Salem man arrested in “random attack” on school staff near Highland playground

A Salem man on June 14 walked onto the Highland Elementary School campus and assaulted two employees near a playground before being tackled by other school staff and eventually arrested, according to a police report. 

Prosecutors charged Charly J. Velasquez-Sanchez, 26, on June 15 in Marion County Circuit Court with three counts of fourth-degree assault. The charges are felonies because he has been convicted at least three times of a violent crime, according to the charging document.

The incident occurred during recess around 10 a.m. on the Highland’s last day of the year and sent the north Salem elementary school into a brief lockdown, though Velasquez-Sanchez was never inside the school building.

Students inside the school barricaded themselves in classrooms, district spokesman Aaron Harada said. Some were out on the playground and witnessed the attack.

The school has about 370 students.

A Salem Police Department affidavit described Velasquez-Sanchez as “talking nonsense” after the random attack. State judges have found he was unfit to stand trial due to a mental illness in eight instances since 2020 and ordered that he be committed to the Oregon State Hospital, court records showed.

The police department made no public announcement about the attack.

Salem police spokeswoman Angela Hedrick provided basic information to Salem Reporter about the suspect, time and location of the assault, but declined to verify additional details about the incident.

The police affidavit provided the following account of the incident.

Police responded at 9:52 a.m. on June 14 to a report of an assault in progress at Highland Elementary in which a man was “hitting, kicking and knocking people to the ground,” according to the report.

A school library worker later told police she was on the playground supervising students when she saw Velasquez-Sanchez walk onto the campus and confronted him, telling him he had to leave the campus.

She said Velasquez-Sanchez then attacked her, punching her in the head at least four times. Police reported the woman had bruising on her head and her eye sockets were beginning to swell and bruise after the attack.

When another school employee came to help, Velazquez-Sanchez chased after her, pushed her to the ground and started kicking and punching her in the body and back. The second victim had abrasions and bleeding on her elbow and knee.

Three other school employees were called to the playground via radio to respond to an emergency. When the first employee who was called approached, Vasquez-Sanchez “took a stance like he was going to fight him.” 

Two other employees then arrived, and Vasquez-Sanchez fled. They eventually caught up with and tackled him on Northeast 5th Street, pinning him to the ground until police arrived.

Velasquez-Sanchez told police that he went to the school campus “because a woman was staring at him and ‘mad dogging’ him. He said he also wanted to ‘get close to the children because they are the truth,’” according to the affidavit.

“I attempted further interview with (Velasquez-Sanchez) but he was talking nonsense and would not even initially give a name,” the report said.

He was booked into the Marion County Jail, where he was being held without bail as of Tuesday.

Highland Principal Sarah Theis said in a message to families after the incident that the school would have additional counseling services available for students and staff in need.

The Salem-Keizer School District’s Safety and Risk Management team responded to the school after the incident “to evaluate and consider possible adjustments” to security protocols, according to district spokesman Aaron Harada. He said said he did not have details on any adjustments being made.

Additional court proceedings are scheduled for Monday, June 26, according to court records.

Velasquez-Sanchez has previous convictions in four criminal cases since 2020, including failure to perform duties of driver-property damage, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, menacing and assaulting a public safety officer. Court records show he was found unfit to stand trial in each case.

He is currently a defendant in four criminal cases in which he has been accused of violent behavior, each of which is pending a determination of his fitness to proceed.

Velasquez-Sanchez was most recently charged in July 2022 with second-degree disorderly conduct. The charge alleged he engaged in “violent, tumultuous and threatening behavior,” according to court records.

Marion County Circuit Court Judge Erious Johnson found the following day that Velasquez-Sanchez was unfit to proceed and committed him to the state hospital.

Circuit Judge Audrey Broyles found four months later in November 2022 that Velasquez-Sanchez could then participate in his own defense, court records showed.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.