Five months ago, Joseph "Dymond" Vinci killed a man in the parking lot of Vinci's Southeast Portland tattoo parlor.

"I'm not talking about it," he told WW last week, his tone calm but firm. "It's over now. It's in the past."

The man he killed, with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, was Richard Hanley, a 38-year-old homeless man. It was shortly after noon, and Hanley had been loitering in the parking lot of the strip mall where Vinci's tattoo parlor stands, alongside a catering company. The woman who manages the caterer asked Hanley to move away from her business, and Hanley threw a plastic lint roller at her.

Vinci came outside and started hitting Hanley with an ASP brand retractable baton. Hanley pulled out a knife and Vinci grabbed the pistol from his hip. He plugged Hanley once through the chest. Hanley died moments later.

(Portland Police Bureau)
(Portland Police Bureau)

Vinci told police: "I dropped my ASP, and I grabbed my weapon, and I stopped the threat."

A half-dozen bystanders witnessed what happened. Some told police they'd watched the unnecessary murder of a homeless man. Others told investigators it looked as if a threatened business owner had justifiably defended himself and his neighbors.

Vinci was never arrested or charged with a crime. Two weeks later, a Portland grand jury declined to indict him.

That's because Oregon law says what he did was just fine.

Outside of law enforcement circles, it is little known that Oregon has one of the nation's broadest self-defense laws protecting gun wielders who pull the trigger—so long as they claim they did it out of fear.

The law, Oregon Revised Statute 161.219, protects the rights of private citizens to use deadly force as much or more than nearly any other state in the U.S.—except perhaps Texas, where citizens can pursue fleeing felons and still be justified in shooting them. These protections are commonly called "stand your ground" laws, and they've been immensely controversial in other states.

(Portland Police Bureau)
(Portland Police Bureau)

Last month, a man was killed in Clearwater, Fla., during an argument over a disabled parking space. The shooting, which was captured on a cellphone camera, again raised the debate over so-called stand-your-ground laws that became the center of a national conversation after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who physically confronted the 17-year-old as he walked home. Neither Florida gunman faced criminal charges.

In Oregon, the issue has rarely been debated or examined. But the fact is that Oregon has one of the nation's strongest stand-your-ground doctrines, with laws that have been on the books so long they preceded the recent national debate.

Even state lawmakers said they weren't aware how broad Oregon's laws were.

"Overly broad self-defense laws essentially give individuals a license to act as judge, jury, and executioner," said state Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) in a statement responding to WW's reporting.

In fact, according to the FBI, Oregon in 2016 had the highest percentage—7.4 percent—of fatal shootings by civilians that were deemed justified of any state in the country.

That year wasn't an outlier. Oregon has typically ranked among the five states with the highest rate of justified shootings since at least 2010.

In Portland, the numbers are more stark: 1 in 8 fatal shootings have been deemed legal since 2013.

Had the incident outside the Portland tattoo parlor occurred in Connecticut or Wyoming, Vinci probably would have been indicted, because he would have been required by law to retreat from the confrontation before using deadly force.

In Oregon, when Richard Hanley threw the plastic lint roller, he became vulnerable to the justified use of deadly force.

"He's opened himself up to being shot," says former Multnomah County prosecutor Chuck French.

The shooting of Hanley, as revealed in the raw accounts witnesses gave to police, shows how much leeway Oregon's self-defense law gives to gun owners.

One of the people who watched was a caterer named Jacqueline Vargas.

"He's just hyper-vigilant," she said of Vinci to police minutes later. "I want to have compassion for him. I think he's got some PTSD and just shouldn't have a fuckin' gun."

Richard Hanley was shot and killed in front of this strip mall in Southeast Portland, near the Hawthorne Bridge. (Justin Katigbak)
Richard Hanley was shot and killed in front of this strip mall in Southeast Portland, near the Hawthorne Bridge. (Justin Katigbak)

A rare beam of winter sunlight peeked out Feb. 10 over the strip mall with forest green awnings on Southeast 7th Avenue between Salmon and Main streets. It houses Timeless Tattoo, a teriyaki joint, a hair salon and a catering company called Eat Your Heart Out.

Vargas arrived for work at Eat Your Heart Out in the early morning to prepare for deliveries. She didn't think anything of it when she saw Hanley sitting outside. He had lugged two garbage bags of his belongings in front of the storefront windows.

Richard Hanley (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)
Richard Hanley (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

Court records show Hanley was a troubled and violent man. He abused drugs and had suffered from mental illness since at least 2014. He had run-ins with police from then until 2016—almost all of them connected to an abusive relationship with an ex-girlfriend he repeatedly assaulted.

Hanley had been living on the streets in the neighborhood for weeks. He'd talked to Vinci at least once in the recent past, according to Chloe Fennell, who also works at the catering company.

"We had seen Hanley a couple days ago, rummaging in the garbage," she told police. "[Vinci] had come out to tell him that he needs to get off the property. And then he did."

On this day, according to multiple witnesses interviewed by police, Fennell saw Hanley and took a piece of bread and two fresh trash bags outside to him—as a peace offering to encourage him to leave.

(Portland Police Bureau)
(Portland Police Bureau)

Hanley turned down the bread but accepted the plastic bags. Fennell began putting his stuff—a toothbrush, a Chicago Bulls cap, two camping stoves—in the new bags. But Hanley suddenly became upset by the sight of the plastic lint roller.

"You put this in my bag!" he shouted, according to police interviews.

Confused, Fennell says she stepped back. "What are you talking about?" she asked.

Hanley picked up the lint roller and flung it at Fennell, hitting her in the right arm hard enough to leave a pink mark.

Fennell held up one hand with the first two fingers extended in a peace sign that her co-worker, Allison Harmon, could see. The gesture was a signal the two women had worked out between them, they told police, for encounters with homeless people, to indicate something had gone wrong and Fennell needed help.

Harmon ran next door to get Vinci. He was watching television, still waiting for his first customer of the day.

Harmon told investigators she thought of Vinci as the neighborhood's "protector" in those moments, particularly because police officers "don't get here fast enough."

"He often protects us," Harmon told police. She knew he was armed. "There's a lot of crazy people that they just walk right on in, and he's gotten them to leave," she said. "Dymond has gotten like hundreds of them to leave and no problem."

Joseph “Dymond” Vinci (Facebook)
Joseph “Dymond” Vinci (Facebook)

Vinci, 48, stands 6 feet tall and covers his hair with an Army-green do-rag, his muscular arms covered in intricate tattoos.

After three tours in Afghanistan and 15 years as a military contractor, he's owned Timeless Tattoo for the past eight years. His Facebook profile photo features a masked man holding a semi-automatic rifle in front of a flag promoting the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group.

Vinci's ink shop has almost perfect reviews on both Google and Yelp—his customers call him "no-nonsense," "a true artist" and a "total professional." They also like Whiskers, the sharklike fish that Vinci keeps in a tank and feeds beef jerky.

He's had a concealed carry permit for 20 years and keeps a SIG Sauer P228 handgun on his right hip. He carries an extra magazine on his left side. He told police he'd taken a four-hour class to get the license but had also taken additional shooting classes over the years.

Vargas says she knew Vinci had a history of clashing with homeless men who frequently combed through the nearby dumpster looking for plastic and glass bottles.

She remembered him saying just three days before the shooting he had, in his words, "beat the fuck out of" a different homeless man who had broken into the unlocked catering van in the parking lot.

(Portland Police Bureau)
(Portland Police Bureau)

On Feb. 10, the three women at the catering shop all watched as Vinci came outside with the retractable metal ASP and his semi-automatic pistol. Each told police a similar story.

Vinci came outside with the baton in his right hand. Hanley was backing away from the building as Fennell shouted he'd assaulted her.

Fennell watched for a moment, then ran back inside her shop and waited in a back room where she said she didn't even hear the pistol shot.

"I thought he had just, like, had him surrendered basically," she said. "Like, I know he's ex-military and he knows his stuff."

Harmon and Vargas both said Vinci quickly began hitting Hanley with the baton.

Vinci told police how he swung the metal ASP and hit Hanley in legs. "You know just enough to get his attention, hurt him a little bit, [and] just say, 'Hey, you gotta go.'"

Vinci and four witnesses say Hanley initially backed away as the tattoo artist whacked him repeatedly. But when Hanley tried to step back on the property to pick up the garbage bags full of his belongings, Vinci confronted him again.

"He got over the curb, he was getting ready to leave," Vinci told police. "He just kept wanting his stuff, and I kept telling him, 'No, get off the property.'"

Hanley grabbed one of his bags and lifted it over his head. This is when, Vinci says, Hanley pulled a knife with a 3-inch blade and a black handle either from the bag or his sleeve. The two men stood about 6 feet apart. Hanley took a step forward.

"I grab my gun and I remember coming up on the target and just pulling off one shot," Vinci said. "He just kind of stood there like he was out of breath. And then he started to fall."

The entire confrontation lasted less than two minutes.

Police found Hanley lying on the ground, already dead from the gunshot, when they arrived less than five minutes later.

"If we didn't have Dymond here, I would have immediately called the police," Harmon told detectives, "but you guys couldn't have helped us in that moment, it was so fast."

(Portland Police Bureau)
(Portland Police Bureau)

In some states, what Vinci did would probably have landed him behind bars.

In the most restrictive states, like Vermont and Connecticut, gun owners must make a good faith effort to get out of a dangerous situation before using deadly force. And in most states, a shooter cannot pursue someone who has committed a crime if the person has stopped and is trying to flee.

But Oregon's law doesn't require a would-be shooter to retreat from a dangerous situation.

Mark Bryant is a gun owner from Harlan County, Ky., who founded the nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive, which tracks every documented shooting in America. He says the Hanley killing follows a pattern.

"There are so many times when you could turn and walk away," says Bryant. "Testosterone tends to keep that from happening. Often, [self-defense shootings] start from stupidity, usually, and then it's anger and proximity to a gun."

Vinci was aggressive. He came out swinging a metal baton at Hanley and followed him as he stumbled over the curb. But under Oregon law, the situation transformed the moment Hanley brandished the steak knife.

"The second the homeless man pulled the knife, that changed the dynamics of the whole thing," Bryant says, citing Oregon's self-defense law.

The actions of Multnomah County prosecutors indicated they too thought the shooting was justified. The district attorney's office gave Vinci a powerful chance to avoid a criminal trial by allowing him to testify in front of the grand jury, where he would appear sympathetic.

Vinci testified to a grand jury in February. The seven jurors voted not to indict him.

Prosecutors appear to have interpreted the law correctly. But Alexander Hamalian, a Portland defense lawyer, says prosecutors also reveal their opinions about a shooting by whom they ask to testify in front of a grand jury.

"There's really no voice for the dead," Hamalian says. "There's only two people who know the story, and one of them is dead."

Golden Key Insurance owner Charlie Chan told police he did not want to kill Petersen, so he aimed low when he fired his gun. Petersen died in surgery at OHSU. (WW Staff)
Golden Key Insurance owner Charlie Chan told police he did not want to kill Petersen, so he aimed low when he fired his gun. Petersen died in surgery at OHSU. (WW Staff)

In Portland, Oregon's self-defense law makes homeless people particularly vulnerable.

Five fatal shootings by civilians in Portland in the past two years have been ruled justified. In three of them, the person killed had been homeless.

Few conflicts provoke rage like the clash of homeless people and business owners. This month, the president of the city's police union called Portland a "cesspool" and criticized the mayor for not funding enough cops.

"You may be seeing the frustration with the homeless crisis in our city that the City Council loves to talk about but does little to address," Hamalian says.

A year before Vinci shot Hanley, a similar incident played out.

On a February morning in 2017, Charlie and Jody Chan showed up for work at their business, Golden Key Insurance, near the intersection of Northeast Ramona Street and 82nd Avenue. A sleeping bag and a duffel bag had been left in the doorway.

Charlie Chan carried the camping gear to a dumpster behind the building.

A homeless man named Jason Petersen returned later that morning to reclaim his belongings.

Petersen attended high school in Canby, Ore., and graduated with honors from a culinary arts program in Estacada. But he had been living on the street since Thanksgiving Day 2016, diagnosed with schizophrenia.

(Jason Petersen / Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff)
(Jason Petersen / Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff)

Petersen entered the Chans' storefront and began shouting at Charlie—who told him he'd thrown Petersen's things in the garbage. Chan says Petersen threatened to kill him but stormed back outside.

Chan, with a licensed handgun on his hip, followed Petersen outside a few minutes later to the area where he had thrown Petersen's camping gear into a dumpster.

They argued. Petersen raised his fists above his head. Chan drew his gun and fired a single shot.

"I didn't want to kill him, so I shot low," Chan told police. Nevertheless, Petersen died several hours later as the bullet severed his aorta and ruptured his liver.

A grand jury declined to indict Chan on a murder charge for the shooting, after the prosecutor allowed the business owner to testify.

In a civil lawsuit filed against Chan on Sept. 7, 2017, Petersen's parents are suing for $1 million. They argue Chan could have locked his business door after Petersen slammed it shut and then called the police. The four-day trial is scheduled to begin in November.

But the Gun Violence Archive's Bryant says it's not surprising Chan wasn't indicted. Under Oregon law, grand jurors can still choose not to indict if they believe the shooter's claim that the victim had threatened their life. "What that says to me," Bryant adds, "is that the law was poorly written."

About 1 in 8 fatal shootings have been deemed justified in Portland since 2013—a rate far higher than the national average.
About 1 in 8 fatal shootings have been deemed justified in Portland since 2013—a rate far higher than the national average.

While the debate over stand-your-ground laws rages across much of the country, there is surprisingly little discussion of the subject in Oregon.

Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill declined repeated requests to discuss the high rate of justified shootings in Portland.

"We hope the public understands the decision to use physical force or deadly physical force is often made under immense stress," Underhill said in a statement to WW.

Interestingly, the Portland Police Bureau's position is that while the law stands, people should avoid using it. "We don't want to see people using deadly force just because they can," says Sgt. Peter Simpson, "by pre-emptively putting themselves in that situation and then calling it self-defense."

Williamson, the chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, says WW's reporting suggests the law needs to be changed.

"This issue has not come before the Legislature as far as I know," Williamson says. "It sounds like a serious concern that we may need to address in the upcoming session."

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is open to solutions. "The governor is committed to hearing from gun safety advocates, law enforcement and responsible gun owners about what policies we can put in place to prevent gun violence," says campaign spokesman Christian Gaston.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler says self-defense is an essential right.

"Every act of violence is regrettable, even in self-defense, and should be thoroughly investigated by law enforcement," he says. "I support the right of Oregonians to defend themselves if they, or their loved ones, are in danger of physical harm."

Vargas is still troubled by what she saw that morning. "It weighed really heavily on me. It just seemed so…," she trails off and falls silent for several seconds before sighing. "Just something didn't sit right."

After police cleared the sidewalk where Hanley had been shot, Vargas put out flowers in a small memorial to mark the spot.

The bouquet lay on the sidewalk for just a few hours. Then one of her co-workers picked the flowers up, walked them over to the dumpster and threw them in the garbage.

An armed robber threatened Tyson Pfau and his co-worker with a gun before Pfau grabbed his concealed handgun and fired three shots. (WW staff)
An armed robber threatened Tyson Pfau and his co-worker with a gun before Pfau grabbed his concealed handgun and fired three shots. (WW staff)

A Good Guy With a Gun

When gun-rights supporters argue for "stand your ground" laws, they point to cases like that of Tyson Pfau.

Pfau, a 27-year-old Northeast Portland native, was closing up shop at a U-Haul store on Southeast Powell Boulevard on Jan. 3 when a man came through the front door, a purple scarf obscuring half his face.

The masked man drew a semi-automatic pistol and pointed it at Pfau and his co-worker, Anita Crain.

"Gimme the money out of the safe," Robert Porter demanded. "If you look at me, I will shoot you in your head."

He held the gun a foot from Crain's head as Pfau opened the store's safe. Pfau handed Porter $600 in cash. The armed robber turned and took a few steps back just as a last-minute customer walked through the door.

"Don't move," Pfau said as he pulled a concealed Glock from his jacket pocket. Then Pfau fired two shots that struck Porter in the back. A third shot missed.

"He was going to shoot me in the face," Pfau told his mother over the phone in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, police reports say. "He said he was gonna kill both of us…. He had his finger on the trigger."

Oregon's self-defense law is designed to protect people like Pfau. Confronted with the threat of deadly force, he used his licensed handgun to defend himself, Crain and the customer who came through the door as the store was being robbed.

Deputy district attorney Amity Girt presented the case to a grand jury, giving Pfau and Crain a chance to tell the jurors how scared they were that Porter would follow through on his threat to shoot them. The jurors declined to indict him.

"I instructed the grand jury about criminal homicide and what legal justifications I believed were relevant to the case," Girt wrote. "I advised them that I believed the facts supported a legally justified defense of others/self defense and use of deadly force."

After the shooting, Pfau asked a Portland police officer if he could go to his Jeep to retrieve a card with instructions telling concealed carry permit holders what to do if they are involved in a shooting. With tears in his eyes, he told the cop that he wished the shooting hadn't happened.

Three weeks later, Pfau said he wanted his gun back from police. Shortly after the grand jury decision, he posted a photo of his Glock on Instagram with the caption "LIFESAVER."

The nonprofit WW Fund for Investigative Journalism provided support for this story.