Video: Hostage talks armed suspect into surrendering during police standoff
"I said to him: 'I'm not gonna let you die.' I created a friendship at that moment," said Miguel Sanchez
By Savannah Eadens and Franziska Klemenz
PORTLAND, Ore. — Miguel Sanchez found himself crouched in a fetal position under a kitchenette at Rodriguez Auto Repair, terrified.
A man who’d barreled into the garage amid a hail of bullets had locked the two of them inside the repair shop’s office and started kicking at the walls, gun in hand.
Sanchez, 49, waited for what felt like just a blurred moment but was likely 10 to 15 minutes.
He saw only one option.
“I was thinking, ‘I need to kill this guy before he kills me. How am I gonna get him?’” Sanchez recalled the morning after he was nearly caught in the crossfire of a violent police standoff Tuesday night in Southeast Portland.
He overheard the man talking on his cellphone. The voice on the other end of the call begged him: “Robert, just turn yourself in, please.”
“I am ready to die – I want to die,” the man yelled into the phone.
Then he made eye contact with Sanchez.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said.
It was at that moment Sanchez saw a chance to intervene, to survive, maybe to prevent bloodshed.
According to the Portland Police Bureau, officers from the Focused Intervention Team were attempting to arrest Robert Connelly, 49, at about 8 p.m. Tuesday for outstanding federal and state warrants related to gun and sexual-assault charges. Surveillance video appears to show police approaching Connelly in SUVs, lights flashing, in the 7800 block of Southeast 82nd Avenue. Police said Connelly pointed a gun at officers before running.
Connelly faces a three-count federal indictment, charging him with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a gun in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and being a felon in possession of a firearm, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
The indictment, issued by a grand jury in December, was unsealed Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Portland. It alleges the crimes all occurred on May 23, 2021.
Connelly has a prior conviction in July 2000 for first-degree robbery from Washington state’s Cowlitz County, the indictment says.
He was also convicted in Columbia County for third-degree assault in 1995 and third-degree rape in 1996, for which he spent at least six months in jail.
Footage from the auto shop shows Connelly fleeing from police Tuesday night, crossing the street from 82nd Avenue to Lambert Street, then ducking behind a white truck parked in the lot at 8225 S.E. Lambert Street. Connelly, wearing a red shirt, jeans and white sneakers, with a bag slung across his torso, points what appears to be a handgun at three police officers.
The officers respond with gunfire, and Connelly retreats into the shop’s garage.
The auto shop’s owner, Alonso Rodriguez, 47, and another man were standing under Sanchez’s blue Mini Cooper, which was on a lift. The security tapes capture the two men dodging bullets fired by police officers and ducking down next to the car, until Connelly runs into the office. Then, Rodriguez told The Oregonian/OregonLive, police motioned to the two men and called for them to escape.
Rodriguez, a mechanic for more than 20 years, normally closes the garage at about 5 p.m., but he stayed late Tuesday to finish the repairs on Sanchez’s car.
The shop he opened just over a year ago is now riddled with bullet holes that are marked by numbered evidence tags.
So is a silver BMW SUV belonging to one of Rodriguez’s customers. Rodriguez said he feels “it’s [the police’s] responsibility” to fix the damage to his customers’ cars after they’re towed away for evidence collection.
Rodriguez said he heard police fire at least 12 shots, and he thought the man in the red shirt fired “about five shots.” It’s unclear in the surveillance footage if Connelly fired a weapon, but it looks like one officer ducked and rolled behind a truck in the lot as Connelly appeared to point a gun.
After Rodriguez escaped the scene, police took him in a patrol car to a nearby Fred Meyer, where he would wait for hours before returning to his auto repair shop at about midnight, he said. An officer interviewed Rodriguez in Spanish, his primary spoken language.
“I was afraid,” Rodriguez said.
Police apparently didn’t know Sanchez was inside the shop’s office with Connelly until Rodriguez told them.
Sanchez, a longtime customer, had waited at the garage most of the day, sitting on a gray leather couch, working on his laptop and answering calls. A former Portland resident who now lives in Texas, Sanchez had flown back to the city Tuesday morning to pick up his car. It needed its radiator and water pump repaired.
Sanchez said he was dozing when he heard pops. Video footage shows Sanchez leap up when he realizes he’s hearing gunshots. He runs out of the camera’s frame.
Hiding underneath the kitchen counter in the shop’s office, Sanchez worried that the man in the red shirt was reloading a gun. Then he saw the man kicking a wall, breaking through layers of plaster until he hit brick. He watched the man pull out what appeared to be a crack pipe and start smoking.
Sanchez decided to speak to the man. He addressed him by name, having heard him on the phone.
“Rob, are you ready to die?” Sanchez asked.
“I don’t know,” the man said, according to Sanchez.
“You want to go to jail or you want to die?” Sanchez said.
“If I go to jail, it would be for a long time,” the man replied.
“If you die tonight, is there a guarantee you’re gonna come to heaven tonight?” Sanchez asked.
“I don’t know,” the man replied again.
“If you walk out that door and if you don’t have Jesus in your heart, you’re gonna go straight to hell,” Sanchez insisted.
Sanchez said the man appeared to ponder what he said.
Then they prayed together, Sanchez said.
“I said to him: ‘I’m not gonna let you die.’ I created a friendship at that moment,” Sanchez told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Sanchez urged the man to turn himself in, “otherwise [the police] would come here and we both are dead,” he said.
“I want to see my family,” he added.
Eventually, Connelly surrendered. Video footage shows him opening the front door, raising his hands in the air and walking out slowly, following police commands. He was arrested at the scene. Police said no one was injured in the shooting.
Wednesday morning, Sanchez returned to the auto repair shop, where his turquoise Mini Cooper is still mounted on the lift.
“I don’t care about the car anymore,” he said. “They can keep it if they want. I am alive, that is all that counts.”