A bouncer, a customer with a gun – and no charges for 2 years

Special Reports

Police, doctors, mental health workers have a great deal of discretion

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Eddie Santos was working as a bouncer at the DV8 strip club in Southeast Portland when, on the night of July 30, 2018, he was keeping his eye on a customer spending hundreds of dollars on one dancer.

“He would literally go to the stage and drop, like, a domino of ones all the way around the stage,” Santos told KOIN 6 News. “He said he was a retired sheriff’s deputy and that he worked with K9s.”

Later, the dancer told police the man, Charles Wong, was “fixated on her all night” and became emotional and “started telling her how he just pulled the plug on his father,” according to the police report.

Part of the police report from the night Charles Wong was taken into custody, July 30, 2018 (KOIN)

Around 2 a.m., Wong was escorted out of the building. When he reached his car, Santos said Wong pulled a gun from his bag. But Santos calmed him down.

“It was one of those laptop bags and he grabs the gun again. And that’s when he’s like, he’s like, ‘I just want you to know this is how easily I could kill the both of you.’ And he pointed at me and he clicks it. I mean, he dry fires the gun at me,” Santos said.

“And then he points it at (the manager) and, and he, he does the same motion. You know, that click will never leave my head. Like, I mean, I dream about that click, you know, I’ve had nightmares about that click.”

Santos said he took the gun away and again calmed Wong down. But it didn’t last long and the manager called 911.

“I’m outside dealing with him and he’s just slaying these knives at me. And so I, like, grabbed one of his wrists and I grabbed another wrist and I’m just like, ‘Look, dude, just calm down. Like, hey, this isn’t you, you know? It’s like, you were, sheriff’s deputy. You protect people.'”

A Google Street View of the DV8 strip club in Southeast Portland, as seen October 27, 2020

Santos said Wong caused dents on doors of the strip club.

Police surrounded the building, while the Bureau’s airplane circled overhead relaying Wong’s actions to officers on the ground.

“AIR 1 also updated information that they could not tell if Wong was grabbing more guns as he was going into his vehicle and back to the door of the location,” wrote the commanding officer.

The police report said Wong “appeared intoxicated. … Wong continued to ignore commands and began walking towards our vehicles. We commanded him to stop and go to the ground. He began saying he did not have anything on him and proceeded to place his hand inside his left pocket and pulled out a badge/wallet. He tossed the badge on the ground.”

Part of the police report from the night Charles Wong was taken into custody, July 30, 2018 (KOIN)

Wong surrendered around 2:30 a.m. and police confiscated one pistol and 7 knives.

“We thought we wouldn’t see this guy again,” Santos said. But 2 days later, Santos said Wong came back.

“I’m just looking at him, like, this is crazy. You know, he has, he has the same gun on his side. Like, I mean, how, how is this? How is this possible?” Santos said.

“I’m like, I hope he’s not here to just like end this, like, shoot me.”

Hospital, not jail that night

KOIN 6 News learned Portland police did not take Wong to jail that night. According to the police report, the officer “…explained to him we were concerned about his safety and harming himself. We told him the best case for him is to get evaluated by a doctor to see if they can help with what may be depression.”

The officer wrote: “I then spoke to a social worker where I briefed them on the incident. After speaking to hospital staff, I left the scene.”

Portland police told KOIN 6 News they used their discretion and took Wong to a hospital on a mental health hold.

A blurred ID of Charles Wong (KOIN)

PPB spokesman Derek Carmon told KOIN 6 News Santos is wrong to believe police covered up for someone they thought was a member of law enforcement.

“He is wrong. He’s wrong. There is no evidence that suggests this man was in law enforcement in any way. There was a badge that he had and that badge said something about Deputy Chief of Rehab or something like that,” Carmon said. “The officers decided that what was best for him that night was to get him to the hospital.”

‘Our system is kind of complex’

Medical privacy laws make cases like this hard to track. But once police decide to take someone to a hospital instead of jail, the person’s fate shifts to the judgement of doctors and social workers and whether they believe the person has a mental disorder and presents a danger to themselves or others.

This graph from Multnomah County shows how many people are held on emergency mental health holds, how many go to court and how many are committed, October 2020.

“Our system is kind of complex,” said Kathy Shumate, who leads a team of investigators for Multnomah County’s involuntary commitment program. If her office is called in by a hospital, her staff may file a case with the courts to have a person committed to a mental facility.

The court hearing has to happen within 5 days, but in Multnomah County only about 15% of cases go to a civil commitment hearing.

A Multnomah County courtroom, October 2020 (KOIN)

“It may be that the behavior that occurred happened because someone was intoxicated, that this wasn’t behavior that was occurring because of a mental illness, because that’s a piece we have to have,” Shumate said. “We have to have a nexus between the dangerous behavior and a mental illness.”

Under Oregon law if a person agrees to voluntarily get treatment, they could be released in a matter of days.

“One of the goals is that we help the person that’s being held, that we help facilitate treatment in the least restrictive manner possible,” she said. “In my opinion, I think there’s a number of situations where the police do a very good job of intervening in a number of mental health crises. Their actions save lives.”

An indictment 2 years later

For months, Eddie Santos tried to get answers about why Charles Wong wasn’t arrested. He complained to Portland’s Independent Police Review, which found the “officer’s actions appear to be within policy.”

Since December 2019, KOIN 6 News has been asking questions about this case and why Wong wasn’t charged with a crime. Santos also went to the Multnomah County district attorney.

Finally, more than 2 years after the incident at the strip club, Wong was indicted on charges including being a felon in possession of a firearm and impersonating a police officer.

Charles Wong in an undated mug shot, 2020

He was arrested in Sacramento County where he works as a dog trainer. He currently sits in a California jail awaiting extradition to Oregon.

PPB’s Carmon admits they could have done a better job communicating with Eddie Santos.

“I think that’s what the community expects is that jail is not the solution for everyone,” Carmon said. “And certainly this man was pretty distraught that evening and they thought the best way to help him and to fix the situation was by getting him evaluated.”

It’s not quite enough for Santos.

“Like, they should have done their job and, and, and then made this, made this, you know, I wouldn’t be how I am right now. You know, it’s like, I’m not, I’m not OK.”

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