Court documents give eyewitness accounts of events leading up to a fatal road rage incident

Manuel North hurled racial slurs at Herman Graham and attempted to run him off the road before shooting him in a fatal confrontation last fall, according to documents filed in Marion County Circuit Court. 

In November a Marion County grand jury on Thursday indicted Manuel Elisha North, 46, on murder and bias crime charges for the death of Graham, a Black man, following a road rage incident in Salem. North’s attorney has argued that he was acting in self-defense and has pointed to Graham’s felony convictions. 

While Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson has been tight-lipped about the incident, a document filed in circuit court in March provides more details and eye-witness accounts of the incident that’s sparked community concern and caught the attention of the local NAACP. 

On Oct. 26, Salem police responded to multiple 911 calls of a shooting at 3350 Pipebend Place Northeast. There, police found Graham lying unconscious with a handgun in the street near him and a white BMW sedan parked nearby, according to a motion filed by Marion County Deputy District Attorney Katie Suver. 

North made unsolicited statements to police claiming he acted in self-defense and earlier to 911, the filing said. It further stated that North said that Graham had “pulled a gun” and attempted to carjack him. Police also found a .50 caliber handgun lying in the street behind North’s Volkswagen Golf wagon, according to the filing. 

It’s not clear from the filing if other weapons were found and if Graham was armed. 

Suver’s filing includes statements given to police investigators by three witnesses who were in the car with Graham before the shooting. The statements offer the following account:

The confrontation began when Graham turned west onto Mission Street Southeast from the Interstate 5 offramp. North started honking his horn, yelling at the passengers, pulling up next to them and veering toward the vehicle, possibly because Graham had cut him off. 

North cursed at Graham and called him a racial slur. One passenger said North yelled, “the KKK is gonna come get you.” North continued to follow Graham and yell racially derogatory statements. Graham “brake checked” North who was closely following behind him. 

One woman who was a passenger in the BMW told investigators that Graham eventually pulled off onto Pipebend Place Northeast where North pulled him behind him and both men exited their vehicles. The woman said she heard two loud booms but had been looking at her phone and didn’t see what happened. She looked up and saw Graham laying on the ground through the rearview mirror. The witness immediately got out of the car, yelling and walking toward North. 

North yelled at her to get back before kicking a black revolver that had been on the ground an inch or two from Graham’s feet, according to her statement. 

The filing also included a statement from a man who was a passenger in North’s vehicle. Here’s what the passenger said happened:

A white BMW was cutting through traffic as North approached the Mission Street exit on I-5. North had to slam on the brakes at least once because the BMW cut in front of them, according to the passenger. 

The BMW sedan continued to drive recklessly and its driver yelled something unintelligible before turning on a side street. North followed the BMW down to the street and pulled over to see “what was the matter.”

From there, the driver of the BMW stepped out and began walking aggressively toward North and raised his right arm, pointing a black pistol at him. The passenger said he started to retreat while North stayed near the driver’s door. The passenger said he “heard one gunshot and saw it hit the driver of the BMW,” who began retreating while pointing the gun at North as if he was going to “pray and spray,” or fire blindly. 

North took cover as the BMW driver collapsed. North kicked the driver’s gun away from him. 

North told police he was driving to Salem from his home in Eugene for a construction job, according to the prosecutor’s motion. 

North told people he owned construction company CAD Northwest and turned onto PipeBend Place Northeast to go to a local pipe warehouse. Police later found that North did not own or work at CAD Northwest and a local pipe warehouse did not have an account with the company. 

The prosecutor’s motion asks the court to admit as evidence North’s previous criminal and traffic offense in Lane County, some involving road rage. North has previously been convicted of careless driving, unsafe passing on the left, failure to perform the duties of the driver and reckless endangerment.  

North’s attorney, John Kolego, has argued that the past convictions are irrelevant to the charges he currently faces and shouldn’t be admitted as evidence. 

“The State argues that they need these prior bad acts of poor driving to prove that Mr. North did not act in self-defense, however, allowing the prior bad acts merely purport Mr. North to be a reckless driver,” Kolego said in a February filing.

Kolego filed a separate motion asking the court to include Graham’s previous convictions of manufacturing and delivering controlled substances, felon in possession of a firearm, as well as a restraining order from last year. The motion says that Graham was prohibited from having a firearm and knew the risks of possessing one. 

“The defense intends to utilize Mr. Graham’s prior bad acts to prove that Mr. North acted in self-defense,” reads the filing 

Suver, the prosecutor, responded by arguing that Graham’s criminal history is irrelevant to North’s defense. 

“Any claim of self defense must be based on the defendant’s belief and the reasonableness of that belief at the time the defendant acts, and not based on information learned subsequent to acting,” Suver said in her filing. “Because the victim was a stranger to the defendant, the defendant had no knowledge of whether the victim’s possession of a firearm was prohibited.”

A court hearing is scheduled for later this month. 

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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