Russell Courtier, 38, and his girlfriend Colleen Hunt, 35, pulled their red Jeep Wrangler up to the 7-Eleven on the corner of East Burnside and 188th just before midnight on August 10. The convenience store was only a few blocks from the apartment complex where the couple lived with Courtier’s parents.
Outside, a young man named Larnell Bruce, half Courtier’s age, was charging his cell phone at an outlet along the wall, a female acquaintance later told police. He had moved to Gresham to live with his mother and his young brother six months earlier.
The crossing of the two men’s paths would prove deadly.
Within moments, a full-on fistfight had ensued—the white Courtier and African American Bruce swinging at each other and wrestling.
“Get him, baby,” Hunt urged her boyfriend, “Get him, baby!”
- Colleen Hunt and Russell Courtier
Courtier smashed Bruce’s head into the store’s front window, cracking a pane of glass. The 7-Eleven clerk dialed 911. When Bruce pulled out what cops described as a machete, Courtier stopped fighting with his fists. Instead, he and Hunt got back in the Jeep—the weapon they’d use to kill the 19-year-old as he fled on foot.
The couple turned left out of the parking lot, trying to run Bruce down. They missed the first time, as the teen turned to run the other way on the sidewalk.
- The 7-Eleven in Gresham
- Doug Brown
According to a prosecutor’s affidavit, Courtier turned and chased Bruce “across oncoming lanes of traffic and then intentionally struck him with the front of the vehicle.” Police showed up within moments, finding the teen in the middle of the street with blood rushing from his head and ears. He’d be declared dead a couple of days later.
Gresham police spotted the Jeep shortly after it hit Bruce and pulled the pair over. Courtier and Hunt admitted to intentionally hitting Bruce, according to police. A grand jury indicted them both for murder on August 18.
It’s not yet known exactly what started the fight or why Courtier allegedly chose to mow Bruce down as he was running away. Authorities have yet to publicly release a motive, and witnesses at the scene told police they didn’t know of one.
- Larnell Bruce
What the Mercury has learned, however, is that Courtier has spent a significant chunk of his adult life in Oregon prisons for weapons and violent crimes. (He was on parole the night he killed Bruce, following a prison term for attacking a woman with a knife in 2013.) Courtier is also a long-time member of a white supremacist prison gang called European Kindred (EK).
EK began in 1998 at the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI) in Malheur County. Its founder, David Kennedy, wanted “to protect our own people in this joint,” the Southern Poverty Law Center quoted him as saying. The gang would soon spread to Oregon’s other prisons.
Courtier’s prison records, obtained by the Mercury in a public records request, reveal just how deeply the man came to identify with the group.
He first connected with the gang while serving several years at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton following a 2001 attack on a man, the records show. By September 2003, Courtier was caught in his cell with a drawing of the gang’s logo—a shield emblazoned with letters “EK”—that he admitted he intended to get tattooed on his body (he was found to have violated the prison’s “unauthorized organization” rule, because EK is a known “security threat group”).
- Russell Courtier's tattoos, including his "EK" shield on his calf
In February 2004, while still in prison, Courtier was busted for getting that logo tattooed on his calf and for having a “make-shift tattoo gun” and extra ink in his cell (see that record here). Just two months later, he brawled with a black inmate in the crowded prison yard before “a group of white inmates faced off against a group of black inmates,” records show (document).
And in 2005, while at SRCI, a letter he wrote to another EK member—intercepted by prison staff—indicated he needed backup from his gang because he was “getting run up on by redskins.” (document) That year, Courtier was also accused of throwing a piece of shit-smeared paper at a guard who was a person of color, and later threatened to “take care” of him when he got out.
In total, Courtier was accused of nearly 40 “major” prison violations between 2001 and 2013—for assaults, for joining and associating with EK members, for his prison tattoos (he was busted in 2005 for tattooing “party bone” on his penis, for instance), for having contraband in his cell, for disrespect, for not following rules (see his entire DOC discipline record here).
He hasn’t fared much better outside of prison. Courtier’s had seven felony and four misdemeanor convictions, court records show. He also has an extensive juvenile record that includes multiple assaults and burglary.
He’s gotten off on cases, too, like when he was arrested for shooting several rounds from a car in 2011. Prosecutors dropped the charges because police unlawfully searched the car to find the gun.
Courtier was given probation in 2012 after reportedly grabbing his fiancée’s neck when she asked for gas money and banging her head into her windshield. He then jumped on the car and bashed his own head on the windshield until it cracked.
The felon was in his second year of parole the night he killed Bruce, after spending two years in prison for attacking a woman with a knife in Clackamas County.
After news got out that Courtier was arrested for killing Bruce, EK members took to Facebook to show support for their comrade.
“Hopefully they drop the murder for just assault,” wrote one, posting a KGW article about the arrest. “Luv u Russ keep your head up.”
Another EK member chimed in: “They tested kindred and homeboy did not hesitate.”
And another: “Its not russes falt duds a punk and got ran over.”
No hate crime provisions are included in Courtier and Hunt’s indictments for murder and failure to perform duties of a driver to injured persons. Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney David Hannon declined to answer questions about whether hate crime laws could be applied to this case and if race could have been a factor in Bruce’s murder.
Gresham Detective Aaron Turnage, who investigated the case, told the Mercury that he was aware of Courtier’s European Kindred connection, but that it’s “unknown at this time” if the murder was racially based.
DOCUMENTS•Russell Courtier's entire prison discipline record: •The probable cause affidavit for Courtier and Hunt's arrest: •Courtier and Hunt's indictment: