm to our community, even the homeless.
Why was retrieving a stolen bike a “debacle”?