It was nearing sunrise on Sept. 23, 2020, as Shawndell Leandre Deshazo drove a white Chevy Camaro along Northeast Sandy Boulevard.
Deshazo and his crew, according to prosecutors' charging documents, had hit four cannabis stores, all closed for the night, in less than three hours.
At each location, at least one suspect waited in the Camaro as two to three others entered the store, sometimes by breaking a window. Deshazo stole more than $1,000 worth of product, prosecutors allege.
When police pulled Deshazo, 28, over at nearly 5 am, three of his alleged accomplices were still in the car with him. All were juveniles.
That's not uncommon. WW reviewed Multnomah County District Attorney's Office files on all cases of cannabis shop burglaries and robberies dating back to March 2020. Twelve of the 21 suspects charged so far have been teenagers.
"A lot of the people involved, I'm told, in these cannabis rifts are not only under 21 but, in many cases, under 18," says Norm Frink, a former Multnomah County chief deputy district attorney.
Elisha and Dov Hirschfield, 18-year-old twins, are the only defendants the DA's office has convicted in the rash of burglaries, according to court records provided to WW.
One of the twins used an ax to break into the Oregon Weedery dispensary on Northwest Kearney Street on March 21, says a probable cause affidavit. The pair, who attended Lincoln High School, told police that they broke into the shop "for the thrill of it," and that they "had a lot of energy and that the burglary would burn off that energy," court records say. In June, both twins pleaded guilty to one count of attempted burglary in the second degree.
This summer, as police remained glued to protests in downtown Portland, the wave of cannabis shop crimes consisted mostly of break-ins and lootings of closed dispensaries. But from October onward, at least nine of the 13 heists were robberies, eight involving a firearm.
"We were concerned as they quickly escalated from smash-and-grabs to armed robberies and, unfortunately, to the murder of Michael Arthur," says Kim London, director of the Oregon Cannabis Association.
On Jan. 1, prosecutors say, 20-year-old Daniel Mugisha jumped the counter of the Collective Awakenings cannabis shop in Northeast Portland. As he pointed a handgun at the employee, three others ran behind the counter and filled black garbage bags with cannabis.
After a witness called 911, police located the four suspects who had allegedly carried out the robbery, plus an apparent getaway driver. On Jan. 4, the DA's office filed charges against the five suspects, two of whom were aged 17 and another 19. Two are students at Madison High School, and four of the five are immigrants from countries in Africa: Rwanda, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The crime spree shows little sign of flagging. So far in 2021, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission says, four cannabis shops have been hit in the Portland region—three of them robberies—including one Jan. 7 at the Lemonnade dispensary on the farthest edge of Southwest Portland that resulted in a shootout.
As for Shawndell Deshazo, the most prolific cannabis burglar prosecutors charged in 2020, he'll never stand trial. On Feb. 25, he fell victim to another part of Portland's crime wave. He was shot to death outside an apartment complex in the Rose City Park neighborhood.