A Look Back on the 2003 Sentencing of Portlander and Earth Liberation Front Member Jake Sherman

Sherman was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for setting fire to equipment—logging trucks and cement mixers—used in interstate commerce.

From our archives, here’s a 2003 longform piece by investigative reporter Carlton Smith on the sentencing of then 21-year-old Jake Sherman and the story of how Sherman was likely groomed by ELF leader Tre Arrow.

It seemed a simple plan.

They would collect a bunch of empty milk jugs, slice off the tops, fill them three-quarters full of gasoline, stuff the tops with cellophane, push a punk into the top for a fuse, light them off, then run like hell—sort of a moo-lotov cocktail.

But the fires set by Jake Sherman, Angie Cesario and Jeremy Rosenbloom in the early-morning hours of June 1, 2001, had more consequences than some burned-up logging equipment near Eagle Creek.

Sometime next January, in fact, some of those consequences will manifest themselves, when the Eagle Creek Three will go off to federal prison, individual journeys into universes far removed from the forests they thought to save, while Tre Arrow, the Pied Piper who allegedly led them on their mission of destruction that night, remains at large.

For 21-year-old Jake, a gifted, idealistic student who was born, raised and educated in Portland, the consequences are quite dramatic. In less than two months he will be admitted to the federal penitentiary in Sheridan to serve a sentence of 41 months for the crime of setting fire to equipment—logging trucks and cement mixers—used in interstate commerce.

Much has been written about Tre Arrow, portrayed by the federal government as the ringleader of these crimes. But far less has been written about Sherman, a then-19-year-old kid who was captivated by Arrow’s charisma and the siren song of violent nihilism—or what the Bush administration has labeled “eco-terrorism.”

It would be too much of a stretch to compare Jake Sherman to the Islamic militants who fell under the influence of Osama bin Laden, and so were willing to do almost anything in the furtherance of their beliefs. But an examination of the court documents stemming from Jake’s arrest and prosecution, and interviews with a number of people familiar with his case, show that Jacob David Bardwell Sherman, at once the youngest and most guilty of the Eagle Creek Three, found himself traveling the murky boundary between idealism and showy self-aggrandizement. Like the al Qaeda terrorists of Sept. 11, Sherman came to believe—at least temporarily and under the influence of Arrow, his mentor—in the repudiation of the role of law in a democratic society.

Although he is soon to be in prison, Jake didn’t want to speak to Willamette Week about his experience on the frontier of forest action.

“He just wants to go back to being a regular person,” his attorney, Andrew Bates, says. An attempt to contact the Sherman family directly at their Southeast Portland home was unsuccessful, although Jake’s brother, Zach, did return a telephone call. Zach Sherman very politely said the entire Eagle Creek incident and its aftermath had been devastating for the Sherman family, and he wasn’t sure anyone wanted to discuss it any further.

Jake’s father, Tim Sherman, a 911 dispatcher for the city of Portland and the man who originally tipped the authorities to his son’s actions, could not be reached for comment. But in February 2003, he wrote to Judge James A. Redden asking for leniency in the sentencing of his son.

“Jacob is a good person,” Tim Sherman wrote. “He made some poor decisions and is now facing the consequences. He was brought up to respect other people and property. I sincerely believe Jacob’s decision-making was clouded and overly influenced by at least one of the others involved. I think Jake was duped by people he thought cared about him, using him as a tool or pawn in their own agenda.”

The person Tim Sherman and others blame for Jake Sherman’s imminent trip to federal prison is Arrow, the lithe, flamboyant, militant vegan and forest activist who captured national attention in July 2000, when he climbed the side of a federal building at Robert Duncan Plaza in downtown Portland to protest the proposed harvesting of old-growth timber at Eagle Creek near Mount Hood.

Arrow spent 11 days on a building ledge 35 feet off the ground; later, even his detractors agreed that the ledge-in played an important role in reversing the Eagle Creek harvest. It also seems to have whetted Arrow’s appetite for “direct action,” while gaining the hero worship of one particular acolyte.

Jake was the first child of Tim and Lisa Sherman, born in January 1982, when Lisa was 20 years old. Tim was a student at George Fox University in Newberg. By 1987, Jake had been joined by a younger brother, Zach, and a sister, Sarah, and in that year, the family bought its own house in Southeast Portland. Four years later, the city of Portland hired Tim as a 911 dispatcher, and Lisa Sherman joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy.

Then a catastrophe struck the family. Lisa Sherman, in training to be a police officer, was the victim of a brutal sexual assault by a fellow police cadet. The rape and its aftermath had a terrible effect on the Sherman family. The year following the attack, Lisa Sherman left her husband, taking her three children with her. By the late 1990s, the couple had agreed to obtain a divorce. In the meantime, Lisa Sherman continued to sleep with a loaded gun under her pillow, as she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to legal documents Bates filed in Jake’s case.

As a result of these stresses, Bates told Redden, the Sherman family was “dysfunctional” and Jake’s absent father was “detached.” These became two important factors in his psychological malleability. At La Salle High School in Milwaukie, Jake struck many of his fellow students and teachers as a particularly idealistic and spiritual person, but one somewhat naive and easily led despite his evident intelligence, according to letters written to Redden by several people familiar with his upbringing. It was clear to many that he was looking for some direction for his life to match his endearing qualities.

One La Salle official, Lew Schoenberg, wrote Redden that he had been Jake’s counselor for four years and that Jake had a deep spirituality as well as intellectual curiosity. “Jake’s participation in the crime...seems so out of character to me,” Schoenberg wrote. “It seems impulsive and influenced by people who he wanted to impress.”

After graduating from La Salle, Jake enrolled at Portland State University for the fall term in 2000. Emily Garrick-Steenson, a campus mentor for freshmen, recalled Jake vividly in a letter to Judge Redden: “When I first met Jacob in the late summer/early fall of 2000, I would describe him as an outgoing and extremely bright boy....

“I encouraged Jacob to get involved in campus clubs and community groups.... At this time, Jacob was dressed, how shall I say this, preppy, short hair, button-down shirt and clean-shaven.... Jacob told me about his plans to pursue a degree and then a doctorate in psychology and to eventually teach.”

By the fall of 2000, though, Jake began to change. He worked on the Green Party presidential campaign of Ralph Nader, and his appearance began to evolve. Garrick-Steenson noticed that he had grown his hair longer, developing “a somewhat hippy appearance.”

By the winter of 2000-2001, Jake had become more negative in his politics; Garrick-Steenson noted that he wrote frequently about the Zapatista insurgency in Mexico “and quoted Che Guevara.... It was almost as if he had joined a cult in many ways.” Garrick-Steenson said she sensed that Jake was fading away. “Several times during the term,” she said, “he skipped class to hear Tre Arrow, a local environmental activist, speak on campus.”

By that fall, Arrow had become something of a legend in Green Party circles, as well as among the student groups that tended to support the party, such as OSPIRG and Students for Unity. By the time Arrow began appearing on campus, he had already performed his 11-day ledge-sitting stunt at the Forest Service headquarters and, in fact, had just completed a run for Congress on the Green Party ticket.

By the middle of the winter of 2000-2001, young Jake Sherman was beginning to copy some of Arrow’s idiosyncratic habits, including his shoelessness, his refusal to bathe and his militant veganism. Jake’s longtime girlfriend, Danielle Olson, broke up with him, and Jake seemed to be growing edgier, harder as he found himself echoing the charismatic Arrow.

In February 2001, Jake climbed atop the roof at Lumberman’s Building Center in Clackamas to help lead a protest against the sale of lumber cut from old-growth timber. “Sherman initially refused to come down from the roof,” the FBI later asserted in a court affidavit, “but later agreed to cooperate with authorities in lieu of being arrested.” At one point Jake was on the roof haranguing the crowd, exactly as his idol, Tre Arrow, had done the year before while standing on the ledge of the office building. On the ground, Jake was photographed with his arm around another male protester, who appeared to be Arrow.

Two months later, on April 15, 2001, someone using gasoline-filled milk jugs attempted to burn four cement mixers at Ross Island Sand & Gravel on the east bank of the Willamette River in Southeast Portland. The resulting fire destroyed or damaged three of the rigs; the fourth container failed to go off.

Eight days after that, authorities later learned, Jake Sherman sent an anonymous “news release” (in the FBI’s terminology) to Portland animal-rights activist Craig Rosebraugh, who in turn disseminated it as a statement from the Earth Liberation Front. The statement claimed responsibility for the arson in the name of ELF and blamed the gravel company for “stealing soil from the earth,” while railing about the evils of capitalism.

The firebombing was predicated on the rationalization for all such “direct action”: that civil protest simply wasn’t working, and that more drastic action was needed, that something more spectacular, more daring, more attention-getting, was required.

As April 2001 turned into May, friends and relatives of Jake Sherman began to worry more and more that something, or someone, had taken over his brain. By that spring, Jake had changed so much that Lisa Sherman had become very worried about him.

“At the beginning of April of 2001 I got this terrible and awful feeling in my gut,” Lisa Sherman wrote to Judge Redden in February 2003, before Jake’s sentencing. “It was one of those feelings that wouldn’t leave you...something was going to happen to Jacob. At that moment I decided I needed to have a picture done with the three kids. If something were going to happen to Jacob, I would always have that picture of the kids.” Lisa had to ask Jake to take a shower and wear clean clothes for the picture, which, as it happened, was taken one day after the Ross Island fire-bombing.

Two weeks later, according to the government, Jake Sherman borrowed his mother’s nearly new Toyota, saying he wanted to pick up some things from his apartment and run an errand in West Linn. Based on information later provided by informants—primarily two of Jake’s girlfriends—the government eventually learned that late on the night of May 31, 2001, Jake used the Toyota to pick up Arrow, as well as fellow PSU students and anti-logging activists Jeremy Rosenbloom and Angie Cesario. All four then drove to a camping spot favored by some in the Cascadia Forest Alliance, which had been protesting the Eagle Creek logging for more than a year. At the campground, the girlfriends said Jake later told them, Arrow said he was “looking for three people to help him with something that night,” the government asserted.

“Jake told [his girlfriend] that, on that same night, Jake, Jeremy and Angie went with Tre to a place where logging trucks were parked,” the government stated. “Jake kept saying he didn’t want to do it. Tre said they were here to do this and that’s what they were going to do.”

According to what Jake later told his girlfriends, Cesario stayed in the car, while he, Arrow and Rosenbloom went to the trucks, positioned eight gasoline-filled milk jugs and prepared to light off the punks. But when he tried to light one off, the fumes from the jug flared into flame and burned the hair off his arms and eyebrows, as well as part of his clothing. Because of the premature ignition, Jake said, they ran away, leaving four of the jugs unlit. But the remaining four caught and burned up two logging trucks and a front end loader worth about $100,000, according to the equipment owner, the Ray Schoppert Logging Company.

Later that night, Jake returned to his mother’s house in Southeast Portland, arriving between 2 and 3 am. Jake threw his singed clothes into the trash and took a shower, telling his brother to tell anyone who asked that he had actually come home at 10:30 pm the night before, according to the government.

The next morning, Lisa Sherman noticed the strong odor of gasoline coming from her car, along with dirt on the rear floor mat and back seat.

That night, Jake’s father, Tim, still working as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Portland, decided to contact the FBI about his son’s possible involvement in the arson. Just what alerted Tim Sherman, who did not live with the family, to Jake’s role has never been made clear by the authorities. Bates refused to say what it was, and lawyers for the other Eagle Creek defendants say this remains a puzzle to them.

However, Tim Sherman’s report to the FBI directly pointed the authorities—which by the morning after the fire included the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, the Oregon State Police, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the FBI—toward Jake Sherman and his friends and associates.

The following day, investigators from the OSP and the FBI interviewed Jake’s parents, and four days after that, the FBI served a search warrant at Lisa Sherman’s house, making her stand in the center of the garage for three hours as they looked for evidence, according to Stu Sugarman, a Portland lawyer who has represented both Jake and Tre Arrow. The same day, investigators questioned Angie Cesario, showing her a photograph of Jake; Cesario denied knowing Jake, an assertion that would eventually result in an obstruction charge being filed against her by the federal government. Angie’s roommate at the time was Rosenbloom.

What remains unclear to this day is whether the investigators who zeroed in on Jake and Cesario so quickly were also aware of Arrow at the time. Certainly, Arrow was a known commodity in protest circles, after his ledge-in and his 2000 run for Congress. Jake’s emulation of Arrow’s peculiar habits—going barefoot and refusing to bathe—almost certainly had been noticed by the Shermans, especially since Jake had become Arrow’s true believer.

Those distinctive traits should have made Arrow an obvious investigative focus as the authorities tried to learn who had burned the Schoppert trucks. It is therefore rather puzzling that no one in officialdom seems to have focused investigative efforts on Arrow in the immediate aftermath of the Schoppert fire. Frank Noonan, an assistant U.S. attorney familiar with the case, says he’s not sure exactly when Arrow’s name came up in connection with the Schoppert bombing.

It wasn’t hard to figure out where Arrow was at the time, however. Only four months after the Schoppert fire, Arrow was with the Cascadia Forest Alliance as it protested in the Coast Range. Arrow climbed a tree during the protest and refused to come down. After a 48-hour standoff, he eventually lost his grip and plummeted to the ground, breaking his pelvis and a rib, dislocating a shoulder and sustaining a concussion. For most of October and part of November, Arrow was in Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, where he was essentially a captive interview, had anyone wanted to question him. Later, Arrow made several court appearances in Clatsop County in connection with Cascadia’s Coast Range protest and could have again been interviewed.

Jake Sherman, Angie Cesario, Jeremy Rosenbloom and Tre Arrow were indicted for the Schoppert bombing in late July 2002. At the time, Arrow attorney Sugarman was trying to arrange yet another court appearance for Arrow in Clatsop County. Sugarman contends that if the authorities had really wanted to arrest Arrow, they could have done it at the Clatsop court appearance and then announced their indictments. Sugarman’s impression was that the authorities were more interested in getting publicity for themselves than apprehending Arrow.

While all three of the younger activists were easily arrested, Arrow escaped the net, leading some to suggest that perhaps Arrow knew what was about to happen.

“I hope not,” says Frank Noonan, the assistant U.S. attorney who supervised the case against the “Eagle Creek Three.”

The evidence against Jake seemed insurmountable, and given the fact that Jake and the others were facing counts that could bring up to 30 years each—a potential lifetime in prison—Bates, his attorney, recommended that Jake cooperate with the government in the hope of receiving a significant reduction in his possible sentence. After all, Bates counseled, Jake still had the rest of his life to live, which he wouldn’t have been able to do if he were put in prison for what might amount to a life sentence. By October 2002, Jake had told the authorities that he and Arrow were behind the Ross Island bombing the April prior to the Eagle Creek attack.

By February of this year, all three of the Eagle Creek defendants had reached their agreements with the federal government; all three agreed to cooperate; and all three named Tre Arrow as the seducer who had led them down the path of destruction.

In a hearing before Jake Sherman’s sentencing in February, a Portland psychiatrist, Dr. Esther Gwinnell, tried to explain what had happened to Jake Sherman—how he had been transformed, at least temporarily, from a gentle, spiritual young man intent on helping others, into an apostle of violent social change.

It was, Gwinnell said, as if he had been initiated into a religious cult, a cult generated around the charisma of Tre Arrow. Searching for an identity, some way of defining himself, Jake found in Arrow, finally, someone worth admiring.

“In the course of the involvement with the Green Party,” Gwinnell said, “he comes across Tre Arrow, or I should say, Tre Arrow comes across him. And for some reason that is not very clear—it’s never really very clear how the person gets picked out—Mr. Sherman got picked out in a way which I would describe as being very similar to the kind of grooming behaviors that you see where you’re looking at, say, sexual predators.... A substantially older person, effectively someone who’s got some leadership, authoritative quality, who’s got a fair amount of charisma...picks out this youngster to be his special, right-hand man.

“You go from being an ordinary person in the world, where you’re eating what there is to eat, you bathe daily, you shave, [to where] you take on the characteristics of that person. You become a vegan...you stop bathing, stop shaving, stop cutting your hair, stop wearing shoes. You begin to make a progression to, basically, a step away from being a lover, to become the person you are admiring.”

Meanwhile, the search for Tre Arrow goes on—sort of. Although the FBI featured Arrow on its website last year and reported that he has “ties” to various places around the country where there have been other ELF “actions,” such as Boulder, Colo., San Diego, Pennsylvania and Ohio, they decline to specify what those “ties” were. “It’s part of the investigation,” says the FBI’s Portland spokeswoman, Beth Steele. And an FBI agent in Southern California, assigned to investigate the ELF-claimed burning of an SUV dealership in West Covina, said he had never heard of Arrow, or even the fact that the FBI had a warrant out for Arrow’s arrest in connection with an ELF-claimed arson.

What is clearer, however, is that the FBI and other law-enforcement organizations repeatedly missed opportunities to apprehend Arrow after the Eagle Creek firebombing—once when he fell from the tree in Clatsop County, again when he was in the hospital in Portland, a third time when he was in court in Astoria on the forest-trespassing charge.

The FBI’s failure to apprehend Arrow might raise the question of whether he had a prior relationship with the agency. Portland lawyer Greg Kafoury—Arrow’s onetime “legal advisor”—completely rejects the notion that Arrow may have been an agent provocateur for the government, a means of covert entry into radical environmental circles for the Bush administration. But other Portland lawyers, such as Sugarman and Sam Kauffman, Rosenbloom’s attorney, aren’t so sure. While they agree they’ve seen no evidence to support that conclusion, they also say that it’s a question well worth pondering as the war on terror, foreign as well as domestic, marches on.

We won’t know the answer until Tre Arrow is arrested or otherwise steps forward to take responsibility for his own actions—the downfall of Jake Sherman included.

Carlton Smith worked at Willamette Week from 1980 to 1983. He is a former investigative reporter for The Los Angeles Times and The Seattle Times who is now a full-time true-crime writer and the author of 16 books, including the bestselling Search for the Green River Killer.