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Portland man charged after setting fire to dumpster against precinct building

The 22-year-old faces federal arson and attempted arson charges

portland fire precinct building.jpg

A crowd surrounds a burning dumpster that’s been pushed against the building housing the Portland Police North Precinct on June 26, 2020.

Photo/U.S. Attorney Oregon

By Maxine Bernstein
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A 22-year-old man faces federal arson and attempted arson charges, accusing of igniting a dumpster fire that was pushed up against a city-owned building housing Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct and other businesses during a demonstration against racial injustice and police brutality in late June.

Gavaughn Gaquez Streeter-Hillerich, 22, made his first appearance Wednesday before a magistrate judge in U.S. District Court in Portland after his arrest in Vancouver, Washington, on Tuesday. T

He was caught on video setting a fire inside a tire placed on top of an overturned dumpster that was pushed up against the wall of the building at Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, between Killingsworth and Emerson streets, about 2:16 a.m. on June 26, according to Cynthia M. Chang, a fire investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“Due to the fire, the building sustained damage in the form of peeling paint, soot deposition, burned plywood that was affixed to the window, and burn damage to the awning above,” Chang wrote in a federal affidavit.

Police used a fire extinguisher and then firefighters doused the smoldering fire after ordering a crowd to back away from the fire, the affidavit said.

The next day, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell stood with Black leaders in the community at the corner and decried the actions as “not only reprehensible, but they’re evil.”

The portion of the building most impacted was the plywood covering the windows of the Mid-K Beauty Supply # 1, a retail beauty supply store at the corner of Killingsworth that was closed. There were about 15 police officers and staff and four people in custody inside North Precinct at the time of the fire, according to the affidavit.

A person videotaping the demonstration and fire provided footage to investigators, which included an image of the 2013 red Mitsubishi Gallant that Streeter-Hillerich rode away in as a front passenger from the scene. Investigators found the car had been recently sold via Facebook Messenger, and contacted the new owner, who recognized photos of Streeter-Hillerich as the man who sold the car, the affidavit said.

A distinct tattoo on his arm, which was caught on video, also was helpful in identifying him, according to investigators. Streeter-Hillerich suffered a burn to his left forearm from the fire, according to Chang.

According to the federal affidavit, Streeter-Hillerich told police that the original intent of the protest was to occupy the police precinct. He first denied involvement with the fire but then admitted he attempted to light the tire on fire. When the tire didn’t appear to ignite, others added flammable materials to produce a more significant fire, he said, according to the affidavit.

Video showed Streeter-Hillerich light something on fire inside the tire above the dumpster, and when the material flew out to the ground, he was seen picking it up and putting it back inside the tire, the affidavit said.

Someone else poured alcohol on the fire and others poured chemicals onto it that they typically used to medically treat injured protesters, according to the affidavit.

“Streeter-Hillerich explained he did not think the fire would extend beyond the dumpster,” thought it would remain controlled and was surprised when it extended to a canvas awning of the building, the affidavit said.

Streeter-Hillerich told investigators he was angry that tear gas had been used against him during the protests, and he believed igniting the dumpster “would assist him in controlling his anger and getting his anger out,” Chang wrote.

The complaint identifies the federal nexus to the prosecution as the approximately $8.3 million in federal grants that the city of Portland receives from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Program, and the estimated $114 million in CARES Act economic stimulus funding the city has received and distributed.

Streeter-Hillerich appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You and was released pending trial.

If convicted, arson carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and could bring a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)