A white couple from Oregon is currently on trial for intentionally running down and killing a black teenager after they had an altercation back in August. On Tuesday, the man and his girlfriend found themselves facing additional charges for hate crimes after it has been alleged that they targeted the 19-year-old because of his race.
Thirty-eight-year-old Russell Orlando Courtier and his girlfriend Colleen Catherine Hunt were indicted last month for charges of murder and hit-and-run driving resulting in the death of Larnell Malik Bruce Jr. However, on Tuesday the grand jury added to their charges. The couple was brought before the Multnomah County Circuit Court to be formally processed for their new charges of first and second degree intimidation. Under Oregon law, an intimidation charge means that the defendants are accused of carrying out their actions based on the perceived race, color, religion or disability of their victim.
Both Courtier and Hunt had pleaded not guilty to the murder of the young man from Vancouver, Washington at their August hearing.
According to Oregon Live, on the night of August 10, Courtier and Bruce were involved in a fight outside of a Gresham 7-Eleven before the white man used his jeep to run down the black teenager. The police investigation suggests that the victim was not previously known to either Courtier or Hunt. The charges against Hunt are not quite as serious as those against her boyfriend as he was the one who was allegedly driving the jeep when it hit the black teenager. However, police said that during the initial fight outside the store she could be heard cheering her boyfriend on.
While it is still unclear as to exactly what led to the argument, which soon turned violent. The police say that Larnell Bruce had a machete in his hand but did not use it. Not too long into the fight Courtier turned and jumped into his 1991 Jeep Wrangler and began to chase down the teenager, who ducked and tried to run away by weaving through the parking lot on foot. Surveillance video of the incident shows the moment when the Jeep executed a rapid turn and chased Bruce as he tried to escape, but it does not show the actual moment the teenager was run over.
Officers responding to the scene near 188th Avenue and Burnside Street in August found Bruce unconscious and bleeding from his head and ears. The officers were also able to catch a glimpse of the red Jeep as it was speeding away. Larnell Bruce died three days after he was run down.
An affidavit for probable cause showed that in pleading not guilty to the murder of Larnell Bruce, Colleen Hunt claimed that she had only sat in the car and had no involvement in the actual killing. For yelling “get him baby,” during the fight outside the convenience store, Hunt has been accused of and charged with “aiding and abetting” Courtier.
Police say that they have known since last month that Courtier is a convicted felon with a fairly long rap sheet. He also had possible white supremacist ties after their initial investigation revealed that he had posted several pictures to Facebook showing off a tattoo that read “EK” which stands for European Kindred, a white supremacist symbol. They did not pursue any charges of a hate crime at the time but decided instead to perform further investigation. Gresham police spokesman John Rasmussen said it took some time as it involved talking to additional witnesses and experts on white supremacist groups.
“It’s one of those things that we’ve been looking at from the get-go. But we also have to do our due diligence. It all comes down to what we believe we can prove in court.”
It is due to this careful investigation that NBC News credits the fact that on Monday the grand jury indicted the white couple for the hate crime.
Bruce’s father, Larnell Bruce Sr., has been in despair over the death of his son and hearing that it happened because someone let hate consume them, has saddened the father even more. He blamed the blinders that people have on as it relates to the racial discrimination that led to this hate crime.
“It hasn’t changed in such a long time. It’s pretty horrible. People allow it in their backyards, and they close their eyes to it. They turn their backs to it because they don’t think it affects them. They live under its privilege. That’s why it lives and breathes in America.”
[Image via Gresham Police]