PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A medical examiner ruled Tete Gulley’s death a suicide after she was found hanging from a tree more than a year ago. But her friends and family disagree, claiming Portland police didn’t follow important leads in the case.
Tete was 31 when she was found dead on May 27, 2019, at Rocky Butte Park in Northeast Portland. She was a Black transgender woman who was homeless at the time of her death.
Records of Tete’s autopsy still haven’t been released, despite open records requests from two media outlets. The Oregon State Medical Examiner said there isn’t sufficient public interest.
But Tete’s family believes an online petition proves otherwise.
The petition on Change.org has been signed by more than 622,800 people. It calls on the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon State Medical Examiner to release the autopsy paperwork.
The petition also demands the PPB be held accountable for “failure to investigate critical evidence of witnesses and key suspects and to remedy this negligence immediately.”
Tete’s family believes she didn’t take her own life but was rather the victim of foul play.
Cameron Whitten is the founder and executive director of Brown Hope and the co-founder of the Black Resilience Fund. He was working at the Portland Q Center the day he received a call from Tete’s family.
“Hearing the story of Tete, who was truly a gift to this community, and the egregious way her body was found was awful,” Whitten said. “Many people in the community believe Tete Gulley was murdered.”
Whitten told KOIN 6 News her family reached out to him after being ignored by investigators. He said he called an elected official, then called the medical examiner and was told they wouldn’t carry out an autopsy.
When asked why, Whitten said, “There is a huge devaluing of houseless Black trans people.”
According to the Change.org petition, Tete’s friends claim some transient people witnessed Tete being murdered by a person who had a history of violence, especially toward transgender women. They also believe someone has a video.
During their investigation last year, Portland police said they were working with Tete’s family to get more information about tracking down that possible video.
Portland Police Bureau responds
KOIN 6 News reached out to the PPB and received the following response:
“We want to assure you this death was investigated thoroughly. The Medical Examiner took performed an autopsy and made the determination that Ms. Gulley died by suicide. The Medical Examiner is the custodian of the records regarding the autopsy. That autopsy was released to the family.
Based on concerns from the community and information about new evidence, the investigation was reopened in June of last year. Detectives worked with the family and interviewed many communities members, but no one had any direct knowledge that contributed to the investigation nor was any video located. Additionally, a public request for information was put out in the media and social media, and there were no responses from the community.
Our Homicide and Cold Case detectives are relentless in their search for justice for victims of homicide, regardless of race/housing status/sexual orientation/gender expression/etc. In this case, there is simply no evidence that this was anything other than a suicide.
We remain supportive of Ms. Gulley’s family and request anyone who has any information about this death to contact us.”