More than 670,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon State Medical Examiner to release the autopsy paperwork surrounding the death of a transgender women found hanging from a tree in a public park last year.
Tete Gulley, 31, who was homeless at the time of her death, was found on May 27, 2019 at Rocky Butte Park in Northeast Portland. A medical examiner later ruled her death a suicide — a finding that her friends and family contest, claiming there is evidence of foul play.
Records of Gulley’s autopsy haven’t been released publicly, despite open records requests from two media outlets, and the Oregon State Medical Examiner has said there isn’t sufficient public interest, according to CBS affiliate KOIN.
But Gulley’s family points to a recent Change.org petition signed by more than 670,000 people calling on the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon State Medical Examiner to pursue the investigation further and release the autopsy paperwork.
“We, the people of Portland and/or Oregon, demand that you take immediate action for the safety of the community and for Tete Gulley’s family,” the petition reads. “The family and the community believes there is foul play in the death of Tete Gulley and that it was not a suicide.”
The petition accuses both the Portland Police Department and the Oregon State Medical Examiner of “negligence,” alleging that the police never contacted Gulley’s family, who found out about her death through social media; that they have been unreceptive to tips about a possible suspect; and that they failed to question key witnesses or pursue leads that might lead to finding a possible killer.
Specifically, the petition alleges that some transient people witnessed Tete being murdered by a person who had a history of violence, especially toward transgender women, and that the attack may have been caught on video. According to the petition organizers, Gulley’s family and friends claim she gave no indication that she was suicidal, which is why they’re suspicious about how she died.
“We write this petition to demand clear and precise action be taken under the failure to properly investigate the death of Tete Gulley,” the petition concludes.
In response to an inquiry from Metro Weekly, a spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau said the department understands that “there are many questions about the death of Tete Gulley, especially given that Ms. Gulley was African-American, transgender and was found hanging from a tree.”
According to the spokesperson, officers who arrived on scene to find Gulley’s body at Rocky Butte Park spoke to two people who had discovered her body, with neither witness reporting anything suspicious.
“Based on the observations of all present, there were no signs of a struggle or any suspicious circumstances. The Oregon State Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and made the determination that Ms. Gulley died by suicide,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “The Medical Examiner is the custodian of the records regarding the autopsy. That autopsy was released to the family.”
A spokesperson for the Medical Examiner’s Office did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.
The PPB spokesperson noted that, based on outcry from the Portland community, the investigation into Gulley’s death was reopened and assigned to a “cold case” homicide detective last June. But based on the detective’s interviews with other transient individuals and potential witnesses, “[t]here was no evidence uncovered which would indicate Ms. Gulley’s death was suspicious in any way.
“Some of the community members who were contacted by the detective were originally reported to have direct knowledge of the event, but they turned out only to now of unsubstantiated rumors,” the PPB spokesperson added. “Additionally, a public request for information was put out in the media and social media, and there were no responses from the community. … 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.”
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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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