Concerns over homeless at Riverside Park continue after fatal shooting

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Grants Pass police are investigating an alleged murder at Riverside Park.

“It’s not a safe place to be, we used to be able to sit at the river and come down here for walks and now we can’t.”

Grants Pass woman Sarah Gragg lives right across the street from Riverside Park.

On Sunday night, around 8 p.m., she heard multiple gunshots.

GPPD said a man was shot and killed at the park.

The suspect, 34-year-old Charles J. Smith, fled the scene, but was later arrested by the sheriff’s office.

He’s being charged with second degree murder and unlawful use of a weapon.

Gragg said conditions at the park are horrendous. 

“There’s cars piled with stuff, there’s tents everywhere, garage everywhere, Gragg said. “It’s just gross, you can’t safely walk through the park and not have a dog run out at you or something sketchy going on.”

She said Monday’s incident is not the first to happen at the park.

Another person living close by said they weren’t surprised there was a shooting there.

Police believe both the victim and suspect were using the park to rest overnight.

Gragg said she’s asked the mayor and police for help to fix the homeless issues at the park but nothing has come of it.

“There’s no solution, she said. “All they say is that their hands are tied, they can’t do anything because of the lawsuit, we can’t touch the lawsuit until we have a shelter, but the people that we see down here aren’t people who are going to go to a shelter.”

In 2018, a woman filed a lawsuit against grants pass saying the city’s anti-camping ordinance and criminal trespass laws violate her eighth and 14th amendment rights.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the woman, saying cities do violate the eighth amendment if they punish a person for sleeping outside 

Earlier this month, residents of Grants Pass voiced their frustrations in a city council meeting over safety concerns at city parks.

“Grandkids… we can’t take to the park, because there are needles on the ground that they can step on,” Grants Pass resident Sam Neff said.

Grants Pass mayor Sara Bristol sent out a statement Monday, urging city council to establish policies to improve safety in parks.

It is not acceptable to have people camping in our city parks. We have seen a significant increase in dangerous activities since 2020 when a court injunction was issued requiring the city to allow unhoused people to sleep in our parks. To date, the city council has not been able to come up with a plan for a shelter that would help move people out of the parks and provide supervision and structure.

I understand that residents are deeply concerned about this situation and want the city to take action. I urge the city council to establish policies to improve safety in the parks. Addressing this situation from all angles must be our top priority.

The identity of the victim has not been released, as next of kin has yet to be notified.

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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