An Oregon man and his girlfriend indicted for murder after allegedly chasing down and killing a black teenager with their Jeep now face new hate crime charges as prosecutors allege they targeted the victim because of his race.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office charged Russell Orlando Courtier, 38, with first- and second-degree intimidation, Oregon’s bias crime statute, in the death of 19-year-old Larnell Malik Bruce. His 35-year-old girlfriend, Colleen Hunt was charged with first-degree intimidation. Both pleaded not guilty Tuesday.
According to the indictment, obtained by PEOPLE, Courtier and Hunt acted together “because of their perception of the race and color of Larnell Bruce [did] intentionally cause physical injury to Larnell Bruce.”
“We believe their [alleged] ties to white supremacy are part of a potential motive for what happened that day,” Gresham Police Department Officer John Rasmussen tells PEOPLE. “One motive among potential others.”
The hate crime charges were “something under investigation from the get go,” Rasmussen says. “We were aware of their ties to a white supremacist group early on in the investigation. It was something that takes a significant amount of effort to investigate and determine what level if any their organizational ties or ideology played into the significant crime.”
Rasmussen says additional witnesses and testimony from experts on white supremacy gangs helped authorities determine an alleged motive.
Courtier, Rasmussen says, is allegedly a member of European Kindred, a well-established white supremacist prison gang, and sports the gang’s prison tattoo.
Courtier’s attorney, Kami White of the Metropolitan Public Defender Services, declined to comment on the hate crime charges.
Hunt’s attorney, Jonathan Sarre, tells PEOPLE that his client is “not a member of the white supremacist organization nor does she have those types of views.”
“She was certainly not acting in any kind of racial bias” and “had no role in running over that individual,” Sarre adds.
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Police said Courtier and Hunt allegedly came across Bruce outside a 7-Eleven just before midnight on Aug. 10. Bruce was reportedly at the gas station charging his phone with a friend when Courtier and Hunt allegedly approached.
After Courtier and Bruce allegedly got into a fight, the teenager then tried to run from the scene, according to the Portland Mercury.
But with his girlfriend in the passenger seat, Courtier used his Jeep Wrangler to intentionally chase down and run over Bruce, police allege.
According to KOIN, Bruce was armed with a machete during the altercation with Courtier.
Police found Bruce unconscious on the ground with blood coming from his head and ears,” according to a police affidavit obtained by KOIN. He died from his injuries three days later.
During a police interview, Hunt allegedly admitted she egged on Courtier to fight with Bruce by yelling “get him baby, get him,” KOIN reports.
“I think there is a dispute over when Ms. Hunt allegedly egged on Mr. Courtier whether that was during the fight or the aftermath,” says Sarre.
Courtier allegedly first got involved in the prison gang during a stint at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution following a 2001 attack on a man, the Portland Mercury reports, citing prison records. By 2004, Courtier allegedly fought with a black inmate before “a group of white inmates faced off against a group of black inmates,” according to records obtained by PEOPLE.
In 2015, he allegedly wrote a letter from a different prison to another EK member requesting backup from the gang because he was “getting run up on by redskins.” However, the alleged message was intercepted by prison workers, according to the Mercury.
Courtier also allegedly threatened a prison guard of color that he would “take care” of him when he got out of prison, according to the paper.
A bail hearing for Courtier and Hunt is scheduled for December 5. A trial date is set for August 7, 2017.