A judge, prosecutor and even defense lawyer all agreed Monday that 16-year-old Dontae Mathis Jr. was extremely lucky.

Mathis pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree assault with a firearm and unlawful use of a weapon in the March 14 shooting outside Portland’s East Precinct and was sentenced to spend five years in custody.

He had fired multiple gunshots into a crowd as a Sweet 16 birthday party was letting out across the street at the East Portland Community Center on Southeast 160th Ave. One bullet hit the police precinct, but no one was hurt.

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Eric Zimmerman said when he read the police reports the next morning, “I was thinking I was going to read about a dead kid. It scared the heck out of me.”

Portland police officers who responded testified before a grand jury that they had their firearms drawn and their sights aimed on Mathis’ head, Zimmerman said.

“The only reason they didn’t shoot was because there was 150 kids running in the background,” Zimmerman said.

Mathis, who has spent the last four months at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Home, was prosecuted in adult court. He will do his time at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Gregory F. Silver urged Mathis to complete his high school education and learn a trade while at MacLaren, so he can emerge at age 22 with “a whole new attitude.” Mathis will turn 17 on Friday.

“It’s not often that one can say you’re lucky that you’re going into custody for the next 60 months, but you are because the outcome could have been terrible,” Silver told the teen.

Mathis should realize that his actions could have easily ended with his death, with his family and friends grieving at his funeral instead of attending his sentencing in court, the judge said.

The tall and thin teenager, wearing juvenile detention’s standard garb of a gray sweatshirt and tan pants, showed no emotion. He stood beside defense lawyer Livia Goetz, clasping his hands in front of him as relatives looked on, including his father, Dontae Mathis Sr.

The 16-year-old declined to speak. But Goetz said Mathis has spent the past four months in juvenile detention thinking a lot about how dangerous his actions were. He recognizes how fortunate he is to be alive, she said.

Shortly after his son’s arrest, his father publicly thanked Portland police for the restraint they showed in not shooting his son that March night. He said then that he was grateful his son was still breathing.

As part of the plea deal, seven other charges were dismissed against the younger Mathis, including the Measure 11 offense of attempted murder with a firearm, two additional counts of unlawful use of a firearm, three counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of discharging a firearm in the city.

Father of shooting suspect praises police response
Dontae Mathis Sr. Friday praised Portland police for not shooting his son, 16-year-old Donate Mathis Jr., who fired gunshots outside East Precinct on March 14 and is now facing a nine-count indictment charging him with attempted murder and attempted assault.

According to the prosecutor, Officer Alfonso Valadez was inside the precinct writing reports when he heard a commotion outside, followed by a gunshot. Valadez went to the precinct’s front door and saw hundreds of youths outside. Valadez saw the 16-year-old “post up and take another shot, and then a third and final shot,” Zimmerman wrote in a probable cause affidavit.

Officer Thomas Pennington said the crowd quickly scattered with kids running off in every direction in a  panic except Mathis, according to the affidavit. A 17-year-old boy ran into the precinct, yelling that someone was shooting at him.

Police followed the alleged shooter and Police Officer Matthew Bigoni took Mathis Jr. into custody. Officers said the 16-year-old had ditched the gun, but police found a .22-caliber revolver with three spent casings in the cylinder, the affidavit said.

Mathis Jr., according to Zimmerman, admitted to Detective Todd Gradwahl that he shot into a crowd of people, but said he did it out of self-defense.

The gun was not stolen, but Zimmerman said he did not know where Mathis got it.

–Maxine Bernstein

[email protected]
503-221-8212; @maxoregonian

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