After years of investigation, Portland officers have arrested a man for the murder of Sean Kealiher, a local anti-fascist activist who was 23 at the time of his death.
Kealiher, known by friends as “Armeanio,” was fatally hit by someone in a black SUV in Northeast Portland in the early morning hours of October 12, 2019. Kealiher was struck shortly after leaving the former Cider Riot pub located on NE Couch and 8th. The driver fled the scene on foot after hitting Kealiher, leaving behind the SUV. Kealiher was driven to the hospital by a friend, where he died. Portland police have been investigating Kealiher's death as a homicide ever since.
On Thursday, officers arrested 47-year-old Christopher Knipe for Kealiher's murder. Knipe was booked in the Multnomah County Detention Center shortly after 4 pm, charged with murder in the second degree.
The arrest comes after a long, at times contentious investigation into Kealiher's murder.
At the time of Kealiher's death, Cider Riot was known as a hub for anti-fascist organizing, a feature that occasionally made it a target for right-wing activists. In May 2019, the bar became the backdrop of a street brawl between members of the far-right group Patriot Prayer and anti-fascist patrons. That clash ended with several members of Patriot Prayer receiving criminal and civil charges—some which just recently saw their day in court. Kealiher was killed near Cider Riot just two months after the Patriot Prayer activists were arrested.
For Kealiher’s friends in the activist community, the circumstances surrounding his murder were hard to ignore. Yet many who knew him well refused to speak with police, reluctant to trust an agency known to have offered special protections to Patriot Prayer members in the past.
Kealiher's mother, Laura Kealiher, took a different tack, and worked closely with officers to try and solve her son's murder. According to Laura, staff from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s (MCDA) office first told they believed they had found a suspect in February 2020. But COVID-19 delays within the courthouse and a changeover in the district attorney's office appeared to undermine the investigation's momentum. By the fall of 2020, Laura had given up hope.
“Whatever trust I had in the judicial system is gone,” Laura told the Mercury in a September 2020 interview. “I have cooperated with the police investigation for months, I have followed their instruction to not talk with the press, I have kept quiet. But I think that has done more harm than good.”
Months later, Laura posted the names of the men she believed had killed her son on Twitter. One of them was Knipe.
According to the PPB's press release announcing Knipe's arrest, "investigators do not believe the crime was politically motivated."