Cougar Burleigh was fatally injured in possible pattern crime, but Portland cops wouldn’t investigate – because they thought he was homeless

Willamette Week, Oct. 16, 2014

Cougar Burleigh

Cougar Burleigh

Family and friends of a 38-year-old Olympia, Wash., man who died Oct. 14 as a result of a severe head wound say Portland Police are declining to investigate the man’s death as a homicide, even though he was found injured and at least partially unclothed near the Burnside Bridge in the early hours of Oct. 12.

Cougar Burleigh, the Olympia, Wash., victim, was in Portland visiting friends Rebecca and Cain Random.

Nancy Shadley, Burleigh’s stepmother, says Burleigh was found naked near the Burnside Bridge around 4 a.m. on Sunday. He had a severe head wound but no wallet and no I.D. It took almost 24 hours for officials to identify him and contact family. By then, he was hooked up to life support at Oregon Health and Science University with brain swelling.

“I don’t believe it was an accident, but they don’t have any evidence to say it was a murder,” she said.

Burleigh’s fatal injuries are a chilling echo of a crime that occurred nine days earlier in nearly the same location.

On Oct. 3, two California men were attacked at 2 a.m. by assailants who demanded the victims strip naked. Later the same day, police arrested two suspects who were later indicted on assault and robbery charges. One of the victims was beaten. Both survived.

What happened to Burleigh—a Washington state employee in the worker’s compensation division of the Department of Labor and Industries—is less clear.

On Saturday, Oct. 11, Burleigh and the Randoms went to see The Boxtrolls with the Randoms’ children, and then eat dinner at Tilt. Cain Random and Burleigh then spent the evening bar hopping, although Rebecca Random says neither man drank to excess.

The two were last together at the Thirsty Lion on Southwest 2nd Avenue, less than four blocks from the west entrance to the Burnside Bridge. They got separated. Cain Random’s phone had died.

No one knows for certain what exactly happened next, but family and friends do not believe the police’s version of events.

Sgt. Pete Simpson, a police spokesman, tells WW that Burleigh somehow fell, adding that there were no signs of foul play and no witnesses. Simpson says Burleigh was intoxicated.

Burleigh’s family ordered an autopsy; it came back “inconclusive,” Shadley says.

Shadley spoke on the phone several times with a police detective. “He said, ‘I think he fell off a bicycle,” Shadley tells WW.

Shadley doesn’t buy it. His body showed no further injuries.

“He does not have a scrape,” she says. “He does not have a scratch. Absolutely nothing…This is not an injury you get from falling. He was definitely hit.”

Shadley says a detective later told her a “blood wagon” picked up her stepson and took him to OHSU. No police investigated the scene, she says, adding that police assumed he was homeless.

Cougar Burleigh (right) and Cain Random, hours before Burleigh was found injured near the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland

Cougar Burleigh (right) and Cain Random, hours before Burleigh was found injured near the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland

UPDATE, 4:35 pm: The Portland Police Bureau has issued a statement asking the public for more information about Burleigh’s injury.

Police say Burleigh was found across the street from the Portland Rescue Mission, located at 111 West Burnside Street. They dispute claims by family and friends that he was found naked.

“Burleigh was wearing a t-shirt and underwear, but was missing his jean shorts, wallet and phone,” the release says. “Detectives do not know if Burleigh removed his pants earlier or if someone removed them after he was unconscious.”

Police say the Medical Examiner’s report shows injuries consistent with a fall. “Investigators learned that Burleigh’s blood alcohol level (BAC) was nearly three times the legal limit, indicating that Burleigh was significantly intoxicated,” the release says.

Anyone with information about the incident can contact Det. Erik Kammerer at 503-823-0762 or erik.kammerer@portlandoregon.gov.