Friends remember homeless man killed by police at SE Portland car wash

From The Oregonian, January 7, 2011

A homeless man fatally shot by Portland police Sunday was a tough-as-nails veteran who would resort to violence to protect his living space, but was kind to those he loved, friends said.

That Thomas Higginbotham, 67, ended up dying by police gunfire didn’t surprise Mickie Soule.

Tom Higginbotham was a complex figure, capable of great kindness with his friends, but also of violence with perceived intruders.

Tom Higginbotham was a complex figure, capable of great kindness with his friends, but also of violence with perceived intruders.

“I’m sure it was a suicide,” Soule said. “That’s what it sounds like to me, he just got tired of living that way, but who knows?”

Soule said she learned on the news that a homeless man, possibly named “Tom,” had died after advancing on two officers while holding a large knife.

She knew instantly it was her friend Higginbotham, whom she met in 2004.

The Multnomah County Medical Examiner confirmed that Soule was right, releasing Higginbotham’s name late Thursday. An autopsy showed Higginbotham died of gunshot wounds.

The Portland Police Bureau has said that officers Jason Lile and Larry Wingfield responded to the former Lucky Car Wash near Southeast 82nd Avenue and Powell Blvd. on reports that a security guard had been threatened.

About 4 p.m. Sunday, Higginbotham walked out of an inner room at the vacant car wash holding a knife. One of the officers fired a Taser, then both officers fired their weapons after Higginbotham continued to approach.

Police have released few other details of the shooting, other than to say that the dead man has a lengthy arrest record in both Oregon and California, where police spokeswoman Lt. Kelli Sheffer said he was incarcerated for a serious person-to-person crime.

Oregon court records show Higginbotham has a lengthy record of mostly traffic offenses. He was convicted of felony theft in 2001. Mickie Soule said that Higginbotham had lived in San Francisco and was “known to police there.”

Scott Soule, Mickie Soule’s husband, acknowledged that Higginbotham could get violent, especially with those he perceived as intruders.

“He was having people break into his camp,” Soule said, “and he said, ‘I want you to hang onto this for me to make sure nobody get’s hurt.'” Portland police said that Higginbotham was fatally shot at a vacant Southeast Portland car wash he advanced on officers with a large knife.

“One night he was sleeping and someone snuck into his camp and Tom hit him with the back side of a hatchet, then tied him up and went back to sleep,” Scott Soule said. “Then when he woke up, he said, ‘Next time you break into my camp I’m going to hit you with the other side.’ ”

“Tom was liable to attack anyone,” Mickie Soule said.

The Soules met Higginbotham when he was staying at the Beaverton apartment of one of their neighbors. He later moved in with the couple.

The Soules said Higginbotham served in the U.S. Army and was injured during his two tours in Vietnam. They said he had told them he wanted to be buried with military honors.

They also said Higginbotham had family spread out across the Northwest and California, including several children, but that his drinking and mental illness had caused a serious rift, and that he wasn’t close to any relatives.

“He was really worried, toward the end, about his mind,” Mickie Soule said. “He would say, ‘Things are not going right.’”