Report says teen killed self after shootout

From The Oregonian, October 30, 2003

The state medical examiner’s office has ruled that the death of a teenager who traded gunshots with a Portland police officer after a traffic stop last week was a suicide.

Eddie Homsombath, 19, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger Oct. 21 after he crashed his car into a pole after a shootout with North Precinct Officer Jeffrey Bell and a police chase.

Despite the suicide ruling, the Multnomah County district attorney’s office has decided to present the case to a grand jury because a chest wound Homsombath sustained came from a shot the officer fired and could have been fatal.

“Normally, we don’t present suicides to grand juries, but this isn’t the typical suicide,” Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk said Wednesday. “I think it’s worthy of a look. It’ll be a look at the entire operation to see what happened.”

A 9 mm bullet from Bell’s handgun was found lodged in Homsombath’s chest. Police would not identify the exact point of entry but said the bullet entered either Homsombath’s side or back and traveled to his chest.

“Since there was a significant wound inflicted by the officer’s gun, we’re going to err on the side of caution,” said Norm Frink, chief deputy district attorney. “That’s not to imply we have any evidence that suggests the medical examiner’s ruling is, in any way, wrong. The grand jury will be reviewing the events surrounding the person’s death and seeing if there’s any criminal culpability. We’re just trying to be thorough.”

The grand jury is tentatively scheduled to hear the case Wednesday.

Bell, 28, a three-year member of the Portland Police Bureau, remains on paid administrative leave pending the grand jury finding.

Bell had stopped Homsombath’s car for what police described as an “equipment violation” at 12:03 a.m. on North Alaska Street. Police did not identify the type of equipment violation, saying it could have been a broken headlight or tail light.

As Bell approached the car, Homsombath fired at him. Bell returned fire, and Homsombath sped off in his 1996 Honda Accord. Police did not say how many shots Bell fired but said he was backing away from the car as he returned fire.

Homsombath led police on a chase that ended when his car crashed into a utility pole off North Portland Boulevard, near the entrance ramp to southbound Interstate 5. The two passengers in his car were not arrested; a 20-year-old man was hospitalized from crash injuries, and a 17-year-old boy was interviewed by police and released.

Police said Homsombath was a member of an Asian gang, involved with the Laos Khmer Boys gang.

Deputy state medical examiner Dr. Glenn Rudner conducted the autopsy but could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Sgt. Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, said he welcomed the grand jury review.

“The more people that know the facts, the better, ” King said. “Wherever, or whoever the case is reviewed by, they will arrive at the conclusion Officer Bell was defending his life and acted within the law.”

The officer-involved shooting was the first since the controversial May 5 shooting of 21-year-old Kendra James, who was killed when she disregarded police commands and tried to drive away from a traffic stop. It is also the first since the August release of a report by outside experts that criticized the Portland Police Bureau’s reviews and investigations of police shootings.