Jerome Martel Price of Hermiston faces his second criminal case in federal court in four years.
He took a plea deal in 2015 for trespassing on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, according to federal court records. This time, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office of Oregon charged Price, 33, with one count of felon in possession of a firearm. The charge stems from Hermiston police arresting Price on Dec. 10, 2018.
Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus said his office proceeded to prosecute Price on charges of felon in possession of a firearm, second-degree criminal trespass and criminal trespass while in possession of a firearm until the federal prosecutors stepped in. But Primus said this is not a case of the feds stepping on local toes.
“They really wanted to reach out and help Umatilla County,” he said. “They know Umatilla County is a rural county with a volume of cases they can help with.”
Primus said his office has a good relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and he sees its assistance as a means to help make rural communities safer. He also said while it is hard as a prosecutor to give up a case, he has full confidence in the capabilities of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Hermiston police officer Riley Studebaker on Dec. 10 arrested Price on charges of second-degree criminal trespass and felon in possession of a firearm. According to the probable cause affidavit, a woman called about 2:40 a.m. to report her husband was holding an intruder at gunpoint in the alley behind their East Gladys Avenue home. Studebaker arrived to find Price and the caller’s husband in the alley.
The man told the officer he heard his cellar door rattle and saw a motion-activated light turn on in his backyard. When he grabbed his pistol and went to investigate, he told Studebaker he saw the suspect in the alley near his travel trailer and pointed the gun at him, ordering him to lay down until police arrived. He also alleged that a gun on the ground at his feet, a loaded Springfield XDM 40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, had been handed to him by Price.
Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said different states have different laws regarding their rights when someone intrudes on their property and Oregon’s is “all based on reasonableness.”
“What would a reasonable person think was reasonable force for a citizen to apply or an officer to apply in that case?” he said. “I can’t speak for the property owner, but it’s dark out, and the property owner doesn’t know yet if they’re missing anything.”
Studebaker wrote in the affidavit that Price claimed the gun on the ground was the homeowner’s. Price claimed he had been out for a walk when he knocked on the door of the home because he thought a friend lived there. When no one answered, he said, he entered the backyard through a gate and knocked on the cellar door before exiting the yard.
The affidavit states security cameras at the home show Price entered the backyard, walked around and then entered the alley to inspect a travel trailer belonging to the homeowners before the confrontation. Studebaker also states in the document the footage showed Price handing a pistol to the homeowner.
Edmiston said Price is well-known to police in the immediate area, and had 36 arrests and 63 citations by local law enforcement including the Hermiston Police Department and the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office.
He said while it is “frustrating” dealing with the same person over and over again, and citizens ask why a chronic offender hasn’t been taken off the streets for longer, Edmiston said real life police work isn’t as simple as crime shows on television. Police face everything from uncooperative witnesses to an increasing number of restrictions coming from rulings by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This job is getting more and more difficult to present rock-solid cases to the DA,” he said.
Price on Friday had a detention hearing in federal court in Portland, and Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta ordered Price to remain as an inmate of the Multnomah County Jail, Portland. The court also set a two-day trial for Price starting March 5 in Portland.