A yearlong investigation by Portland police into a prolific graffiti tagging crew working both U.S. coasts culminated this month in the discovery of a ghost gun workshop in the basement of an East Portland home. The Portland Police Bureau announced the arrest of the home’s occupant, 42-year-old Jacob Ramos, earlier this week.
Court documents and a search warrant obtained by WW explain how police found him.
Last April, surveillance cameras caught a pair of vandals tagging a mural on the wall of Platinum Audio Video Lighting, a DJ supply store in downtown Portland. The store’s owner was furious. He’d spent $1,000 to have the mural painted only a few days earlier.
When cops reviewed the footage, they didn’t recognize the perpetrators—but they recognized the graffiti tag, “THUJA.”
A now-removed Instagram account had posted photos of the tagged mural later that day. According to the caption, the vandalism was activism. “Gentrifying Murals = Police Graffiti Abatement = Controlled. Monitored & Censored Self Expression #ACAB,” it read.
An affidavit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court says police then took a “comprehensive look” at the then-public Instagram account, which depicted a woman in front of similar tags—“THUJA”—on dozens of walls, trucks, and public spaces in Philadelphia, New York City and Portland. The woman covered her face, but police found another way to identify her. They subpoenaed Meta, the corporate parent of Instagram and Facebook, which provided an internet fingerprint from the Instagram post that corresponded to a home in Beaverton.
During a stakeout of the home in November, cops recognized a young woman from the surveillance tape entering the house, which was owned by a middle-aged couple and two other family members. One of the family members was 25-year-old Shelaleh Rostami, according to the affidavit, which was submitted as part of a request for a search warrant.
By this point, police had a dossier on Rostami. She’d pleaded guilty to graffiti charges in Multnomah County in 2016, and her boyfriend at the time also had a graffiti rap sheet. When police searched city databases for “THUJA” tags, they tallied more than a dozen instances of vandalism—and at least $10,000 in damages.
The evidence was enough to justify a search warrant, which police executed at Rostami’s Beaverton home in January.
There, they found what they were looking for: paint cans, sketch books and even THUJA stickers. And on Rostami’s iPhone they found a conversation with another member of Rostami’s tagging crew. His name was Jacob Ramos.
Police then turned their attention to Ramos, who used the tag “Bier” and sometimes “Kill Your Television” when working with Rostami’s crew. When they searched his East Portland house, where Ramos appeared to live alone, police found a framed photograph of his “Bier” tagged on an abandoned building.
They also found a homemade AR-15, a 3D printer, and metal machining tools in the basement. It was, they proclaimed in a Monday press release announcing the pair’s indictment, a full-fledged “gun manufacturing workshop.”
State lawmakers are currently considering legislation banning ghost guns, which lack serial numbers and are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement to trace. Their use has exploded in recent years as 3D printing technologies go mainstream. In 2017, local law enforcement agencies ask the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace 1,629 ghost guns. By 2021, there were nearly 20,000 requests.
Ghost guns are not currently regulated under Oregon law. But Ramos was a convicted felon and prohibited from possessing any firearms. He was arrested and charged with 11 counts of manufacturing firearms, and 60 counts of criminal mischief, among other charges. He was released shortly thereafter when he promised to stay away from spray paint and gun manufacturing equipment.
Ramos declined to comment through his attorney. His next court date is in May. Rostami did not respond to an email and remains at large. A warrant is out for her arrest.